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Published: Tuesday, 6/10/2008

Lakers could use Staples energy


LOS ANGELES - Frequent flyers, the Los Angeles Lakers were allowed an unlimited number of carry-on items for their trip home.

It remains to be seen if any of them contained momentum.

After losing two games in Boston, the Lakers returned to California on Monday in a hole as deep as Topanga Canyon. Over 96 minutes, they have looked nothing like the team which pulverized Denver, pushed aside Utah, and swatted away San Antonio with ease on the way to winning the Western Conference title.

Excepting an eight-minute stretch at the end of Game 2, Kobe Bryant and his crew have looked sickly in the finals.

However, there's no truth to the rumor they were taken from their charter plane at LAX in Paul Pierce's wheelchair.

Though down 0-2, and facing history along with the league's toughest defense, the Lakers felt good about whacking a 24-point deficit to two over the final 7:55 - and feel confident they can swing the series in Game 3 tonight with energy from the Staples Center crowd.

They are 8-0 in the postseason there and unbeaten in 14 home games since March 28.

"All they did is protect their home court," said Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic, who made two 3-pointers in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 108-102 loss and had a potential go-ahead 3 blocked by Pierce with 14 seconds left. "It's going to be a different story in L.A."

It had better be.

Only three teams: Boston against Los Angeles in 1969, Portland against Philadelphia in 1977, and Miami against Dallas in 2005 have overcome an 0-2 deficit to win it all. The Lakers have some work to do if they intend to be the fourth.

Through two games, they have been outhustled, outmuscled, outeverythinged by a Celtics team now two wins from a 17th NBA championship. After Sunday's loss, Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson was asked if the team can carry the momentum from their failed, frantic fourth-quarter comeback into Game 3.

"No, no," said Jackson, who has been delivering one-liners like Rodney Dangerfield during the series. "It's 2,500 miles away. It's too far to carry it."

The purple-and-gold, though, have been a different club while playing before super fan Jack Nicholson and Hollywood's glitzy crowd. Like the Celtics, the Lakers will try to feed off the energy of being back in familiar surroundings.

The Lakers are capable of doing it, but they'll need Bryant to start being himself and make some shots. He's 20-of-49 in two games. They need Pau Gasol to assert himself, and they'll need their touted bench to do more than it has done so far. Boston's reserves have outclassed the Lakers' backups.

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