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Lakers' Phil Jackson, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher debate Kobe Bryant's scoring mentality, team's lack of inside game against Memphis

February 2, 2010 |  8:13 pm

51982406Well, that nostalgic feeling regarding Kobe Bryant surpassing Jerry West as the Lakers' all-time leading scorer certainly didn't last long. Most of the questions surrounding Tuesday's practice focused on Bryant's high percentage of shots versus the lacking inside game the Lakers presented in a 95-93 loss Monday to the Memphis Grizzlies. The issue first reared its ugly head when Lakers forward Pau Gasol lamented to several reporters immediately after the game about he and Andrew Bynum combining for only 15 points on five of 10 shots.

"Obviously, we were not making a conscious effort to pound the ball inside," Gasol told the Daily News' Elliott Teaford. "So, we settled a little bit too much. It's not like they were double-teaming us a lot. It happens."

"I’m proud of him; I congratulate him," Gasol told the Orange County Register's Kevin Ding about Bryant becoming the franchise's all-time scoring leader. "Now we can focus on winning games again."

Given Gasol's nature, this isn't going to turn into Kobe-Shaq. But it at least got the conversation out in the open, something the media was only happy to facilitate, but without Bryant, who wasn't present during post-practice interviews.

Of course, Bryant's high volume of shots is nothing new. Heck, I've only been here for four weeks and I devoted at least five different posts here, here, here here and here on topics involving Bryant's shot selection. It's become a never-ending point of conversation as Bryant has shot below .500 in 10 of the 14 games since Jan. 5 when he aggravated his right-index finger.

A firmer splint has appeared to correct the issue involving his finger, and Bryant's 44 points on 57.1% shooting (16 of 28) against Memphis is something most teams would take any day. But as Bryant closed out with the team's final 13 points in the second quarter, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson could tell he was seeking to surpass West's record that night, and nothing would get in his way.

Said Jackson: "At halftime, we said, 'Get Kobe the ball quickly so we can get over that record and we can move ahead.' "

Bryant broke the record in the third quarter, but the Lakers didn't move ahead. The Lakers didn't have anyone else posting double-digit shots, and they were outscored inside, 42-26. That's why Jackson said Gasol's complaint was warranted.

Some interesting stuff there.

In some instances Jackson highlights Game 5 of the 1991 NBA Finals where he told Michael Jordan to allow John Paxson some scoring opportunities, the result being Paxson scoring 10 points in the final half of the fourth quarter. Jordan may have preferred leading the comeback charge, but the end result was still there: a 1991 title. Jackson recounts team meetings he's had with the Lakers discussing Bryant's shooting tendencies. Jackson also predicts that'll remain an issue whenever he decides to step down from coaching the team.

Yet, when asked if Bryant has shown that "fine line" Jackson describes between scorers being aggressive and selfish, Jackson says of Bryant, "He certainly has."

Though he agreed with Gasol's assertion that the bigs weren't getting looks inside, Jackson placed the blame on both post players and guards for not working together. Jackson didn't specify to what degree each party was at fault, but Gasol accepted some responsibility for the nonexistent inside game against Memphis.

Even through Bryant's poor shooting performances, the Lakers have shown an effective inside game that can heal most wounds.

Though Bryant certainly shouldn't be immune from criticism for his 31 points on 12 of 31 shooting in last week's loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers, he rightfully lit into his teammates for their lack of toughness (mainly Gasol and Bynum) for allowing the Cavs' front line of Shaquille O'Neal, Anderson Varejao and J.J. Hickson to muscle them inside.

The next day, against New York, Bryant and Gasol led a fourth-quarter charge, scoring 23 of the team's 31 fourth-quarter points. Bryant's 27 points on eight of 24 shooting showed he still took some unnecessary shots, but his six assists were instrumental in sparking Gasol's 20 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter. That was also the case in other road games against Washington and Indiana where Bryant, Gasol and Bynum each posted double figures. 

