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Lakers vs. Nuggets Game 5 Preview: Job’s not finished

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The Lakers have a 3-1 lead, but their series against the Nuggets is far from over.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Denver Nuggets - Game Four Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

After Game 2 of the 2009 NBA Finals, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers had just won their second game in a row over Dwight Howard and the Orlando Magic, giving them a 2-0 lead and putting them well on their way to capturing Bryant’s fourth NBA championship.

The thing was, Bryant didn’t look very happy. Noting this, a reporter in the postgame press conference asked him why he wasn’t smiling. Hadn’t he just protected homecourt and given his team a fairly significant lead in the NBA Finals?

Bryant responded with a now iconic line.

“What’s there to be happy about?” Bryant said. “Job’s not finished. Job finished? I don’t think so.”

Our own Christian Rivas recently reminisced about that moment, and it was hard not to think about it again while listening to Howard — Bryant’s opponent in that series and a teammate he endlessly clashed with during their time together, now with the Lakers again in the Western Conference Finals — speak after the Lakers’ practice on Friday.

Like Bryant was that night, Howard wasn’t smiling, and didn’t throughout the whole interview. He didn’t look like he much wanted to be there, and his head seemed to be somewhere else, thinking about something more important. It wasn’t hard to guess why after one particular question.

“Obviously you guys know about Denver’s history with the 3-1 leads and how dangerous they’ve been in that position,” a reporter asked Howard during the session. “What’s sort of your mentality and what do you think the team mentality is approaching this Game 5?”

“Simple,” Howard said. “The job is not finished.”

He’s not wrong. While it’s possible that too much has been made of Denver’s almost-mystical ability to overcome 3-1 deficits, what’s definitely real is that they aren’t a team that gives up. They don’t lay over. They don’t stop fighting. The Lakers are going to have to do something no other team this postseason has done on Saturday and finish them off.

If they can, they’ll put themselves in the same position as Kobe Bryant’s Lakers were when he delivered the legendary line that Howard paraphrased: Looking down a real chance to win a banner for the purple and gold in Orlando. For Howard, it would complete the full-circle transformation from the player and person he was in that series to the one he is today.

But he can’t allow himself to think about all that yet.

The job’s not finished.

Notes and Updates

  • The Lakers have a fairly lengthy injury report for this game, most notably Anthony Davis being listed as questionable with an ankle sprain:

This might seem like cause for concern, but for what it’s worth, both Davis and Lakers head coach Frank Vogel both said he should be good to go on Saturday. We’ll see if that holds true.

The Lakers and Nuggets will tip off at 6:00 p.m. PT. Like the rest of this series, Game 5 will be televised on TNT.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.