EL SEGUNDO — Down but defiant, the Lakers reconvened Sunday at their practice facility. They sounded as upbeat as any team could be when facing playoff elimination, a positive tone running like an electrical current through their comments about their 3-0 series deficit in the Western Conference finals.
Just because no team in NBA history has rallied to win a playoff series when trailing 3-0 doesn’t mean it can’t be done, according to Ham.
“Hell, yeah, we’ve got an opportunity, man,” he said. “Everybody’s counting us out. It’s crazy. It’s no different than what we’ve been through all year. Just the uphill battle and trying to solidify ourselves and re-establish what this culture is all about, the Lakers organization. I think we’ve done that and we have another opportunity to take another step in the right direction come (Monday).”
Ham bristled when asked why no team in the league has overcome a 3-0 deficit.
“I don’t know,’ he said after the team held a film-study session Sunday. “You have to ask them (other teams). I don’t know, I don’t know. You have to ask them. The only thing I know is we’re coming out to win a game on Monday.”
The Lakers need only look up from their bench at Crypto.com Arena to bear witness to a team that has rallied from a 3-0 series deficit to win. That team would be the 2014 Stanley Cup champion Kings, whose banner hangs from the rafters thanks, in part, to storming back to beat the San Jose Sharks in the first round.
In fact, the Kings are one of four NHL teams to do it, joining the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, the New York Islanders in 1975 and the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1942. One Major League Baseball team has done it, the Boston Red Sox in 2004. Only three NBA teams have even rallied to force a Game 7.
The Lakers have trailed 3-0 in a series eight times in their glorious history before these playoffs, and they’ve been swept eight times. Will the ninth time produce a different result? You’d have a difficult time persuading the Lakers that their season won’t come to an end at the hands of the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 on Monday.
Game 5, if necessary, will be played Wednesday in Denver.
“Obviously, you see the numbers and, like you said, it’s never been done,” Lakers guard Austin Reaves said in response to a reporter’s question about the NBA’s lack of a team to rally from 3-0 in a series. “You think about it as just winning four games in a row, I’m sure there’s a lot of guys in this gym that have won four games in a row. Maybe not against the same team, over and over again, but if we put our best foot forward every day, every game, you know, we’ll have a chance.”
So, what has to change for the Lakers to pull off the unthinkable?
For starters, forget about adjustments or tweaks to the starting lineup.
“Sometimes the greatest adjustment is just to play better,” Ham said. “To play harder. Play better. As simple as it sounds, sometimes that’s the most key adjustment. It’s funny because it’s almost become a cliche. ‘Adjustments, adjustments, adjustments.’ Sometimes you go in there, you take a long, hard look at the film and you try to do what you’ve been doing better.
“There’s a difference between strategy and execution. Sometimes you can have the right strategy and you’re outplayed by your opponent. So, you have to navigate through all that and recognize and pinpoint what exactly is causing us to fall short and once you do that, you give it to the team in a simple form and you go out and try to execute it.”
It doesn’t take a basketball savant to recognize the Nuggets’ superiority in the fourth quarters of the games so far, with center Nikola Jokic and guard Jamal Murray taking command when it matters most. They sparked a game-changing, 13-0 run in the fourth quarter of Game 3, for instance.
What’s more, Denver’s top players have outplayed their Lakers counterparts, LeBron James and Anthony Davis. James tweaked his ankle near the end of Game 2 and didn’t play with his usual explosiveness in Game 3. Davis has shouldered a heavy burden during the playoffs, and well before them, too.
Do the Lakers have anything left in the tank for Game 4?
“We’re alive, man,” Ham said of the challenge ahead of the Lakers. “The series is not over. People want to throw out the odds. Yeah, don’t get me wrong, we’re facing a hell of a ballclub, one talented bunch that’s very well coached. But we have things that we can do, as well. The only thing we have to do is just focus on one game. We don’t have to be overwhelmed about the outside noise or the overall series. We just have to worry about one game. What’s exactly in front of us.”
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