Will they be as good in gold?
By the time the Lakers returned to practice in El Segundo on Monday, they were a bit weary but thought they’d passed every test after a 6-0 trip that concluded with wins over the Boston Celtics and Cleveland Cavaliers.
“Right now, I think we’re one of the best teams in the league,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “And it’s obvious because we went in and defeated two teams that are very good on their home court.”
The Celtics’ 12-game winning streak was ended by the Lakers, and the Cavaliers were 23-0 at home before the Lakers beat them Sunday despite Kobe Bryant’s playing with flu-like symptoms.
It was a six-city, 11-day journey in which the Lakers matched the most successful regular-season trip in team history, equaling the 1999-2000 team that won the first of three consecutive NBA championships. The latest trip was all the more impressive because the Lakers lost center Andrew Bynum, who suffered a torn medial collateral ligament in his right knee during the second game of the trip.
“I think under the circumstances and some of the situations we found ourselves in, with losing Andrew in the first half of the Memphis game, having to go to Boston and having to go to Cleveland, I do think that was an element of mental toughness and the fight that really came through in a lot of our guys on this team,” point guard Derek Fisher said.
Bryant said Monday he was feeling better and would play tonight against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center. The Lakers, whose last home game was two weeks ago against the Charlotte Bobcats, have the best record in the NBA, 41-9.
Bryant leaned against a wall at the team’s practice facility, at least able to talk to the media, which he was unable to do following Sunday’s game. He scored 19 points against Cleveland but had to have two rounds of IV fluids.
“Today was just a recovery day for me to just get some rest, recover and get ready for” tonight’s game, Bryant said.
Bryant smiled wearily when asked whether the Lakers’ win over the Celtics answered those critics who questioned their toughness during the NBA Finals last season.
“Well, no, because that wouldn’t be any fun, now would it?” Bryant said.
“For us, there’s no doubt whatsoever. We know what we’re capable of doing. We know what we’re going to do. So, it’s just about continuing to stay focused, continuing to work.”
There were two new faces Monday, Adam Morrison and Shannon Brown, who were acquired from the Bobcats on Saturday in a trade for Vladimir Radmanovic.
Radmanovic, who scored 13 points in 29 minutes Monday in his Bobcats debut, told reporters in Charlotte over the weekend that Jackson’s triangle offense doesn’t “give a role player much opportunity.”
Jackson’s response: “No offense taken.”
After practice, Morrison and Brown worked with Lakers assistants Kurt Rambis and Brian Shaw trying to learn more about the offense.
“I’m excited to be back on the West Coast,” said the 6-foot-8 Morrison, a college star at Gonzaga, “and obviously the Lakers are the best team in the NBA.”
Morrison, the third pick in the 2006 draft, was averaging only 4.5 points a game for the Bobcats. Brown, a 6-4 guard, is on his third NBA club in three seasons.
“I was real happy . . . to come from one of the teams that’s fighting to get into the playoffs to a team that’s a contender for the ring,” Brown said.
Overall, the Lakers said they felt good about the trip but wanted to guard against overconfidence with 32 games left in the regular season.
“I know we feel great about what we just accomplished,” Fisher said. “But I don’t think that we are overconfident or more confident than we were coming into this season.”
7:30, Staples Center, FS West