Bryant Is Perfect to Van Gundy

Times Staff Writer

What’s wrong with Kobe Bryant?

Absolutely nothing, say the Houston Rockets.

When Coach Jeff Van Gundy wasn’t chiding Phil Jackson before Monday’s game, he was pumping up Bryant, calling him everything but the best player he has ever seen.

It’s not a bad strategy to compliment Bryant -- Houston guard Cuttino Mobley has mastered a perfectly believable wince whenever he’s asked if he’s a suitable Kobe stopper -- but Van Gundy seemed earnest in his flattery.

“One thing I don’t understand from the outside is all the criticism of him,” Van Gundy said. “I’ve never understood it. What I see and what I read, and what I coach against are two different things. The guy is great.

“He competes hard every night. He passes when he should pass, and shoots when he should shoot, and he just has an ability to create a good shot for himself.”

Bryant had 36 points, four rebounds and four assists in Game 2. He made nine of 20 field-goal attempts and 16 of 17 free-throw attempts.



Mark Jackson knows what’s coming, so much so that he begins to answer the question before it’s fully asked.

As the Rockets’ elder statesman, Jackson has been peppered with questions about his teammates’ relative youth ever since the Rockets qualified for the playoffs. The Lakers came into the series with 600 games of playoff experience spread among their starting five, while the Rockets barely had 40 playoff games in their starting lineup.

Now a backup guard, Jackson has appeared in 128 playoff games, mostly with the New York Knicks and Indiana Pacers, enough to overshadow all of his current teammates combined.

Jackson, drafted by the Knicks when Yao Ming was 6 years old, has constantly reminded teammates of the importance of the playoffs.

“I let them know that we expect to win this series and not to be satisfied with just being here,” Jackson said before Monday’s game. “We’re going to try and win this whole thing.”


The Rockets came into Monday’s game with a symmetrical 100-100 record in playoff games. They are 5-18 in playoff series in which they have lost Game 1. ... Van Gundy’s playoff teams have failed to advance past the first round only once in six attempts.... The Rockets were scheduled to leave this morning for Houston and will not practice until Wednesday.