From Mike Bresnahan, LA Times: The Lakers swerved unsteadily into an ever-widening valley separating them from a third consecutive championship, their charter flight depositing them Monday at LAX at 3:30 a.m. before they reconvened 10 hours later at their training facility. Sleepy, injured, distracted, confused — choose any descriptor. Few would have predicted it four games into the first round against New Orleans. Despite an 11-game difference in the regular-season standings, the Lakers are somehow tied with the Hornets going into Game 5 Tuesday night at Staples Center.
From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: For Kobe to eschew the doctor’s office at the very least combines some of the more notable personality features of Dalton (“Pain don’t hurt.”) and The Black Knight (“It’s just a flesh wound” mixed with a useful sense of denial). At the same time, rather than thinking Bryant believes the tests unnecessary because, as a guy who gets hurt all the time, his internal physician says nothing serious happened, I’m left with the opposite impression. He doesn’t want them precisely because of concern the results would reveal a less-than-rosy diagnosis. I certainly could be wrong- Bryant didn’t speak to the media Monday, so we couldn’t ask- and frankly would prefer to be. But we received no indication his condition had improved (Jackson said it was the same as Sunday night), and remember Bryant left the arena on crutches after Game 4.
From Mark Medina, LA Times: This isn’t even a debate on whether he should sit or should he play. Given the stakes of a 2-2 series, Bryant’s clearly doing everything possible to make sure he’s in the best shape to walk onto Staples Center court Tuesday night. After using crutches to leave New Orleans arena and onto the team bus, Bryant spent the four-hour flight receiving various treatment, including icing, electronic stimulation and massage therapy. As Bryant told reporters after Game 4, “It’s going to take a lot to stop me to play. We’ll make sure we stay on top of it.” This is more of a trust issue. For all the round the clock treatment and rehabilitation, Vitti, physical therapist Judy Seto, massage therapist Marko Yrjovuori and athletic performance coordinator Alex McKechnie provide for Bryant, the least he could do is return the favor. For someone who’s fixated on knowing every single detail surrounding his body, Bryant’s refusal to take the diagnostic tests only makes it harder for the Lakers’ medical staff to determine exactly what treatment he needs to keep his ankle healthy throughout the postseason. As much as Bryant clearly doesn’t want anything to get in the way of him playing to pursue a sixth ring, his stubbornness is making it harder for both himself and his teammates.
From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Lakers forward Matt Barnes called Paul “the head of the snake” after those 27 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds Sunday night. Oscar Robertson used to be the only player in NBA history with at least 25 points, 15 assists, and 10 rebounds in a playoff game. Not anymore. Paul was also historically good in Game 1, and then Barnes used the same “snake” term after the Lakers won Game 2 – the night Bryant overruled Jackson with his decision to guard Paul personally most of the game. Said Barnes then: “Cut the head off their snake.” That, again, is the classic playoff mentality: the best willing and wanting to take on the best. Bryant said he wanted to “send a message” to his teammates about being able to change playoff games in subtle ways. He even looked subtly different as he did it. In Game 2 he wore a tighter Lakers jersey a lot like the tighter USA Basketball No. 10 jersey Bryant wore when he embraced the role of defensive stopper in winning the 2008 Olympic gold medal. (Bryant had gotten a smaller jersey for a public-service announcement and decided it looked good and fit the moment – though he realized during Game 2 that it was too tight and not real comfortable.) Paul was with Bryant in 2008, leading that Olympic team in assists. That helped Bryant understand this much about CP3: “When it’s all said and done, he’ll be one of the best to ever lace ’em up.”
From Ryan Schwan, Hornets 24/7: However, I don’t want to get ahead of myself, because last game something happened that could turn this series: Bryant injured his foot at the end of the game. Now, I know a lot of people will see that as a bonus for the Hornets, something that could help them take this thing. I actually feel the exact opposite. If Kobe is slowed, if he is unable to play the way he wants to, if he feels he has to slow down at all, I think that will be the worst possible outcome for the Hornets. Why? Because the Lakers’ one overwhelming advantage this series has been their big men. It’s not Kobe that’s dictating who wins and loses these games. In fact, his performance has almost no correlation to whether his team wins. When he’s played well, they’ve lost one and won one. When he’s played badly, they’ve lost one and won one. No, it’s been Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom who have dictated this series. When Bynum gets more than 10 shots in a game, they’ve won. When Odom has been aggressive and taken more than a half-dozen shots, the Lakers’ have won. So forgive me if I’m a little worried about Kobe’s ankle. The more shots that go to his teammates, the more dangerous the Lakers are.
From Zach Lowe, The Point Forward: These Lakers lost 14 games total in the previous two postseasons, more losses than each of Jackson’s previous three-peaters suffered combined in three playoff seasons. That comparison is obviously faulty because Jackson’s other groups had the benefit of a shorter best-of-five series in the first round. Since the league made the first round best-of-seven starting in 2002-03, only one team (the 2006-07 Spurs) has won the title with fewer than seven postseason losses. The Lakers have lost seven games in each of the last two postseasons, and it looks like they’ll lose more than that if they advance to the Finals. Even if they have not been uniquely vulnerable in the last three seasons, they have indeed been on the edge of defeat several times. Houston took them to seven games in the conference semifinals two seasons ago, and the Nuggets were a couple of Trevor Ariza steals from at least forcing a seventh game of the conference finals that year. And we all remember the improbable last-second put-backs that saved Los Angeles from Game 7s against both the Thunder and the Suns last season. If you make enough plays like that, the myth of invincibility grows.
From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen & Roll: Even today, with the series tied at two games apiece, the mood in Lakerland isn’t riven through with anxiety so much as teeth-grinding impatience. The perception, I gather (and it’s one I share), is that an inevitability has been simply postponed. As C.A. noted last night, the Lakers have a track record of honking Game Four after they’ve scored a critical Game Three victory on the road, so the steaming pile they dropped last night really shouldn’t have been such a surprise. And they’ve been terrific about bouncing back in Game Five: in the Gasol era, they’re 5-1 in fifth games when the series is tied 2-2. The Lakers still have home-court advantage, and they still have the big edge in talent. Odds are by Saturday night, if not sooner, we’ll be hashing out scouting reports for the champs’ second-round opponent. But here’s the thing: every massive upset seems deeply improbable right up to the point when it actually happens. If you could see it coming, it wouldn’t be a massive upset. So even though I think Laker fans are right to remain confident about this series, it’s worth considering… what if we’re wrong? What if there’s something we’re missing? What if the Lakers are Wile E. Coyote suspended in midair, not yet realizing that gravity’s about to make their lives miserable?
From J.A. Adande, TrueHoop: The court-ordered end to the NFL lockout by a U.S. district judge Monday will certainly resonate with the National Basketball Players Association as it considers whether to follow a similar strategy of decertification and litigation if the NBA owners impose a lockout as is widely expected this summer. “I have to get a look at more information in terms of how the decision was made, what factors, what criteria it was based on,” said Lakers guard Derek Fisher, the player president of the NBPA. “But I don’t think there’s any question that how some of the things on the NFL side are playing out are going to impact the way our NBA labor situation plays out. They’re not exactly the same, there are a lot of differences. But there are also some similarities that I think will give us as players as well as our owners a little bit of an indication of how things would play out if we went down certain paths. So I’m sure both sides will continue to watch the NFL situation closely.”