Phil Jackson notices feistiness in practice and acknowledges team distractions
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson had plenty of reason to describe Monday's practice as "feisty," including the reserves beating the starters and Kobe Bryant playing with the team.
It's rare for Bryant to practice with the team, an approach taken to ensure the health of his surgically repaired right knee and to minimize complications from the arthritis surrounding his right index finger. But Bryant pledged after the Lakers' 96-80 loss on Christmas Day to the Miami Heat he was going to "kick some ... in practice," ride his teammates, and "beat it in their head until it gets through."
"He was aggressive," Jackson said of Bryant after the Lakers' practice Monday at the team's facility in El Segundo. "He was playing. He was out on the court. That in itself was a little bit different. I didn't hear anything verbal. He just went out and played hard."
Many of the details surrounding anything Bryant said to the team remained vague as the Lakers (21-9) prepared for their Tuesday game at San Antonio (the Spurs have a Western Conference leading 26-4 record). "He didn't speak to reporters afterwards. Lakers forward Ron Artest, who had a cut under his right eye for unspecified reasons, said he was "just focused on team and practice" to notice whether Bryant addressed any members of the team about their play. Lakers forward Lamar Odom said Bryant didn't talk to him about his play and simply told a reporter: "You have to ask him" about whether he addressed the team in any manner.
"I think these games mean more to our opponents than they do to us," Bryant told reporters after the game against the Heat. "I think we need to get that straight. We need to play with more focus and put more importance on these games. I don't like it."
Jackson said he didn't read or hear any of Bryant's post-game comments, but he agreed that distractions remained an issue, although he didn't mention specifics. Odom argued "we don't need shout outs to the media" because "we've been to the Finals three years in a row." Artest, who has acknowledged difficulties with promoting his championship ring raffle for mental health awareness without taking away from his Laker responsibilities, took offense when a reporter asked if Bryant told him he considered the ring raffle a distraction.
"I didn't get a chance to let it even be a distraction because I only played 20 minutes," said Artest, who got into early foul trouble. "I work extremely hard on defense and I'm the last one to leave the gym every day. The game is extremely important."
Bryant's public undressing isn't the first time a Laker has found the need to criticize the team's mindset. After the Lakers' 99-94 victory Nov. 9 over the Minnesota Timberwolves, Lakers guard Derek Fisher described the performance as "irresponsible," "reckless" and "disrespectful" and that "there was an air of complacency, of arrogance, of 'We don't have to play as hard as the other team to win' that I didn't like." Even if the details remained limited, Artest at least acknowledged public criticisms from Bryant and Fisher are constructive.
"You listen to their concerns and try to execute what they want executed," Artest said. "Obviously, they have five rings apiece, and that's what everybody aims for and shoots for, so you listen to those guys and take into consideration that these guys know what they're talking about."
-- Mark Medina
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