During the playoffs, to a man, players always claim to be giving no thought towards the prospect of losing a series. If a game is dropped, the belief in an ability to win the next one will be expressed, plus a little anger or frustration tossed in for good measure. The prevailing sentiment, however, is that of being just fine. Little worry is shared, much less concerns about the worst case scenario.
Down by a pair of games, there will be calm, measured talk of a tough road ahead, but little acknowledgment of the possibility failure could be lurking.
Even "win or go home" scenarios garner little more than "one game at a time" talk. The dire circumstances aren't blissfully ignored, nor is the situation's magnitude. Still, there's inevitably be more talk about what it will take to win than what it would mean not to.
Whether that's the compete truth, a reflection of athletes trained since their AAU days to say "all the right things," or just an awareness the slightest hint of self doubt will be plastered all over SportsCenter, the fear of coming up short isn't a commonplace admission. Thus, Ron Artest's candidness at today's practice caught my ear. Asked if he ever entertained visions of a round one upset during a highly contest series against Oklahoma City, Artest's response definitely veered from the script:
"Yeah. I think about that every day. Every day. Even we was up 3-0 (against the Jazz), I'm like, 'if we lose (game 4), we could possibly lose game 5. And them if we lose Game 6, then we gotta go to Game 7. And if we lose that, then we're on quit.' So every day, you think about, you can lose. So you play to win."
The difference between healthy confidence and self-destructive cockiness can be thinner than a razor's edge. Even when the world is your oyster, according to Artest, it's important to remain aware everything can go to pot in about two seconds flat if you're not careful.
"Always. Always. I think that's what we didn't do so many times in the season. That's the past and this is the present. But you have to understand that these NBA players, they're in the playoffs for a reason... I'm not big on not respecting anybody."
Artest's aching desire to win magnifies even more the importance of being on the same page as his more triangularly-seasoned teammates. Pau Gasol's helpfulness in getting him up to speed on the Lakers' system has been a major asset for the newbie. According to Ron, El Spaniard is "always thinking" during games, which makes him Artest's prime go-to guy for a question. He may not have been able to figure out if Pau was the third captain or second in command, he definitely considers the All-Star a leader.
Also asked about Gasol, Derek Fisher praised the power forward's willingness to dial back his game when necessary for the bigger picture's sake. From a competitive and emotional standpoint, that's not always easy for elite players, but as Fisher noted, champions figure out a way.
"I knew he was gonna be that way when he got here and he hasn't disappointed since," praised Fisher. "He's an unbelievable player and an unbelievable person."
Fisher later talked about the Suns, a squad much scrappier this season than in years past.