As such, it was apt when, in describing how the Lakers are tempering their emotions in the moment, Dwight Howard sounded an awful lot like Bryant on Friday.
In the 2009 Finals, after the Lakers went up 2-0 over Howard’s Orlando Magic, Bryant was asked by a reporter why he wasn’t smiling during his postgame news conference. “What’s there to be happy about?” Bryant retorted. “The job’s not finished. Is the job finished? I don’t think so.”
The Nuggets team the Lakers are facing has proven resilient when on the brink of elimination. Denver trailed the Utah Jazz 3-1 in the first round and won the series. It fell behind 3-1 to the LA Clippers in the conference semifinals and won that series, too. In light of that, Howard says that rather than allowing Denver any daylight, the Lakers have to play like a team that could see its season end Saturday.
“They’re going to give us their best shot. They’re not going to let up,” Howard said. “They’re a really good team, very well coached. We understand that. We’re one step closer to our dream, so we’re not going to take our foot off the gas. I think we’re going to bring more intensity than we brought before.
“We have a well-experienced group of guys on our team, even coaches. We understand how important this series is and this game is and that we should treat it like a Game 7 with our intensity and our effort and just play as hard as we can.”
As impressive as the Nuggets have been, accounting for two of the 13 3-1 comebacks in league history and becoming the first team to come back from 3-1 twice in one postseason, the Lakers have some closeout history on their side.
LeBron James is 14-0 in his postseason career in series in which his teams go up 3-1, according to research by ESPN Stats & Information. Eleven of those series were closed out in Game 5, including two in these playoffs, as the Lakers eliminated the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 5 in the first round and the Houston Rockets in Game 5 in the Western semis.
“Our group’s demeanor in all of these playoff games has been to treat every one like a must-win,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Friday. “I would say that same mindset has applied to the close-out games we had against Houston and Portland, and we know those are always the most difficult wins to get in a series, and we expect this to be no different.”
The Lakers listed forward Anthony Davis as questionable for Saturday’s game because of a sprained ankle. Davis landed awkwardly on the ankle in the fourth quarter of Game 4 but stayed in the game. Earlier Friday, Vogel said Davis was “experiencing some soreness” but would be “good to go” on Saturday.