Lakers have revenge on their mind against Charlotte
The Lakers walked off the court in embarrassing fashion, reacting in all sorts of ways 2 1/2 weeks ago that indicated their 20-point loss to the Charlotte Bobcats hurt more than other defeats.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant avoided talking to reporters for the second consecutive game, the silence speaking louder about his disappointment than any cliche could provide. Center Andrew Bynum lamented his lack of minutes and touches, and questioned the effort of his teammates. And Coach Phil Jackson spent no more than five seconds offering a 140-character Twitter-type assessment on the team's loss.
As the Lakers finished up preparations Thursday at the team's facility in El Segundo for their rematch Friday against Charlotte, that double-digit loss still remains fresh in their minds.
"I thought our players really quit playing out there on the floor," Jackson said. "It was a game they didn't continue to compete. That bothered me."
Fortunately for the Lakers, things have changed since that 20-point loss to Charlotte, the widest margin since the Bobcats joined the NBA for the 2004-05 season. Charlotte traded Gerald Wallace to Portland for Joel Przybilla. The Bobcats lost by 40 points Wednesday against Denver. And the Lakers of course have played much better, going 5-0 since the All-Star break.
Some facts, however, remain the same. The Lakers (43-19) have lost eight of their last 10 games against Charlotte (26-34) and three of their last four against them at Staples Center. The Lakers have shown patterns of inconsistency all season, such as their 4-0 start to a seven-game trip ending with double-digit losses to Charlotte and Cleveland, which owns the league's worst record. And the defending champions remember very well the Bobcats' boisterous reaction after humiliating them.
That's why Lakers forward Matt Barnes, who probably will play Friday against Charlotte after missing 25 games following right knee surgery, values his return for other reasons.
"The way they celebrated and were talking trash the last time the team was out there, that's really been on everyone's mind," Barnes said. "They're aware of that. So it'll be a different outcome tomorrow. I guarantee."
There's plenty of reason for Barnes to feel so optimistic. While he watched the Lakers' previous game against Charlotte from his Palos Verdes residence while rehabbing, he noticed the Lakers lacking what he called "focus" and "attention to detail," two qualities he said have remained prevalent during the Lakers' 5-0 start since the All-Star break.
There are plenty of signs that suggest they're in the process of changing their habits. The Lakers have allowed only 88.4 points per game during their winning streak. They've averaged 44.2 rebounds. And Lakers forward Ron Artest has provided a definitive uptick in play, with increases from his season average to the last five games in points (8.2, 11.2), shooting percentage (40.3%, 46.7%) and three-point field goal shooting percentage (36.1%, 46.7%). Meanwhile, there has been a handful of players who have maintained their high level of play. Just consider the consistency in season averages and the last five games Bryant (25.1, 24.4) and Bynum(11.4, 11.4) have provided in points per contest. And Lakers guard Derek Fisher has argued the team hasn't had a tendency "to try to win the game in the first quarter," a mentality he argued led to the Lakers taking shortcuts and reacting in frustration when execution faltered.
That leaves the Lakers determined not to allow Charlotte to shift their course.
"They've been successful for sure and it's something that bothers us," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said of the Bobcats. "Hopefully tomorrow, they won't be and we'll be getting our way and paying them back for the disaster game we had over there this season."
There are still plenty of concerns that ail the Lakers, however.
The Lakers had to make up a seven-point deficit in an overtime win against Portland, trailed at halftime against the depleted Clippers, nearly lost to Oklahoma City with Lamar Odom's two missed free throws and looked far from animated for the first three quarters against Minnesota. That leaves the Lakers with only one game -- a 24-point victory against Atlanta - in which they showed true dominance. So even if the Lakers seem to be on the right course, they very well remember being in a same position before only to lose in embarrassing fashion to Charlotte, a fate the Lakers seem more intent on avoiding this time around.
"They're talented individuals and they elevate their play when they go against us," Bryant said of the Bobcats. "If they played the rest of the league the way they play against us, they'd be up there in the playoffs."
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant works in the post against Bobcats forward Stephen Jackson in the first half Monday night. Credit: Sam Sharpe / US Presswire