Game 3 of the Western Conference finals between the Jazz and Lakers is big. So big, in fact, that a prominent Los Angeles-area teenager declined an invitation to a high school prom in order to be there.
His name? Kobe Bryant."I had to turn it down," he said. "I'm in the playoffs."
After a four-day hiatus, the best-of-seven series shifts to the Great Western Forum where Bryant and his Los Angeles teammates take aim at Utah's 2-0 lead.
"I think we're still very confident. We're anxious and ready to get out on the floor. Everybody's pretty much upbeat," Bryant said. "We just have to defend our home court. That's what (Utah) did. That's what the home-court advantage is for. Hopefully, we'll come in, get this game and then worry about the next one."
If history is any indication, the Lakers are in a must-win situation tonight. No team has ever won an NBA playoff series after losing the first three games.
After a 2 1/2-hour practice Thursday, Los Angeles coach Del Harris pronounced his team ready to avoid a trip to no-man's land. Shaquille O'Neal, the self-proclaimed leader of the Lakers, agreed.
"(Practice) was real intense. We realize that this series is far from over," he said. "We just have to play strong and come with a lot of energy and effort."
L.A. got neither in Game 1 and not enough of either in Game 2. O'Neal continued his "just one of those days" explanation for the opener, while attributing the second to a careless fourth quarter.
"We're frustrated," O'Neal said after the losses. "Hopefully we can get certain breaks, from certain people, wearing certain shirts."
The Lakers are home, but their backs are most definitely against the wall. Utah is outscoring Los Angeles by an average of 105.5 points to 86, while making 52.7 percent of its shots from the field. The Lakers, meanwhile, are connecting on just 37.5 percent of their attempts.
"I think if we're aggressive defensively it'll translate to our offense,"
Bryant said of L.A.'s hopes to reverse the statistical landslide. "I think we're very capable of doing that. We have the talent and the defensive intensity to do that."
Harris added that now is not the time to reinvent the Lakers.
"We won 61 games and are in the final four, so why would I change the line-up? Why would I put in a new offense? Why would I react like a moron and panic?"
Besides, he said, the Lakers are too busy planning their future. L.A.'s short-term goals are simple: win Friday and Sunday and turn this series into a best-of-three affair.
"That will make it interesting again," said O'Neal.