Lakers' Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson satisfied with energy level as road travels continue
Moments after Lakers guard Kobe Bryant hit his sixth game winner of the season Tuesday against Toronto, the Staples Center atmosphere peaked and then died down as quickly as Bryant's shot dropped through the net.
Sure, Bryant's fist pump with forward Pau Gasol, his hug with forward Josh Powell and his high fives with other teammates showed the team's satisfaction with the result. But the stoic manner in which the Lakers reacted afterwards also showed the dissatisfaction with the team's overall performance.
The near expressionless reactions after the game also may have signified the Lakers are going through a grinding part of the schedule, but Bryant said that wasn't the case.
"I don't think so," said Bryant, who, according to Elias Sports Bureau, has the most game winning shots in a single season over the last 10 years. "I think it's that I hit six of them and everybody is kind of used to it."
The Lakers (47-18) are also getting used to traveling on the road. But they haven't gotten used to winning there, going only 17-13 in away games so far this season, including last week's winless three-game trip. The travels continue Friday against the Phoenix Suns (40-25), as eight of the Lakers' 10 remaining games in March will be on the road.
It's a good thing if the team's contention rings true that fatigue isn't an issue with 17 games remaining in the regular season, despite there being a few factors that would understandably contribute to such a low energy level. The Lakers have numerous injuries, including ones to Bryant (right index finger), Gasol (left hand), Ron Artest (left thumb), Shannon Brown (right thumb) and Jordan Farmar (left pinkie). They have also played five games in less than a week.
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson also noticed the team's differing tenor following Bryant's game winner against the Raptors, noting, "usually he throws up in exultation, that or he's praising the Lord. I don't know which one it was. But this time he didn't." But as far as the energy level goes? Jackson says it's not an issue.
"I think it’s not unusual", Jackson said. "I’m not concerned about it in the vain in that this is not an unusual thing for an NBA basketball team."
The Lakers will quickly find out whether or not that's the case against Phoenix, which boasts a league-leading 109.47 points per game and three-point field goal percentage (40.5%) as well as a second-best mark in field-goal percentage (49.1%). Since Robin Lopez joined Phoenix's starting lineup Jan. 18, the Suns are 16-8, including 14-4 in the past 18 games, have held five of 12 teams to fewer than 100 points and have outrebounded opponents in 19 of their past 24 contests. Meanwhile, the Lakers have allowed at least 96 points in their last five games and have had chemistry issues on offense. And their road loss Dec. 28 to Phoenix featured the Lakers allowing a season-high 118 points, recording only 13 assists and featuring a bench that was outscored 52-31.
But Bryant said he's not worried about the Lakers' recent struggles.
"You guys can care all you want to," he said. "I could care less. We just have to focus on what we do and continue to get better."