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Scott Howard-Cooper

Ineffective players, not coach Mike Brown (center), may be to blame for L.A.'s current playoff state.
Garrett W. Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

Brown shouldn't take fall for pending Laker playoff flameout

Posted May 21 2012 9:45AM

OKLAHOMA CITY -- Some second round for the Lakers. There's the overall collapse and the collapse at home. There's the lack of composure, the inability to give a consistent collective effort and the finger pointing. There's the ejected player removing his jersey as he walked off the court, the opponent more capable of handling the pressure despite less playoff experience, and generally drowning in undisciplined ways.

Fire Phil Jackson.

In a fact conveniently overlooked by fed-up fans that have never seen such a frayed playoff showing by the Lakers, they have. Fifty weeks ago, the same Western Conference semifinals, against a team based barely 200 miles to the south, and the two-time defending champions at the time made more of a splat than anything playing out in 2012.

This -- the Thunder playing better and with more poise the final minutes of two of the last three games, to them embarrassing L.A. another time to them earning the chance to end the best-of-seven series tonight in Game 5 at Chesapeake Energy Arena -- is not about Mike Brown. It might be lost in the noise of a lot of people in Los Angeles volunteering to help Brown pack, but the Lakers had the same Attitude Deficit Disorder last year and got swept by the Mavericks.

The 2011 second round was worse, actually, the way players completely unraveled in the finale with Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom getting ejected and Bynum taking his jersey off while exiting after cheap shotting J.J. Barea. The closest thing to embarrassing the organization this time has been Devin Ebanks being kicked out of Game 1, then kicking a chair at the bench and starting to go topless as he reached the tunnel leading to the locker room.

The similarities are everywhere.

In 2011: The Lakers blew a 16-point lead in the second half, made key errors the final 30 seconds and scored two points in the last 3:32 to lose Game 1. After a Game 2 defeat, Bynum said teammates have "trust issues" with each other. In Game 3, the Mavericks dropped 32 points on L.A. in the fourth quarter of a victory. The meltdown became complete with the Game 4 rout that showed the Lakers as a team unhinged. Total scoring for the fourth periods: Dallas 118, Los Angeles 79.

In 2012: The Lakers got blasted in Game 1. They had a great opportunity to win Game 2 and stumbled down the stretch. They won Game 3 and had a great opportunity to win Game 4, but stumbled down the stretch again. Kobe Bryant has called out Pau Gasol. Total scoring in the fourth quarters: Oklahoma City 96, Los Angeles 84. A reasonable margin, except that the Thunder have built the 3-1 series lead on twice executing better in clutch situations, with Saturday's win also including going for 32 fourth-quarter points on the road.

"It comes down to those guys scoring 32 points in the fourth quarter," Brown said. "I felt like they scored those 32 points very easily. That's what disappoints me more than anything else."

Part postgame analysis, part big-picture breakdown: It comes down to those guys. Only the same could be said about the Lakers.

With the same inadequacies in two different years against two different opponents and under -- highlighters ready? -- two different coaches, this at some point becomes about the underachieving players than about Brown.

The insta-blame is understandable. He wasn't a popular hire for fans, a fact Brown quickly came to understand, he replaced a legend always portrayed as having situations under control. Coaches universally take the brunt of criticism. But this has become a pattern the pre-dates Brown's arrival.

Two potential victories, and a 3-1 lead the other way, turned into defeats. A potential series win turned into what is almost certainly an insurmountable deficit.

"You're just going to have to do it," Brown said. "I don't have any tricks or anything magical to help us get over (Saturday's) loss or even the Game 2 loss. We're going to have to be mature enough to understand that it's one game at a time. That's why it's the first team to four wins. Nobody has four wins yet. We've just got to go get the next one. Then we'll have a little bit of rest and then we've got to go get the one after that. It's one at a time and we can't look too far ahead because if we do, we'll lose sight of what our focus is, which is the next play that's in front of us."

Game 5 is in front of them.

The blame game is in front of them.

Scott Howard-Cooper has covered the NBA since 1988. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter.

The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.

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