SALT LAKE CITY — A loose group of Los Angeles Lakers had a film session and short practice at EnergySolutions Arena on Sunday afternoon. Afterward, they did their best to not sound overconfident despite leading the Utah Jazz 3-0 in their best-of-seven Western Conference semifinal series.
They even went so far as to talk of the import of tonight's fourth game.
"You never know what can happen in a series," said Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant. "Ankles can be turned, pulled groins, things like that. We have the ability to put the nail in the coffin, and it's imperative that we do it."
Imperative? Probably not.
The fact remains that no NBA team with a 3-0 lead has ever lost a series. Even if the Jazz were to win tonight (8:30 p.m. TNT-televised game at EnergySolutions), the Lakers would have three additional chances to finish off Utah's season — including two in the Staples Center in L.A.
While no one expects the Jazz to win four straight against the defending NBA champs, the Lakers insist that they aren't planning on showing any mercy.
"Obviously, you try to win as soon as possible and try not to give them any hope, any more chances," said Lakers center/forward Pau Gasol.
Gasol, an eight-year NBA veteran, has been on the other side of a playoff series when his team has trailed 3-0, so he knows a bit about what the Jazz are going through, too.
"It's a tough position to be in," said Gasol of being down 3-0. "If you get a couple of runs in Game 4 against you, you're probably going to fold. It's tough because you know that nobody has ever come back (to win a series)."
The Lakers are aware that this could easily be a completely different series. The Jazz led late in the series opener before losing, kept it close in the second game and were ahead almost all game on Saturday. Utah would have won, in fact, if Wesley Matthews' open tip-in at the buzzer had fallen.
By contrast, the Lakers won Game 6 vs. Oklahoma City in the first round when Bryant missed a jumper only to have Gasol tip it in at the buzzer. Bryant, for one, understands that his team has had some good fortune thus far in the postseason.
"You need a little luck, absolutely," said Bryant. "Luck goes a long way."
Lakers point guard Derek Fisher also admits his team has been a little lucky — but says that good teams make their own good fortune.
"There are times when you are fortunate enough to have the ball bounce your way," Fisher said. "There are things you can't always explain, when there wasn't a play drawn up for it to happen. But there are other times where you develop the ability to figure out ways to win."
Lakers coach Phil Jackson liked the way his team shot from the perimeter in the third game, making 13 3-pointers as a team. But he hopes it won't have to make so many tonight.
"Three-point shots are hero shots. They are great shots if they are going in," said Jackson. "But they'll get you fast breaks at the other end of the court if they don't."1 comment on this story
Jackson said a key to his team's success tonight could be getting big men Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom more involved. Those two players combined for only eight points during Saturday's victory.
The Lakers aren't expecting the Jazz to go away without a fight.
"Jerry (Sloan) is not a quitter and never has been," said Fisher of the Hall of Fame Jazz coach. "He's instilled that in his teams. I've never seen a Jazz team — at any point in my lifetime — quit."
The Jazz may not quit, but it just may be that they simply aren't good enough to beat the Lakers, especially four straight times.