Facing ‘awful’ truths
It was a day between playoff games, an apparent respite for the Lakers if not for a few minor little things.
Kobe Bryant, when reminded of his age and the infinite number of miles he had accumulated in high-tops, spoke of the need to win now.
Lamar Odom, with a reputation for being mild-mannered and one of the NBA’s kindest multimillionaires, felt the urge to challenge his teammates in the locker room before practice Monday.
Luke Walton’s fraying voice backed up his assertion that he couldn’t sleep after watching video of the Lakers’ 10-point fourth quarter in their Game 1 loss against the Phoenix Suns. He called it “awful.”
Suns guard Leandro Barbosa won the NBA’s sixth man award Monday, another thorn in the Lakers’ already sore sides.
And Phil Jackson, standing above it all, smiled at the gathering commotion, throwing enough one-liners out there to remind everybody that he had seen plenty of things like this in his 16-year Hall of Fame coaching career.
Other than that, it was business as usual on a non-game day.
The sun ducked in and out of the clouds in south-central Arizona, and the Lakers spent part of their day talking about what to fix and how to fix it, knowing that tonight brings Game 2 at US Airways Center, the setting where their three-game winning streak began against the Suns in last season’s playoffs.
It was 363 days ago that Bryant had 29 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in the Lakers’ 99-93 Game 2 victory. It might seem like forever ago, which was why Bryant was hit with reporters’ questions about his basketball longevity.
Bryant, who will be 29 in August, is in his 11th NBA season, although it could be argued that his 127 playoff games bumps that total up to more than 12 3/4 seasons. His team hasn’t won a playoff series since defeating Minnesota in the 2004 Western Conference finals.
He started sharply Sunday in Game 1 but shot four for 16 in the second half, one for 10 in the fourth quarter. An eternal optimist, Bryant acknowledged that frustration had begun to root itself.
He wasn’t angry or even annoyed, just casually speaking his mind.
“We definitely have to get to that elite level, and get to that elite level like now,” he said. “Am I an old 28? No. When I hit 31, I’ll probably be old.”
He went on to say that it was “frustrating” when teammates did not hit their shots.
“But there’s nothing you can do but just stick with it,” he said. “It’s tough to try to beat three or four guys off the dribble. That’s crazy. We get opportunities. We’ve just got to capitalize on our shots.”
The only other member of the Lakers who scored more than 10 points in their 95-87 loss Sunday was Odom, who pushed aside his deferential nature by addressing the team.
“I was just in the locker room and I was just telling them ... every time they step out on the court they have to find something to do to help this team -- offense, defense, or cheerleading,” he said Monday.
Or they could simply stop Barbosa, who skewered the Lakers for 26 points the day before he was announced as the league’s top reserve.
On offense, the Lakers will try to pound the ball down low with better success -- Kwame Brown, Andrew Bynum and Ronny Turiaf combined for 10 points in 48 minutes in Game 1 -- and Walton, who was sometimes guarded by the 6-foot-3 Barbosa, could also be posted up more often.
The results couldn’t be any worse than the last 12 minutes of Game 1, during which time the Lakers made four of 21 shots (19%) and had two more points than the team playoff record for fewest in a quarter.
“It was awful,” Walton said. “I finally calmed down a little bit last night and I watched the tape and I was all heated again. It probably wasn’t the smartest thing. I got all frustrated.”
If inspiration is needed, the Lakers can look to this: In NBA playoff history, only 11 of 193 teams (5.7%) have come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series.
If a moment of comedic relief was needed, Jackson tried to supply it. When asked what he thought were the main one or two problems in the fourth quarter, he answered with a question, his eyes flickering with humor.
“One or two, that’s all you’re giving me?” he said, evoking laughter from the media.
Then he was asked if Bryant could have involved other players more often in the final minutes of Game 1.
“What did his teammates shoot in the fourth quarter?” Jackson asked, already knowing the answer. “He was one of 10 and they were three for 11. So it’s pretty much they all were pretty cold. I don’t know if anybody could put any blame anywhere in that sequence.”
Barbosa more than lived up to his nickname of the “Brazilian Blur.” Bryant smiled when asked the best way to defend him.
“Give him a soccer ball. Tell him Brazilians should be playing soccer, not basketball,” he said. “Somebody dropped the ball there when he was growing up.”
Bryant on Smush Parker, who was scoreless in 10 minutes and was beaten repeatedly by Barbosa in Game 1: “I’m sure he’s having a tough time, but it’s not the time right now to be worrying about that. We’ve just kind of got to buck up and whenever you get in the game, just try to contribute as much as you can.”