Kobe Bryant in a happier mood during NBA TV's Fan Night
There Lakers guard Kobe Bryant sat in the NBA TV studios, discussing the regular season MVP race. There Bryant stood on set, explaining the six game-winners he compiled this season. And there Bryant was, openly acknowledging that Coach Phil Jackson had once used him as a decoy on a final play.
During NBA TV's Fan Night on Tuesday, Bryant appeared in a much different mood than he displayed Monday during the final moments of the Lakers' 108-100 loss to the New Orleans Hornets. Before the result was all but official, a frustrated Bryant punched a chair during a timeout. After it was official, Bryant's curt one-sentence answers barely masked his obvious frustrations.
Ahh, how a day can help heal wounds.
"What kind of mood are you in right now?" NBA TV host Ernie Johnson asked Bryant. "You weren't too happy last night after that New Orleans game."
"I was very jovial," Bryant joked.
"Yeah, right," Johnson laughed. "How you feeling now?"
"I'm OK," Bryant said. "I'm looking forward to tomorrow's game."
Bryant, of course, is referring to the Lakers' (54-20) matchup with Atlanta (47-26) on Wednesday night, concluding the team's five-game trip. And with the team having the day off Tuesday, Bryant spent part of his downtime with the NBA TV crew. The fact that he was willing to even discuss the regular season MVP race demonstrates his happier mental state. After all, Bryant has often deemed that topic rather insignificant compared with the quest for championships.
What was perhaps the most timely topic in Bryant's interview was something the league didn't feature on its website: With eight games remaining in the regular season, his main concern regarding the Lakers (54-20) is the team's lack of urgency. That theme, of course, has been repeated ad nauseam, including by Bryant, but it's telling that it's something that's still bothering him. The Lakers' latest performance entailed coming back from a double-digit deficit against New Orleans, only to fall short at the end, a habit that Bryant says he fears could hurt the team in the playoffs.
"The trap that you run into is you play with that sense of urgency when you're down 10, 12, 13 points, and that's the kind of mentality I do not want us to have going into the postseason," Bryant told NBA TV's Johnson, Kevin McHale and Chris Webber. "You kind of lollygag around for a series, and now you're down, 3-1, now it's time to play. You kind of fall into that false sense of security, and all of a sudden it's time to go and sometimes it's too late to turn it on."
The Lakers were largely accustomed to surviving that mind-set in last year's playoffs, going through a seven-game Western Conference semifinal against Houston and then going toe-to-toe with Denver in the first four games of the West Final before finally increasing the effort. With the Lakers appearing mostly disinterested for the last month, Jackson recently challenged the team to try to win 60 regular-season games. Though Bryant said he likes the approach, he wants the team to worry more about sharpening its play than reaching tangible results.
Case in point, the Lakers have won eight of their last 10 games, but last week's win against San Antonio served as the lone impressive performance. The Lakers had also set their sights on breaking the Chicago Bulls' 72-game win mark, set in 1996, and have the league's best record. But the team fell short of the first goal and, barring a late-season collapse from Cleveland (58-16), won't reach the second.
Bryant said the same logic applies to achieving home-court advantage.
"It doesn't matter," Bryant said. "You have to win on the road eventually at some point. Home court can be deceiving. We're eventually going to drop one of those games. You have to go on the road, and you have to win."
And if it's up to Bryant, it won't involve last-second shots, something he's grown sick of after nailing that sixth game-winner of the season March 9 against Toronto. Nonetheless, it's a nice accessory for the Lakers to have, and Bryant shared what went into making those shots.
In a joking manner, Johnson asked Bryant if he's ever been used as a decoy. It's well established that everyone -- "from the popcorn vendors to the most rabid fans," as Johnson noted -- knows Bryant will be the one taking the last-second shot. So the spirit of the question seemed to be more to confirm that it's one thing to know Bryant will have the ball in his hands in the final possession, but quite another thing to know how to stop him from making the shot. But Bryant's answer will surprise in you more ways than one.
Watching those type of highlight reels surely propels Bryant's young fans to emulate those plays in the backyard, the playground or the gym. But that's overrated. His basketball academy will spare kids from having to read "Sacred Hoops" in order to learn the triangle offense. Sorry, Ron Artest, I don't think you can sign up for the summer camp.
-- Mark Medina
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