Though the inside game is an area that can be most corrected, as evidenced by the Memphis loss, it doesn't immediately lead to success. Case in point, Bryant recorded a near triple-double with a team-leading 27 points, a career-high 16 rebounds and nine assists last week against Toronto. He was also instrumental in the Lakers posting 56 points in the paint. Bryant continued to push for more aggressive play from Gasol, who finished with 22 points. Bryant had an uncanny feel for setting up Bynum inside with well-timed passes, resulting in 21 points.Yet, the Lakers still lost to Toronto, 106-105, with the Lakers showing an inability to protect seven- and eight-point leads throughout the game. 

Lakers guard Derek Fisher made two things pretty clear. On one hand he said, "we all respect who he is, what he does for us and the fact we wouldn't be successful as we've been without his presence for us." On the other hand, Fisher added Bryant shouldn't be taking 28 of 73 shots in a game, like he did against Memphis. And though Fisher cited other areas that contributed to last night's loss (such as the lacking inside game), he also argued Bryant's shooting tendencies hindered team chemistry and balance. That's something that would've come in handy on the final play where a double-teamed Bryant found Ron Artest, who missed a corner three-pointer as time expired. Nonetheless, Fisher said the team needs to work better with Bryant. 

Fisher's assertion that Bryant's shooting wouldn't have been a topic of discussion had the Lakers won the game is certainly valid. And as a media member myself, it's totally accurate that we tend to have knee-jerk reactions and opinions on all topics covered.

Bryant's game-winning shot against Boston came against a heavily guarded Ray Allen, and capped off an eight-of-20 shooting performance. Yet, most of the focus was on Bryant making his fifth game-winner of the season and how the victory served as a signature road win. Bryant's one-on-one duel with Allen Iverson in last week's win against Philadelphia wasn't the prettiest game to watch, yet it brought back memories of the 2001 NBA Finals. Though the media may not have asked the questions that we did Tuesday, that doesn't mean the issue still wasn't serious enough to be addressed. It's a conversation Gasol and Fisher both acknowledged they haven't had face-to-face with Bryant.

Here's some statistics they could bring up that Bryant couldn't really argue. The team was 7-5 in January any time Bryant shot below .500. He ended January with a season-low 23.7 points per game and shot only 41%. And of the six games the Lakers lost in the last 18 games, Bryant's total shots represented at least 34% of the team's total shots in five of those losses. 

Here's some statistics Bryant could then present to the team showcasing his worth, courtesy of Statsheet.com

NBA

Lastly, the team can cite these games as examples showing the Lakers' ability to win when Bryant isn't shooting well:

Despite Bryant's 12 points on four of 21 shooting Jan. 10 against Milwaukee, the Lakers won easily because of Bynum (17 points, career-high 18 rebounds), Shannon Brown (19 points) and Jordan Farmar (17 points). Though Bryant had the game winner against Dallas, it was a team effort that ensured the victory, including Bynum's fourth double double in five games, Lamar Odom's 18 points and 14 boards and Artest's (16 points) and Farmar's 11 bench points. And against Orlando on Jan. 18, Brown and Farmar bailed out Bryant's 11 points on four of 19 shooting.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, the aforementioned performances don't always happen. Jackson's decision to sit Bryant until the middle of the fourth quarter against Cleveland and Toronto, for example, resulted in the team proving its inability to consistently fill Bryant's void and resulted in eventual losses.

This issue returning to the forefront may not be perfect in its timing, since it coincided with Bryant's record-breaking milestone. But now that the conversation is out there for public consumption, it's up to the Lakers, including Bryant, his teammates and Jackson to resolve the issue.

-- Mark Medina

Follow the L.A. Times Lakers blog on Twitter. E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant waits to shoot after drawing contact from Grizzlies guard O.J. Mayo in the first half Monday night. Credit: Mike Brown/EPA.


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