Lakers' Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Phil Jackson and Derek Fisher dissect the team's recent struggles
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant entered the media scrum Monday with a testy and determined attitude. It was likely similar to his attitude at a team meeting Saturday, where recent struggles were discussed and Bryant said later he had some choice words for his teammates.
But, despite the Lakers closing out a winless three-game trip Sunday with a 96-94 loss to Orlando, Bryant had a positive spin for reporters Monday after practice at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo, though he wasn't particularly in a mood to talk. (He was late to team warmups against Orlando due to an upset stomach, and though he felt "a lot better," he said, "I’m getting a stomach virus now with all these questions.") Still, he explained why he felt encouraged in spite of the Lakers' latest loss.
"We played well enough to win," he said. "You got games sometimes where you play hard and lose the ballgame. We lost to a quality team. We played hard."
That's not making the situation any easier for the Lakers, whom Bryant described as "upset" and a "little edgy." They suffered their first three-game losing streak since Jan. 23-27, 2008, not too long before the team acquired forward Pau Gasol. And though overall records would indicate the Lakers (46-18) stand to win Tuesday night's contest against Toronto (32-29), the team lost to the Raptors last month, 106-105. The Lakers could be looking at their first four-game losing streak since April 2007.
Some may be worried about the Lakers’ offense after their recent performance on the road, but Bryant is more upbeat.
"We’re getting really good looks; they just didn’t fall for us," said Bryant, who scored a team-high 34 points on only 12-of-30 shooting against Orlando. "That’ll happen. You can’t hang your hat on that. That’s not going to get it done. Defensively, we get it done. Yesterday, we shot a bad percentage from the field and still held them to 40% from the field. That gave us a chance to win the game."
Gasol didn't share the enthusiasm. "I think the ball has got to move more," he said Monday.
Gasol scored 20 points against Orlando after a four-game stretch in which he averaged only about 12 points per contest. "That will give us a better rhythm, better looks, easier shots."
As I’ve noted before, I don’t think you can blame Bryant for the offensive lapses in the last eight games since he returned to playing after suffering a sprained left ankle. I also mentioned specifically that the Lakers had looks against Orlando, but the offensive options were pretty limited because of the team's poor shooting. But I'll also agree with Gasol that ball movement can always improve the offense, especially with the team's low percentage numbers in the last two losses (36.3% against Charlotte and 37.5% against Orlando)
As for the does-Kobe-shoot-too-much debate, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has mixed feelings. On the one hand, he said, after teammates discussed Bryant’s shooting in the second quarter, the “team game” picked up, and the Lakers were looking better in the first half. On the other hand, when it came to the fourth quarter, Jackson said, Bryant’s shooting was warranted. He chalked up 16 needed points in the final period.
Said Jackson: "He got his rhythm in the fourth quarter where I thought he really had some great shots to help us win the game. But they didn't [all] go in."
Jackson's mixed assessment of Bryant didn't mean he was the guilty party on offense. The Zen Master said it appeared more opponents were leaving the perimeter open, mainly to forward Ron Artest, who shot a woeful two of 10 from the field against Orlando. Though Gasol finished with 20 points against Orlando, Jackson said the lack of an inside game probably was due to the team trying to avoid turnovers after averaging 18 in road losses to Miami and Charlotte.
"One of the things we don’t like to have happen is turnovers when the ball goes inside," Jackson said. "We had a couple of those yesterday where execution things are creating problems with us in having the ball inside. We want security."
Amid the debate surrounding the Lakers' current struggles, veteran guard Derek Fisher reminded fans that the "sky is not falling." The Lakers (46-18) hold a 2 1/2-game lead over Dallas (44-21), a 3 1/2-game edge over Denver (42-21) and a five-game cushion over Utah (40-22) in the Western Conference.
"We’ve still done it right 46 times and we haven’t done it right 18 times," Fisher said. "That’s still a pretty good percentage. We’ll keep fighting to get better."
And that's something all the Lakers can agree on.
Jackson: "I think adversity is one of the best things that can happen to a team."
Bryant: "You have these peaks and valleys. The important thing is you have to put your foot on the gas, and you have to go."
Gasol: "The hardest part will come on the last stretch of the season and the playoffs. That’s where we’re going to really tighten up and be at our best."
-- Mark Medina