What to do with that loss in Denver?
“You bag it and move on,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. “We’ve got a Phoenix team that’s going to be sitting there hungry because of what we did to them [Thursday night]. We’ve got to be ready to go.”
Ah, yes, Thursday night, the first part of that strange double-dip in which the Lakers trounced Phoenix while tying a season-high in points, 132-106, only to lose the next night to Denver while scoring a season-low in points, 90-79.
They now get the Suns again this afternoon in Phoenix, along with a suddenly rejuvenated Shaquille O’Neal.
O’Neal, who will turn 37 on Friday, turned back the clock with 45 points on 20-for-25 shooting in a 133-113 victory Friday over Toronto. He hadn’t scored that much since a 48-point outburst while wearing a Lakers jersey against Boston in March 2003.
He dusted off some of that old Shaq bravado after torching the Raptors.
“I think I’m the only player who looks at each and every center in the league and says, ‘That’s barbecue chicken down there,’ ” O’Neal told reporters in Phoenix. “I’ve been saying all year if I can get those touches like that, I think I can do that every night.”
(Toronto center-forward Chris Bosh had an alternative view, telling reporters that O’Neal bent the rules: “He was just camping down in the lane. I mean, if they’re not calling three seconds -- I thought it was a rule, but I guess not.”)
O’Neal wasn’t so spry in the Lakers’ 26-point victory at Staples Center. He had 12 points in only 21 minutes.
Bryant has tried to show a lighter side in numerous commercial spots, whether it’s sliding around in shorts while lip-synching Bob Seger songs, jumping over speeding Aston Martins or, more recently, appearing as a lawyer-type figure to promote “ankle insurance” by wearing his new basketball shoes.
He explained the rationale behind the campaigns.
“A lot of things that people read about me is a bunch of [nonsense],” he said. “What we’ve done from a marketing standpoint is let people see who I am as a person for real and then make their judgments from that point going forward. From that standpoint, I think we’ve done a good job of making sure people see that and if they choose to come around or not, that’s kind of up to them.”
Bryant said he sensed an uptick in his popularity.
“People were saying we’d never be able to get to that place again -- guys with these Harvard marketing degrees,” he said. “What we decided to do was prove them wrong. We decided to try to turn this thing around.”
He shrugged when asked if the perceived boost had anything to do with his on-court play, including a most-valuable-player award last season.
“I’ve been playing the same way since I came into this league,” he said. “I haven’t changed at all. I think the thing that’s changed is my role on this team. The things that I would have done when Shaquille was here in terms of getting in people’s faces and demanding stuff from them, calling guys out, whatever, now that’s viewed as leadership. Back then, it was viewed as a young kid stepping out of line.”
Forward Lamar Odom took 19 rebounds against Denver, but there were shades of a bad habit from his past.
He was in early foul trouble, yelled at the referees on numerous occasions and never seemed to find rhythm on offense, scoring only 12 points on five-for-17 shooting.
“I let some things bother me that haven’t been, as far as, like, foul trouble,” he said. “We kind of had to push a little bit, beg the refs to give us a call. That’s not how we play. We’re strong mentally, a lot stronger than we showed [Friday]. That’s probably the part that hurts the most, that we showed a sign of weakness mentally. That won’t ever happen again.”
Who will join Bryant in the 2012 Olympics?
“I’m sure they feel the same way I do,” he said of his 2008 Olympic teammates. “If the call comes, be ready.”
Bryant, who will be almost 34 by the time the next Olympics roll around, said he would be willing to pursue another gold medal.
“If they call me, if they want an old guy playing,” he said, smiling.
Bryant would have to undergo another two-year commitment, starting with the 2010 world championships in Turkey.