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BACK IN CONTROL: Ron Artest, left, was one of the big reasons the Lakers shut down Russell Westbrook (0) and the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 5. The series resumes on Friday in Oklahoma City (Associated Press)
Will the real Lakers please stand up?
Game 5 victory is either a shadow of things to come or just another tease
By Evan BarnesSentinel Sports EditorMemo to the Lakers - if you want to repeat as NBA champs, now is the time to wake up and play like you have something to defend.Listen to the whispers. "Kobe's getting old." "They can't play on the road against good teams." "The Lakers don't have the hunger."You hear that? Of course you don't. A dominant Game 5 win blocked them out. Don't worry, you won't hear them tomorrow either at Oklahoma City with that loud crowd.The mood might be happier from Game 5 but one game doesn't atone for a lazy series. The real test will be on Friday.Home cooking makes everything better. Tuesday saw them play inspired for the first time in months and for that we say, "What took you so long?"Every Lakers fan has said it. Instead of waiting for you to flip the proverbial switch, they've gotten closer to flipping their own switch. The panic one.Now fans have stepped away to celebrate advancing to the next round. You'll see the flags come out in full force by this weekend.But here's where we step back. Look past the cheers and ask a serious question: Why can't this happen every night?They hope Tuesday was a return to form, not another tease of toying with the opposition. Game 5 quieted the skeptics but they'll need another reminder in Game 6.Give the Thunder credit, they are showing why they'll be running the show in the very near future.Kevin Durant is an unguardable monster who'll compete for scoring titles over the next decade. Russell Westbrook is basically auditioning to be your next point guard when his contract expires. It's ironic that it's coming at the expense of Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar. Without Farmar leaving for the NBA, Westbrook goes to Pepperdine and probably never gets major attention. Some way of showing appreciation, huh?The Thunder are hungry, aggressive and playing with urgency. But in Game 5, their youth caught up to them and their excitement saw them play from behind the entire way.Like any good critic, it's hard watching you play inconsistent, knowing full well that your talent says otherwise. Here's some solutions for the rest of the way.You see those two trees in the middle? Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum? They have to be more active. They both nearly are averaging double-doubles in the series. Tuesday showed why they need to demand the ball and get it.As for Kobe Bryant, face the fact that he's hurt, folks. An injured Bryant is still better than all but 3 percent of the league but just like he's adjusted his shot in spite of his injuries, he has to adjust his game.Game 5 was a reminder of the Kobe we saw in the NBA Finals. A player who can get his shot but makes the game easier by getting others involved. He had more assists than field goals made, something all the more shocking given his high volume of shots the last two months.Whatever he and Phil Jackson said to rally their troops, they need to say it again today and Friday. Remind the Thunder who the better team is and don't give them a reason to smell an advantage.That brings me to Lamar Odom. Odom and the bench finally came alive in Game 5 but that's not enough. I know Odom disappears every so often but now that he finally woke up, can somebody keep him awake??And memo to Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, Josh Powell and Luke Walton. Take the confidence from Game 5 and bring that same poise and decision making to Oklahoma City. We think you left it at LAX before Game 3.The good news is that waking up means you can look ahead in the West. And it's a pretty picture for the future.Dallas and Denver? The teams most thought you'd have trouble with? Well, they are suddenly facing an early summer.I the second round, it's almost certain that you'll face Phoenix, a team the Lakers have owned since they faced off in the 2007 postseason.The road to the Finals just got easier. The quest for a repeat is still on track but the fact is the you still control their destiny.Playing like they did in Game 5 was a great start, but maintaining that intensity for the next month will show everyone if they indeed flipped the proverbial switch.Sure you'll probably win on Friday but ask any champion - the worst thing to do isn't showing a weakness, it's showing a limited strength.Now that you've waken up, stay up. Start playing like defending champions every night or else summer vacation starts early.