Recent success is downplayed

Times Staff Writer

At every turn, the Lakers seemed relatively unimpressed by their Christmas Day victory over the Phoenix Suns, a rock-solid effort that was undermined afterward by none other than themselves.

The main reason was the specter of last season, when success turned to distress as a 26-13 start became a 42-40 record, followed by the Lakers’ meek five-game playoff ouster by the Suns in the first round.

The Lakers were united for 39 games a season ago but divided by the end as awkward, unnerving events began to align toward the end of their early surge.


Kwame Brown was involved in his cake-throwing incident, Vladimir Radmanovic was injured during his infamous snowboarding junket, Kobe Bryant was handed a pair of one-game suspensions by the NBA disciplinary office, and Smush Parker openly questioned Coach Phil Jackson’s substitution patterns.

Along the way, there were lengthy injuries to Brown, Lamar Odom and Luke Walton.

It was no wonder that in 2006-07, Jackson encountered the first six-game losing streak of his NBA coaching career, only to experience his first seven-game losing streak a few weeks later.

Thus, the Lakers now tread cautiously these days when asked about their seemingly impressive 18-10 record.

“We’re aware of the standings,” Jackson said after the Lakers’ 122-115 victory over the Suns. “But we also know that last year we were 10 games over .500 and moving along at a nice clip too, and the injuries slew the dragon, so to speak.”

Bryant relied on so many one-game-at-a-time cliches, that he compared himself to drab New England Patriots Coach Bill Belichick.

He did give his reasons, though.

“I’m focused on one thing and one thing only,” he said, “winning the championship.”

The Suns have definitely noticed Andrew Bynum, who singed them Tuesday for 28 points on 11-for-13 shooting and 12 rebounds.

“He’s a handful down there now,” All-Star forward Shawn Marion said. “They got a legitimate big man now. He’s a lot better than he was when we played them the first time.”

Bynum, for his part, wasn’t 100% sold on his own effort.

He expressed disappointment in making six of eight free throws after making one of four Sunday against New York.

“I expect not to miss free throws,” he said. “I’ve been kind of just throwing them up there and praying they go in, so I am going to work on that.”

Bynum is shooting 66.7% from the line this season and 63.7% in his career.

Jackson, on his seeming reluctance to praise Bynum: “At the end of the year, if he’s the MVP, then we’ll say what a great year he’s had.”