- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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While former Lakers coach Phil Jackson always emphasized the importance of close-out games, even splicing in clips from Alec Baldwin's "always be closing" monologue in "Glengarry Glen Ross" into team film sessions, first-year Lakers coach Mike Brown hardly mentioned it at Monday's practice.
"For me, I'm not a guy that will talk about, 'Hey, we got to win this because of this or because of that,'" Brown said. "The players know it. They know this is a close-out game. They know if we win this game (instead of Game 6 or Game 7), we don't have to get on a plane right away and fly to Oklahoma City. I mean, my ninth-grade boy knows it, and he's not interested in basketball."
Even though the third-seeded Lakers hold a 3-1 series lead over the sixth-seeded Nuggets, L.A. has outscored Denver by only eight total points (383 to 375) through those four games.
Meaning, the series hasn't been as lopsided as the record suggests.
Still, Andrew Bynum believes Tuesday won't be as difficult as Games 3 and 4 in Denver were.
"Close-out games are actually kind of easy," Bynum said. "Teams tend to fold if you come out and play hard in the beginning, so we want to come out and establish an early lead and protect it."
Nuggets coach George Karl thinks they're anything but.
"I disagree with him," Karl said Tuesday during his pregame news conference. "My whole thing is I've always felt the first win is easy. The second win is harder. The third win is very hard, and the fourth win is impossible. If you think it's easy, maybe that's a complacency that we can use. For me, every team faces elimination games, and fortunately in my career, my teams have won a lot of elimination games."
Bynum has reason to be confident. Even though the Lakers were swept out of the second round a season ago, they still beat the New Orleans Hornets in the first round in their first close-out attempt in Game 6. During their 2010 championship run, the Lakers were 5-0 in elimination games.
"Patience and intelligence," Kobe Bryant said. "You just really have to take the time to execute and also come out with the right energy to carry a game."
And if the energy is in Denver's favor?
"Sometimes when teams come out and jump out to quick start or gain confidence, it can be a real drag," Bryant said. "Hopefully that won't be the case (Tuesday)."
Bynum, who is posting career playoff highs in points (18.5), rebounds (10.3) and blocks (4.2) per game this postseason, knows a thing or two about early energy being a factor. He was scoreless in the first half of Game 3 as the Nuggets built a 16-point lead by intermission. He bounced back in Game 4 by scoring 11 of his 19 points in the first half.
"All we do is play as hard as we can," Bynum said. "We're at home, we're going to have the crowd there. Energy is going to be in ample supply and we're going to be fine."
If the Lakers can close out the Nuggets on Tuesday, it would ensure them some rest heading into a series against a Thunder team that will likely have at least a full week without a game before the Western Conference semifinals tip off.
"Obviously anybody would want to sweep a series, so you can rest and get on to the next one if at all possible, but the reality of it is, we still have a game or games in front of us against the Nuggets," Brown said. "If we lose focus and start thinking too much about the next opponent, which at times can be human nature, then you might not be at your sharpest when you play your next game against your current opponent. We have to be careful of that and do what I always say is, just think about your next play. Next play. Next play. Next play. What's our next play? Well, tipoff (Tuesday) against the Nuggets after we have a shootaround."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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