LOS ANGELES -- If it was free and easy, it wouldn't be the same melodramatic, charismatic Los Angeles Lakers you have come to know and love and hate and love and hate.
And love and hate.
If it was fast and mindless, it wouldn't come close to reflecting the distance of the journey taken, and the last great leap still to be made.
If it was simple, they would've done it long ago.
''We're still learning how to be a championship team,'' guard Derek Fisher said, explaining why the Lakers can make things so difficult immediately after making them seem so easy. ''This is our first go-'round with this.
''We're kind of learning on the fly how to be a championship team and how to beat teams when they're facing elimination. But in the meantime, we'll take the championship at home.''
So here are the Lakers, about to perform their second take of ''That Championship Moment,'' ready to try to clinch a title again in Game 6 of the NBA finals against the Indiana Pacers Monday night at Staples Center.
Here are the Lakers, four quarters away from their first championship in 12 seasons, and three days away from their worst loss of the season, by 33 points, in Game 5 at Conseco Fieldhouse.
They are the team that won 67 games in the regular season and are ahead, 3-2, in the finals, with the last two games (if the last one is necessary) at Staples, where they have finished off the first three rounds of the playoffs.
But they are also the team that still has emotional baggage from past postseason sags, that wasn't supposed to seriously compete for a title until next season, and that has a remarkable ability to fluctuate between dominance and collapse within the span of days, hours, quarters.
They have undergone a giant mental growth spurt this season, and sometimes, in tough situations, especially away from the cushions of home -- such as Game 5 -- they revert.
''It's a young team,'' Coach Phil Jackson said Sunday. ''This is a new team in this kind of a situation. And we've needed our home to do that.''
Throughout these playoffs, Jackson has calmly accepted the latest Laker fumble (two bad losses in Sacramento, a crushing in Phoenix, back-to-back losses to Portland) and pushed his team to look forward, not back.
To gain insight from defeat, not ratchet up the anxiety.
And tonight is possibly the last test for a team constantly bobbing up and down on the grading curve.
''You win a ballgame, that's all it is,'' Jackson said of the goal after suffering the team's worst loss of the season. ''You just win a ballgame.
''We're here to win a basketball game and we're going to do it Monday night. That's what we want to do. That's the only game there is right now for us.
These are the situations, Jackson suggests and others reinforce, that illustrate the accomplishment of this Laker season, and the problems still remaining to be fixed.
With only a year to adjust to it, the Lakers don't have the triangle offense 100 percent integrated -- it often takes more than two seasons, Jackson has repeatedly said, though Shaquille O'Neal's presence has helped alleviate much of the transition period.
Kobe Bryant is still only 21 and O'Neal is 28; three players on the roster -- Ron Harper, John Salley and Brian Shaw -- were patched onto the roster only in October, and there are other lineup changes sure to come, championship or no championship.
''I think that Phil from the very beginning sort of looked upon this year as laying a foundation, building for the future,'' assistant coach Tex Winter said.
''It might've almost been a mistake for us to have the kind of regular-season record that we had, because then all of our expectations, including Phil's I think, got a lot higher.
''Because we looked upon it as laying the foundation and building for the future. And also getting the right pieces of the puzzle in place.''
Jackson, for his part, has mainly discussed the emotional makeup of his team, which at times has displayed a roaring spirit when faced with deep deficits, but also a fizzling focus when opponents are ready to be dispatched.
''This team lacks consistent energy, the ability to concentrate and work hard and persevere,'' Jackson said. ''I think one thing they've learned this year is they don't give up, they keep trying, and they stay focused. ...
''But they'll lose their focus and then play haphazardly because of it.''
Against Indiana in Game 5, for instance, the Lakers were knocked off-stride defensively by the Pacers' quick start, and then never got back into it.
The challenge, Jackson said, is to continue trying to make things difficult for the Indiana offense, even when everything the Pacers are shooting is swishing.
''It's basically been to find defensive remedies for this ballclub,'' Jackson said. ''We've had a lot of offensive challenges for us over the course of these playoffs (by teams playing tough defense).
''(But) this is a team that likes to outscore you.''
Will the Lakers have the energy tonight, before a home crowd that has nourished them in three previous clinching moments this postseason?
''I think that we seem to respond better when our backs are up against the wall or when everybody kind of jumps off the bandwagon and says that this team doesn't have what it takes,'' Shaw said.
''And then we come back with the type of effort that we need. But all said and done, we're still up, 3-2, and we have two games if needed on our homecourt.
Said Jackson: ''We're not anxious at all. This is a team that hasn't gotten into that mode of anxiety.
''I would say that we're in a mode that we're going to be aggressive, we're going to be combative, we're not going to lose control emotionally and get to that point where you feel that your anxiety is putting us into a rhythm we don't want to play. ...
''I think this team will rise to the occasion.''
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