Five things to take away from Lakers' 96-80 loss to Miami Heat
1. Kobe Bryant doesn't hold back his feelings on the teams' current struggles. He had avoided the media all week, with reporters eager to ask him questions about the upcoming matchup with the Heat, his ejection from the Lakers' embarrassing loss Tuesday to Milwaukee, his car accident beforehand and his general frustration with the team's woes.
"He contended he "didn't want to say anything" because "it'd get me fined. But following the Lakers' 96-80 loss to the Miami Heat on Christmas Day, Bryant offered his most honest critique on the team. And the answers weren't pretty.
On the Lakers' (21-9) hunger: "I think these games mean more to our opponents than they do to us. 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."
On whether it's hard for the team to gear up for regular season games considering how much mileage they've logged in the past three postseasons: "It's your job. You have to show up and work. I don't buy that crap. You have to show up and get to work."
On the Lakers' 4-8 Christmas record since the 1999-2000 season: "We always suck on Christmas. I don't think we're mean enough to show up on christmas day and play and they should just take us off this day."
On whether the upcoming game against San Antonio comes at the right time considering it'll force the Lakers to prepare: "Sure. I don't care. We could be playing minnesota. Yeah i said it. I'd still be concerned."
On what he's going to do to rectify the problem: "I'm going to kick some ass in practice. You got to work and you got to show up in games and play and pay attention to detail. It's going to get through. beat it in their head until it gets through."
The only thing Bryant held back on was what he exactly said when he jawed with LeBron James up and down the court: "I asked him what he got for Christmas."
The overall significance to this besides that it made for good copy entails that Bryant's been largely positive during the team's season, even insisting after the Lakers' mail-it-in performance against the Timberwolves that he doesn't want to harp on the team's play, especially since Derek Fisher took care of that responsibility. Bryant's scathing review comes at a good time considering there's no justifiable reason the Lakers showed up to a hyped game as if it were an exhibition contest.
But it'll be interesting to see how the Lakers react to it. No doubt Bryant has built the clout to undressing considering his hunger level hasn't dropped; he showed up three hours before the game after all. He also has the right intentions in lacing into his team.
He may want to pick his spots, however, if that approach doesn't work. Bryant's also got to own up responsibility for his own performance (17 points on six of 16 shooting, including a zero of four first-quarter clip). With Lakers Coach Phil Jackson playing the good cop ("just be patient with us,"), the team clearly wants to take a dose of reality (it is a December game and we all know how the Lakers' loss to Cleveland last season meant little) while also sharpening its edge (the Lakers are 2-4 against playoff teams). It's very obvious Jackson's decision to downplay the Christmas game set the tone for the worse.
2. Lamar Odom questions the team's cockiness: Unfortunately for the Lakers, the problems have ailed this team all season because of attitude. Bryant said he's sensed the team believing like it's had "two rings," and the team's success has only come in spurts, as indicated by its 8-0 start. Jackson said he and the coaching staff predicted the team would play poorly against Miami, despite the well-reported practices this week that entailed the entire team playing together, a rarity for the team. And Odom argued the team's confidence has become too much of an issue. "Our confidence is always there. Right now, if we play them again we feel like we can win," Odom said. Sometimes that's our problem - our cockiness."
That's also sometimes the team's strength because it ensures their ability not to overreact both to wins and losses. But it's all about how it's channeled. For the past month, the Lakers have appeared fixated on almost thinking too big picture, feeling like they can't exert full effort because they need to keep themselves fresh for the postseason. The pacing itself needs to be more tactical than an excuse for mailing in performances.
3. Pau Gasol lays an egg. Gasol was the most egregious example of that, posting 17 points on eight of 17 shooting with a zero of seven first-quarter clip. One of the biggest attributes regarding Gasol entails his consistency and efficiency. But what boggles my mind involves the fact that his off nights take a 180-degree turn when the stakes are high. Jackson suggested the reason goes beyond "not shooting with a base," his indecisiveness and his "soft release," an obvious dig on the long-held notion that Gasol lacks toughness.
"I have some thoughts on it," Jackson said when asked why Gasol struggled so much. "I'm not going to share it with you right now. But I do have some thoughts on it. There's just speculations."
Gasol's take on the Lakers' poor shooting numbers, including his three of 11 first-half clip, pointed more to the team's collective problems, but dutifully summed up his own issues.
"At first we started rushing a little bit and everybody was a little bit too excited about what was going on," he said. "We needed to settle down and find a better shot out there and get a teammate that's open instead of forcing into it."
4. Ron Artest becam too fixated with LeBron James matchup. Whether it was picking up two early fouls, headlocking and removing LeBron James' headband or holding James to what Artest considered an "average night" despite a triple-double performance, Artest's strong defense may have frustrated James, but it didn't help the team defense one bit.
"We had some things where personalities overplayed what our team defense required," Jackson said. "People got distracted and didn't play the way we wanted to play the game."
Jackson didn't reference Artest by name since it also entailed Bryant's constant jawing at James and poor defense on Wade. But Artest was the main contributor to that, as indicated by his failure to contribute on help defense most of the time. Matt Barnes couldn't guard James either, finishing with 27 points on eight of 14 shooting. But for someone like Artest who always preaches about helping the team, his postgame comments revealed a disconnect between he and the coaching staff, an issue they should resolve quickly.
"I'm not caught up in personalities and trying to prove [something]," Artest said. "I don't mind just winning and a guy getting 50 [points]. I don't mind that."
5. Jackson suggests Andrew Bynum could slim down.Aside from Odom's 14 points on six of 12 shooting with nine rebounds, Bynum's performance served as a small bright spot. He scored six points on three of five shooting in 17 minutes, but that only raised questions on his conditioning level. For how remarkably efficient he appeared, he didn't really shed many minutes to Gasol (36) and the Killer B's in Steve Blake, Shannon Brown and Matt Barnes didn't set him up properly and instead finished with a four of 18 clip.
"Andrew is heavy," Jackson said, who otherwise described Bynum's performance as "Ok." "He's a muscular kid, but I don't think he's overweight. He can stand to lose 10 pounds and be lighter and have less of a load to carry."
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant complains about a foul call to the officials Saturday during the game against Miami. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times