Lakers 95, Thunder 94

OKLAHOMA CITY — The Lakers escaped the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder, winning Game 6 and taking the first-round series. They said they would be better for having faced such a young and energetic team. “Every year in the playoffs, every series, what you try to do is get better,” Kobe Bryant said. “This series forced us to play hard on every possession because Oklahoma demanded that from us. We feel like we’re a better ballclub for it.”

We’ll find out soon. Game 1 of the second-round series against Utah is Sunday.

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Second-round schedule

Here’s the Lakers-Jazz schedule, with times and TV

Game 1: Sunday at Staples Center, 12:30 p.m., Channel 7.
Game 2: Tuesday at Staples Center, 7:30 p.m., TNT.
Game 3: May 8 at Utah, 5 p.m., Channel 7.
Game 4: May 10 at Utah, 7:30 p.m. TNT.
Game 5: May 12 at Staples Center, TBD, TNT, if necessary.
Game 6: May 14 at Utah, TBD, ESPN, if necessary.
Game 7: May 17 at Staples Center, 6 p.m., TNT, if necessary.

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Halftime: Lakers 53, Thunder 47

OKLAHOMA CITY — If the Lakers end this thing tonight, then they owe full props to Ron Artest for his dogged pursuit of the Oklahoma City Thunder’s Kevin Durant. Artest’s offense has been, well, offensive during the series. His defensive play has been exceptional, however. Durant scored 14 points on only 2-for-11 shooting in the first half. Durant missed his first seven shots tonight. He got to the free throw line early and often, however. He made 9 of 10. Artest scored only two points on 1-for-5 shooting as the Lakers led most of the way.

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Jackson’s future

Phil Jackson will amost certainly return to coaching next season, after his current contract with the Lakers ends after the conclusion of the playoffs, according to his girlfriend and the boss’ daughter Jeanie Buss. Whether it’s with the Lakers remains to be seen, however. Buss told Ramona Shelburne of the local ESPN Website she can’t see Jackson walking away from the profession. She also said she can’t see her father, Jerry, paying Jackson $12 million per season, as he is now.

Here’s more from Jeanie Buss:

“I think if they win it’s like a no-brainer he’ll come back because he’ll want to win three in a row. But (if they don’t win), if there isn’t that connection, he would understand. Plus, my dad has made it very clear he doesn’t want to pay him what he’s been paying him. So that’s kind of hard, too. You could kind of say, in some jobs, well I’m cutting back your hours. But can you see him cutting back his hours? It’s not really about the amount of money, it’s about ‘I can’t give you less effort.’”

Here’s another key quote from Jeanie:

“I know Phil will be coaching next year, somewhere. Whether it’s here or someplace else I don’t know. There’s going to be a lot of good jobs that come up this summer. I know that he can’t just retire. I’m, like, ‘Honey, what are you going to do? Are you going to help your kids go change diapers and stuff?’”

Jackson, a Hall of Famer with an NBA-record 10 championships, said recently he wouldn’t make a decision on coaching beyond this season until after consulting with his doctor. He said the Lakers’ playoff success also would factor into his decision.

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Bryant’s jersey is No. 1

Here’s some rather predictable news:

Kobe Bryant topped the list of the league’s most popular jerseys for the second consecutive season, according to sales figures released by the NBA today. Bryant’s jersey was No. 1 in sales at the NBA Store in New York and on NBAStore.com. Meanwhile, the Lakers were the league’s top seller in overall merchandise for the seventh time in the last eight seasons. The Celtics were second, the Cavaliers were third, the Bulls were fourth and the New York Knicks were fifth.

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Kobe’s defensive switch

It was Kobe Bryant’s idea to swap defensive assignments for Game 5 against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Bryant guarded Russell Westbrook instead of Thabo Sefolosha. Derek Fisher checked Sefolosha. Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Bryant approached him and said, “I’d like to guard Westbrook.” Jackson added: “It takes a much higher activity level (to guard Westbrook). It’s every play. There’s no time off on defense. It told me what his determination was, whether his knee was better or not (I don’t know).” Bryant has been troubled for months by injuries to his right index finger, left ankle and right knee.

Westbrook scored 15 points on 4-for-13 shooting in Game 5.

“I enjoy the challenge,” Bryant said of checking Westbrook. “He’s been playing sensational, and if we’re going to be eliminated I don’t want to go into the summer thinking I could’ve done something about it, so i accepted the challenge.”

Asked how he stayed with the rookie, the 31-year-old Bryant said: “Just being a savvy old dog I guess.”

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Lakers 111, Thunder 87

It was over almost before it began. The Lakers had no trouble with the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5 tonight. They led by as many as 32 points in the third quarter en route to a 3-2 lead in the best-of-7 series. Game 6 will be Friday night in Oklahoma City. The Lakers should be well rested since only Ron Artest, Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom played more than 31 minutes. The Lakers’ 7-footers led them. Pau Gasol had 25 points and Andrew Bynum scored 21. They both had 11 rebounds. Kevin Durant scored only 17 points on 5-for-14 shooting. The Lakers outscored the Thunder, 58-26, in the paint. Question is, can the Lakers do it again in Game 6 and eliminate the Thunder?

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Halftime: Lakers 55, Thunder 34

There were a couple of changes for Game 5 tonight. Ron Artest shaved his head, getting rid of the hideous blond dye job, making his look a little less conspicuous as he chased Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant around the court. Kobe Bryant guarded Russell Westbrook instead of Thabo Sefolosha, who hasn’t hurt anybody so far in the series. Also, Durant began guarding Bryant instead of checking Artest. The Lakers also kept pounding the ball inside and kept getting results and they led by as many as 21 points in the first half. The Lakers held the Thunder to 0-for-9 shooting and forced two turnovers to start the game.

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Bryant injury update

Reporters in print, on the Internet and on TV and radio have referred to one of Kobe Bryant’s injuries as either a broken right index finger or an avulsion fracture (the technical term) of the right index finger. They have been reporting that because that’s what the Lakers have been saying about Bryant’s finger. Until today, that is. Today, the team said the break or fracture has healed. Now, Bryant is suffering from arthritis in the finger. So, he still is suffering from left ankle, right index finger and right knee injuries.

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Free throw disparity

There are two ways to look at the huge gap in free throws during Games 3 and 4 in Oklahoma City, when the Thunder shot 34 and then 48 and the Lakers shot 12 and then 28. First, the Lakers aren’t fast enough to keep up with the Thunder. They aren’t moving their feet on defense and are reaching for the ball. They are playing a step behind the faster Thunder. Second, the referees are killing the Lakers. Personally, I’ll go with No. 1.

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