With the team rushing to catch their charter to Phoenix, there wasn't a whole lot of activity following practice Thursday in El Segundo, most players having already disappeared before the media was allowed past the velvet rope. Only Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson were made available (what the it lacked in volume the day made up for in marquee value). A mellow afternoon, yes, but not without intrigue.
Kicking things off was talk about the lack of satisfaction following Tuesday's win over Toronto, capped by Kobe's seventh game-winner of the season. As we noted after the game, nobody was particularly happy with the performance, despite the exciting finish.
Actually, they were unhappy because of the exciting finish.
That the Lakers needed 24's heroics to polish off a middling Eastern Conference squad entering the game with a 10-19 road record left Lamar Odom frustrated enough to declare the Lakers owners of a soft aura. He lamented (in rather salty language) how ineffectual and inconsistent play has given even lesser opponents reason to believe they can beat the champs, talking smack in the process. "Our disposition as a team gives some of these young cats, these dudes, the right. They feel like they got the right," Odom said. "(They're) way to confident against us."
Asked today about Odom's comments, Kobe agreed. "I think teams are getting confidence seeing us struggling and obviously are getting more confidence in terms of how to be able to beat us, and things like that," he said. "But it is what it is. It doesn't matter."
Not yet, at least. "When the playoffs come around and you’re playing well, you take that confidence from your opponent as the series goes on. So, that’s the most important thing, when the playoffs come around, we’re rolling."
Bryant, unlike a portion of his team's fan base, was far from panic mode-- "You guys can worry all you want to. I really could care less," he told the media with a smile-- but when asked if the team was tightening up, he admitted it was a possibility: "It could be. I don't know. This is the first time that most of the guys on this team have had to defend a championship, so, it might be."
The lack of excitement following Kobe's dagger Tuesday night wasn't lost on Jackson.
"I noticed Kobe's expression after he made the shot," Jackson said. "Usually he throws his hands up in exultation- or either that or he's praising the Lord, I don't know which one it was- but this time he didn't. I think we're all disappointed that we couldn't carry that game to the finish." Particularly after the Lakers gave away multiple leads when the teams met earlier in the year on January 24 in Toronto.
The day also featured conversation about the pick-and-roll, something L.A. will see in heavy volume Friday night in Phoenix. "[The Suns] are a tough team to play defense against," Kobe said. "Screen and roll, they run a great deal of it, and run it differently than other teams in terms of having four shooters space the floor, and guys who can pick and pop. It'll be different than what we're used to defending."
Obviously Steve Nash's ability to control things with passing and ballhanding is a problem, but so is the former MVP's shooting (John Hollinger calls him the best all-around shooter in history). "You have to pay attention to him camping out behind picks," Kobe said. "So you wind up having to go over the top a lot and chasing him, and you open it up to his penetration and passing angles. That's what shooting ability does."
Like Kobe, PJ answered a few questions about the team's screen and roll D. We spend a lot of time breaking down L.A.'s issues against it, generally negatively, but how do they see themselves relative to the rest of the league? The Lakers, after all, are hardly the only team giving up points on P-and-R sets, which is why every team in the league runs it ad nauseam.
"Because of the size of a lot of players involved in screen-and-roll, a lot of teams will scale down. Our strength is our seven-foot guys, so they try to attack us, bring our bigs away from the basket and make them have to work extra hard and wear them out chasing the ball around," Jackson said. "So yes, in a longer explanation, we're not as good perhaps as some teams, but yet we feel like we're improving as a basketball team. I thought Drew did as good a job as he's done in a long time in screen-roll defense Tuesday night against Toronto."
From there, it's more talk about tomorrow's game, and the current mental state of the team.
And one final vid, looking forward to Friday's game.