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For a while there, it looked as if the Lakers remained mired in mud. After being blown out in Game Two of their semifinal round series, they began yesterday’s homestand as if they were still struggling to keep pace against the energetic Warriors. And so tentative did they begin off the blocks that even LeBron James, the all-time leader in playoff appearances at 275, failed to attempt a single shot. They might well have dug themselves into a hole had D’Angelo Russell not managed to hit the ground running and scoring 13 of their first 17 points. Absent his smooth touch, they would have wound up with a deficit larger than seven points heading into the second quarter.

Creditably, however, the Lakers stayed true to their game plan of taking as much time as they could to get the best possible shot out of every possession. At the same time, they focused their efforts on defense, particularly at the three-point line, fueled by unshakable belief that Anthony Davis would be able to take care of anything they funnel closer to the basket. And he didn’t do just that. As in Game One, he was a force the entire length of the court; when the battlesmoke cleared, he wound up with a stat line of 25 (on 10 field goal attempts), 12, three, three, and four.

Why Davis seems to have ebbs and flows so far in the 2023 postseason is subject to speculation. That said, what cannot be denied is the profound impact he has on the game when he performs close to potential. Simply put, there is nobody on the court that can match his singular skill set, and his level of play has dictated the outcome. Yesterday, his resiliency enabled the Lakers to claim the middle quarters decisively, not unlike the way the Warriors did in Game Two. And so resounding was the beatdown that he and James — and the rest of the regular rotation that apparently now includes previously mothballed Lonnie Walker IV — got much-needed rest in the final period.

For the Lakers, the blueprint is clear. Because they’re nowhere near as good as the Warriors from the outside, they need to stay committed to their bully-ball predilections and not fall prey to the temptation of settling for contested jumpers. They’re bigger and stronger, and mere acknowledgment of the damage they can deal as a result will do wonders. Yesterday, their resolve produced 37 free throw attempts and, subsequently, 16 more points. It likewise doesn’t hurt when they create easy baskets off turnovers they force.

And so the Lakers retain homecourt advantage and aim to consolidate it tomorrow. The Arena crowd will be rocking even as the Warriors figure to be significantly better. There are no secrets between the protagonists at this point, with the winners ultimately determined by confidence and poise.

Anthony L. Cuaycong has been writing Courtside since BusinessWorld introduced a Sports section in 1994. He is a consultant on strategic planning, operations and human resources management, corporate communications, and business development.

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