Posted May 8 2011 12:23AM
DALLAS -- Someone else will have to handle the fire and brimstone speech. Kobe Bryant isn't going there. You want to kick a chair across the locker room, turn over a table, grab someone by the jersey collar or even punch someone in the chest, it won't be Bryant.
With the Los Angeles Lakers a mere 48 minutes away from summer vacation and the end of a four-year reign atop the Western Conference, with a loss in Game 4 in their West semifinal against Dallas on Sunday afternoon at American Airlines Center, Bryant had pretty simple instructions for his teammates.
"I'm going to keep this train moving," an ice-cold Bryant said Saturday. "You're either on the train or you are in front of it. I'm going to keep this [expletive] moving."
It remains unclear how many of Bryant's teammates have tickets for the ride. The Lakers are a proud bunch, winners of the last two Larry O'Brien trophies and used to this being their time. But they're down 3-0 in this best-of-seven series and facing seemingly insurmountable odds, since no team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit in a best-of-seven in playoff history.
But there's more than just a season, a team's legacy and a legendary coach's retirement bid on the line. The Lakers' pride is at stake.
Whether or not they've displayed much pride in this series, so far, is also up for debate.
"It's not about pride," Ron Artest said. "That should be instilled in you from the time you start playing as a little kid. That's not what this is about."
Artest's pride seemed to get the best of him at the end of Game 2, when he clotheslined Mavericks guard Jose Barea in the closing seconds and was suspended for Game 3.
Even Lakers coach Phil Jackson seemed to struggle when presented with the question when asked if his team was playing with any. "I don't know about that," he said, refusing to entertain thoughts of anything but those precious next 48 minutes.
The Lakers don't have the luxury of thinking beyond right here and right now, drop-kicking any such luxuries earlier this week in Los Angeles when they dropped Games 1 and 2 of this series on their home floor.
That hasn't stopped others from speculating about the future of this team beyond Sunday or whenever this series ends. Former Lakers great, executive and part owner Magic Johnson suggested that Lakers owner Dr. Jerry Buss take a jackhammer to this roster and start over, with Bryant as the only untouchable.
"Dr. Buss has a lot of work to do," Johnson, now an ESPN/ABC analyst and still a Lakers' vice president, said on the air Saturday. "He's probably going to have to blow this team up after the season if the Lakers lose this series because you have to come back with some fresh faces. You have to pick between the two big men with which one you keep and then you trade the other one."
The big men Johnson spoke of, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, have had wildly different experiences this postseason. Gasol has been a shell of the All-Star player he's been the past four years with the Lakers, while the 23-year-old Bynum has shown signs of being not only a low-post force but a vocal contributor as well -- he backed up his strong words of "trust issues" within his team with a strong showing in Game 3.
Gasol spoke about trying to figure some things out in time for Game 4, in hopes of finding his normal game in time to help keep the season alive. Bynum insisted that all the talking in the world won't fix what is ailing the Lakers right now.
"I don't think it's about hope," Bynum said. "I just think it's about going out and doing what we do. We've got to go out and win a game. Come down the stretch and not turn the basketball over, finish what we started."
Bryant isn't asking for a buy-in for Game 4. He is demanding it. Like he said, his teammates are either on that train or in front of it.
"They don't have a choice," he said.
You're either on that train or you are in front of it.
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