Los Angeles Facing a potential knockout punch, the fractious Lakers received a warning from coach Phil Jackson on Saturday concerning their uncertain future.
And an animated Gary Payton unleashed an emotional torrent, expressing frustration with his teammates, coaches and the media.
"Rumsfeld thinks he has it tough, I have to do this every day," Jackson said with a smile a day before the Lakers face the San Antonio Spurs in today's Game 3 of their Western Conference semifinal series.
The Spurs won a pair of 10-point decisions in San Antonio for a 2-0 lead. The Lakers realize no NBA team ever has won a best-of-seven series after losing the first three.
"You don't win the game tomorrow and you're down 3-0," Jackson said. "It's pretty much a death knell for a ballclub."
With that in mind, Jackson was asked if he was feeling the pressure.
"No, I'm not, and that's kind of surprising," he said. "I feel very even about it. ... We know what we've done with this basketball club. Now, they've got to push it to the limit. I'm at peace with that.
"We have a team with a nebulous future. I went down the line with every one of them. It's a team that has to play for the now. It has to play for tomorrow's game."
Eight of the 14 players on the roster, including Payton, Kobe Bryant, Karl Malone and Derek Fisher, aren't locked in with the team past this season.
Neither is Jackson, who is finishing a five-year, $30 million contract. The Lakers announced in February they were halting negotiations for an extension until after the season, and the 58-year-old coach has left the door open to returning or retirement.
Payton and Malone joined the Lakers this season in search of their first championship rings in Hall of Fame-caliber careers.
Payton has had his problems, most recently in matching up with Tony Parker in this series. Parker has 50 points, 14 assists and two turnovers; Payton has 11 points, five assists and four turnovers.
"Basketball's up and down," Payton told reporters. "It's a wishy-washy thing with y'all, anyway."
That was just the beginning.
"You all can blame me for everything, I don't care," Payton said. "Whatever. Blame me. I could care less. I'm going to go home and play with my kids. Ain't no problem.
"I can't stop Tony Parker, OK? If I keep getting on the pick and roll, anybody can be like that. Anybody will beat you. Let me get in a pick and roll 65 times, and I can beat you, too. You get out here and play pick and roll, see how many times he will beat you.
"This is a team game. If we focus on stopping him, we can do that. You can put it on me, whatever you want to do. I can be the scapegoat. Put it on all five of us, then. Go ahead do what you want to do. It's Gary Payton vs. San Antonio."