Lakers look to regroup for Game 3

Updated: May 18, 2012, 10:04 AM ET
By Dave McMenamin | ESPNLosAngeles.com

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Los Angeles Lakers dropped the first two games of their Western Conference semifinals series with the Oklahoma City Thunder in excruciating fashion.

First, they were blown out by 29 points in Game 1. Then they squandered away a seven-point lead in the final two minutes to lose by two in Game 2.

How do they go about picking up the pieces and regroup before Game 3 on Friday?

"I don't think we have many pieces to pick up," said Lakers center Andrew Bynum after the team's brief practice and extended film session on Thursday. "We know exactly how to defend them now."

Despite their gut-wrenching Game 2 loss, the Lakers made dramatic improvements on the defensive end, holding the Thunder to just 77 points (compared to 119 in Game 1) on 42.0 percent shooting (compared to 53.0 percent), while forcing 13 Oklahoma City turnovers (compared to four).

"We're actually confident," Bynum said.

Lakers co-captain Pau Gasol echoed Bynum's remarks, insisting that the team is looking squarely ahead to their upcoming home games at Staples Center rather than worrying about the rocky start they got off to on the road.

"That's behind (us), that's behind really," Gasol said. "We have a great team, we have a great desire and even though we're playing a very tough opponent and we're behind in this series, we still believe in our chances. We got to fight until the end, obviously. (Friday) is an important, crucial game. Crucial game. Both games are crucial. To be able to go back to Oklahoma with the series tied and put the pressure back on them, that's where our chances are."

Added Kobe Bryant, who spent time talking to the team on Thursday about his experience coming back from an 0-2 hole to win a series against San Antonio in 2004: "Everybody is fine."

Well, maybe not everybody.

Lakers starting point guard Ramon Sessions has fallen into a slump. Sessions, playing the first postseason of his five-year career, showed no signs of jitters through the first six games of the Lakers first-round series against Denver. But he has fallen on tough times in his last three playoff games.

Sessions averaged 13.0 points, 4.3 assists and 4.0 rebounds on 40.1 percent shooting in the Lakers' first six games against Denver and even made a clutch 3 on the road late in Game 4 to secure L.A. the victory. In his last three games, starting with Game 7 against the Nuggets, Sessions is averaging just 2.7 points, 1.7 assists and 1.3 rebounds on 22.2 percent shooting.

"He's got to be aggressive," said Lakers coach Mike Brown. "He's got the ultra green light. If he shoots 20 times, I'll be the first to tell you I'm OK with it."

Sessions said he is trying to digest the Lakers' shortened playbook they are using in the postseason, while making sure to get his teammates involved before looking for his own offense.

"We're playing a lot of post-up ball with Kob', Bynum and Pau, trying to get those guys going and I'm just trying to figure out where mine is going to come," Sessions said.

Lakers' backup point guard Steve Blake hasn't fared much better than Sessions through the first two games of the Thunder series, averaging just 2.5 points, 2.0 assists and 2.5 turnovers while missing the potential game-winning 3 with 3.9 seconds left in Game 2.

After Brown said Wednesday that Bryant was "wide open on the back side" on the sideline out-of-bounds play that was drawn up for Metta World Peace to pass the ball to Bryant, but ended up with World Peace going to Blake, the coach changed his stance on the play after reviewing the game tape.

"We can draw up a million different plays for Kobe, he's not always going to get open," said Brown. "That's why he has four other guys out on the floor and sometimes somebody else is going to be open because of what he does and where he goes. If somebody else is open, I got faith in everybody that's out on the floor. Metta is a great passer. He made the right decision. Steve Blake was wide open."

Said World Peace: "Nobody else was open. Steve was the only one open. Rather than turning it over, you throw it to the open guy."

Bryant said "of course" he would have liked the chance to take the last shot but conceded that World Peace made a "sound decision."

Now the challenge is for the third-seeded Lakers to continue to play sound defense against the second-seeded Thunder and clamp down on Oklahoma City's explosive offense.

"At this point in the year, if we can't sustain it, we don't deserve to win," said Brown.

Dave McMenamin

ESPNLosAngeles.com

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