Rookie seasons being stressful enough, Kareem Rush hardly needed complications in wind and rain and aviation, and yet he stood in a Missouri airport late last week having missed Laker practice for the first time because of all of that.
Until then, Rush had had a seamless first season both in terms of citizenship and responsibility, and even had his minutes increase as Phil Jackson tried to take some of the pressure off Kobe Bryant in the backcourt.
Predictably distressed, Rush practiced hard Friday and then set about Saturday’s game in Phoenix determined to make up for his meteorological mishap, exactly Jackson’s fear.
“You hate to make mistakes,” Rush said about the missed practice. “You think to yourself, ‘This is my chance. Don’t blow it.’ ”
So, Saturday evening, Jackson pulled Rush aside and asked him if he could put it all aside and play. Rush nodded, and then, in 15 minutes, missed all four of his shots and had two turnovers.
“I was trying too hard,” he said.
Rush, whose shot appeared mechanical until recently, when he made seven of 11 shots over two games, was better again Sunday night. He hit a short turn-around jumper early and penetrated and found Robert Horry for a dunk in the second quarter.
Shaquille O’Neal was more active on defense Sunday night, perhaps at Jackson’s suggestion.
Asked before the game what he thought of O’Neal’s recent attempts at defense, Jackson paused and said, “I’m not going to answer that question on the grounds of incriminating myself if I talk about it.”
As if on command, O’Neal blocked four shots in the first half.