Kobe Bryant is happier now. Slightly. Maybe.
He was in an angry mood at Thursday’s practice, calling out his teammates for not being tough enough in games, The Times has learned.
It wasn’t a long rant, maybe half a minute, but he left practice in a hurry, stalking off the court toward the end of it, irritated that the first team had lost to the reserves several times. He knocked some items off a table at midcourt on his way to the locker room and did not talk to reporters who were let in after his outburst.
“It was worth seeing,” said a person at Lakers practice that day.
Maybe it worked. The energized Lakers beat the Denver Nuggets, 122-103, Friday at Staples Center.
Bryant’s message wasn’t light. It contained expletives and hammered at the same theme. The Lakers should not be playing this poorly. Everyone needed to be stronger emotionally and physically.
Can a tirade save a season? Too early to tell. Much too early. But it didn’t hurt Friday for a team that improved to 8-8.
Bryant had 14 points and eight assists, his anger ebbing after several days of smoldering from the Lakers’ 79-77 loss Tuesday to Indiana. He had 40 points that game while fighting flu-like symptoms but also had 10 turnovers.
He was less error-prone Friday (four turnovers), as were his teammates.
Dwight Howard was strong almost across the board, scoring 28 points with 20 rebounds and three blocked shots.
And — what’s this? — the Lakers’ reserves actually contributed. Big time.
Antawn Jamison was more than solid, scoring 33 points as the Lakers’ backups outscored those of the Nuggets, 61-47. It was the first time a Lakers reserve scored more than 30 since Shaquille O’Neal had 33 in 1998 against Golden State.
“Just being patient,” Jamison said, “and knowing the things I can do on the court would contribute to the team.”
Jodie Meeks had 21 points, including five three-pointers in the second quarter, as he and Jamison became the first pair of Lakers off the bench to score more than 20 in a game since Bryant (25 points) and Nick Van Exel (20 points) did it against Utah in 1998.
As unhappy as Bryant was Thursday, Howard played with youthful exuberance Friday, smiling often and thoroughly enjoying a return to relevance after averaging 11.5 in the previous four games.
On one third-quarter play, he one-handed a dunk off a lob from Pau Gasol. Then he gazed in mock admiration at his right hand as he went back downcourt.
He made a three-pointer with 9.8 seconds to play, the second of his career, and laughed as he left the court. It was the Lakers’ 17th three-pointer, tying the team record for threes in a regulation game (against Seattle in 2003).
Bryant was still tight-lipped after the game, if not dour. “If guys are too happy, I need to bring them back down to Earth tomorrow,” he said with more than a slight edge.
As Steve Nash’s left leg slowly tried to heal — 30 days already — Bryant had taken over the Lakers’ offense, handling the ball almost exclusively with Nash and Steve Blake out.
“Kobe is the type of player that he’s going to try to get you to the promised land, and if he feels like people are struggling, he’s going to take over more,” Lakers Coach Mike D’Antoni said beforehand.
D’Antoni also addressed Bryant’s unhappiness since the Indiana game.
“I’m sure he wasn’t happy about it. He felt like he was trying to get us the win,” D’Antoni said. “I’d rather go to battle with something like that. He’s got it tuned up as hard as you can go, and that’s all you can ask for as a coach. Everybody should hold themselves accountable.”
It undoubtedly tied into Bryant’s anger Thursday. Whether it related to Friday’s victory, the Lakers were all smiles afterward.