Lakers downplay Andrew Bynum's 'trust issue,' maintain upbeat attitude
Bearing smiles on their faces Thursday, Lakers center Andrew Bynum and forward Pau Gasol conversed with each other, worked on post-up drills with assistant coach Chuck Person and appeared incredibly at ease.
And bearing a smile on his face, Coach Phil Jackson appeared far from concerned about the Lakers' 2-0 deficit in their Western Conference semifinal series with the Dallas Mavericks, offered a few jokes and downplayed any of the issues surrounding the defending champions.
Consider his response to Bynum's suggestion following the Lakers' 93-81 Game 2 loss Wednesday that the team has "trust issues": “I thought he was speaking about trusses, and my dad wore a truss. I thought that’s what he was speaking about. I don’t know the trust issue.”
And here he is playing coy with reporters wondering who would fill Ron Artest's spot in Game 3 Friday after drawing a one-game suspension for his clothesline on Dallas guard Jose Barea: "You'll know that [Friday]." And listen to what the main message he emphasized during Thursday's practice: "I thought the flogging message was really important last night. I didn't flog them physically but I did a little mental flogging today."
In turn, Bryant exuded the same playful sarcasm by dutifully noting, "We'll consider ourselves flogged," and by arguing that the Lakers' struggles are "unfixable."
There were surely visible signs surrounding the practice court, where the team exuded calmness about their current struggles. The team briefly addressed Bynum's gripe about the team having "trust issues," with Lamar Odom preparing for a possibility that he'll start at small forward in place of Artest and Jackson talked at length about the team's defensive lapses.
But the Lakers are trying to do so in a way that won't make the magnitude overwhelming, considering that only three NBA teams have ever won a seven-game series after losing their first two homes games.
"I’d like to cry but I can’t right now," Jackson said with a smile. "It’s a game and we know it’s a game and we play it and we play it hard and we anticipate winning in Dallas."
There's plenty of areas the Lakers must fix in order for that to happen, making it uncertain whether they can pull off that task against a Mavericks team presumably with a heightened home crowd, the size and physical play to match the Lakers and the pick-and-roll sequences that have thrown the Lakers' off track. But rather than Bryant getting consumed with whether Bynum's private grievances to the media awoke the team or whether Magic Johnson's criticism via Twitter that Bynum should've addressed the team internally, the Lakers instead worried about dissecting the team's poor communication, rotations on screen-and-roll and hoped to provide a better understanding on their defensive assignments.
"It's being delivered and I think there's some matter of confusion out there and we're trying to straighten that out in the last two days," Jackson said regarding the team's defense, which has allowed Dallas to shoot 45.6% from the field and 37.8% from three-point range. "I think there's spaces on the floor that are confusing to our players. There's various spots on the floor where we change our rotations and I think it's confused the players. We had to get that straightened again with where that has to be."
Jackson conceded uncertainty on whether Gasol lacks confidence considering his 14 points on 45.5% shooting against Dallas marks a huge drop-off from his regular-season average of 18.8 points on 52.9% shooting. But instead of criticizing Gasol, Jackson recalled telling him that he appreciated his first-half intensity.
Bryant acknowledged the heavy task in overcoming a 2-0 deficit but invoked the Lakers' 2004 semifinals series against San Antonio in which they won in six games after dropping the first two contests. And both Bryant and Jackson maintained their lighthearted manner through all the adversity, an attitude Bryant said Jackson hasn't wavered from since the team's last three consecutive NBA Finals appearances.
"It's not that big of a deal to win two games in a row," Bryant said. "Stop acting like you've never won two games in a row."
Whether that happens remains to be seen simply because the Lakers have shown very few signs of actually changing. But they haven't done enough damage to change their public persona. The Lakers have at least two games to play, and should Jackson's prediction ring true, the team's Game 2 loss didn't mark the last time it'd play at Staples Center this season.
Said Jackson: "We'll be back Tuesday."
-- Mark Medina
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