THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Confidence still an LA staple

By Monique Walker
Globe Staff / June 15, 2010

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LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant’s legacy, Andrew Bynum’s knee, and Ron Artest’s new attitude have been popular subjects throughout the NBA Finals. For the first time this postseason, however, the Lakers’ potential elimination is the hot topic.

The defending champions experienced second-half breakdowns in Games 4 and 5 that led to losses. In Game 4 the Celtics rode their bench and the energy at TD Garden to a 96-89 victory. In Game 5, Paul Pierce provided his best performance of the series to lead Boston to a 92-86 win.

As a result, the Lakers are facing elimination by the Celtics for the second time in three seasons. But they are not ready to panic. When asked after Sunday night’s game if he was confident the Lakers could win two at home, Bryant replied, “I’m not very confident at all,’’ and grinned.

The Lakers are grounded in reality. Veterans Bryant and Derek Fisher both have four championship rings. Gasol got his first last year, when the Lakers rebounded from their 2008 fold against the Celtics without Bynum. Artest is playing in his first Finals in his 11-year career. As far as Bryant is concerned, this team shouldn’t need a grand speech before tonight’s Game 6.

“Just man up and play,’’ Bryant said after Game 5. “What the hell is the big deal? I don’t see it as a big deal. If I have to say something to them, then we don’t deserve to be champions. We’re down 3-2, go home, win one game, go into the next one. Simple as that.’’

If the Lakers want to force Game 7, there are plenty of areas for improvement. Players talked about a lack of ball movement contributing to a stagnate offense. Bynum must hold up after making the cross-country trip and playing 32 minutes in Game 5 two days after having his right knee drained for the second time in this series.

“I was ready to go out and play and play hard,’’ Bynum said after Game 5. “Just got to come back out there [tonight].’’

Bynum said he will not overthink his job in Game 6.

“I’m not getting caught up in that,’’ Bynum said. “We understand that these guys had home court. We have to force Game 7. It’s going to be very tough for them to beat us in a Game 7 on our court. We got to get back and we got to get ready.’’

The Lakers have won 84 percent of their postseason games at Staples Center since moving to the arena in 1999. The Celtics’ Game 2 victory snapped LA’s 12-game playoff win streak at Staples Center that dated to the 2009 Western Conference finals. But being at home is the key, said Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

“Well, you know, if you look at it, they’ve come home and carried the 3-2 lead back,’’ he said Sunday night. “It’s basically home court, home court. Now we’re going back to home court to win it. That’s the way it’s supposed to be, isn’t it?’’

Monique Walker can be reached at mwalker@globe.com.

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