With 12 wins in the last 13 games since the All-Star break, there isn't much these days to complain about in Laker Land, save perhaps the suspended status of Andrew Bynum. (Should the Lakers come through Tuesday against the Suns, you could even argue the games missed were a healthy blessing in disguise for a player not yet at 100 percent by his own admission.) Thus, who can blame the team for feeling a bit cheeky? Thus, Praise for purple and gold brothers was overflowing, but offset at times with good-natured teasing.
Except, of course, for a certain ex-teammate, who received no mercy.
For example, Phil Jackson full of props for Derek Fisher and Lamar Odom, the former over his ability to organize a game during crunch time and the latter for his ability to succeed whether starting or coming off the bench.
"He's been very productive," said Jackson of Odom. "It's invaluable. We made a decision as an organization two years ago to sign Lamar which put us into a difficult cap situation, yet we were convinced that without him, we wouldn't win a championship again. That was a good decision by the organization."
When approached with the topic of Pau playing extended minutes in Bynum's absence (as was the case against Portland), PJ couldn't resist a mild tweak:
"He gets depressed out there when he has to play that much. It just wears him out."
On his way over to talk with us, Pau actually ran into Phil, who informed him about the jab. Consistent with his nature, Pau took the teasing in stride.
"It's just kind of the games that he plays," said Gasol with a wry smile. "It's all fun. It's all fun for him, fun for (the media) and I try to make it fun for me."
Now in his fourth season under Jackson, Gasol has gotten used to PJ's antics. And while the needling has occasionally crossed what he considered the line (PJ painting Pau as a hypochondriac regarding last season's hamstring injury, for example), Gasol's generally able to laugh it off. He views their relationship as a "close connection," even if PJ often treats him like a third girl grade girl who hits the boy she likes.
"If he didn't care about you, he wouldn't say anything about you," shrugged Pau. "It's just a sign that he cares."
So he cares a lot about Pau in particular, I noted.
"Apparently so," Gasol nodded. "Some are not so lucky. I feel lucky to get all that caring. It's nice and warm."
Kobe Bryant, however, took his ribbing to the next level. The conversation began as props for Fish's late-game heroics against the Blazers. To Kobe, this was just a continuation of the grit he noticed in Fisher when the two were rookies together. I asked Bryant if he immediately noticed the void of such a presence during his three seasons without Fisher.
"You mean when I throwing it to Smush (Parker)?"
For example, sure.
But beyond specifically being liberated from the NBA's sulkiest player, I wondered what differences Kobe has noticed between balling without another clutch performer on hand vs. the present when Fisher (among others, really) can't be left wide open.
"I shot with three (expletive) on me. That's the difference. Now I only shoot with one. Maybe two."
Kobe shared Jackson's admiration for the way Odom has shifted seamlessly back and forth between starter and Sixth Man of the Year candidate:
"It's nothing for him. You can put him in at the 5. That's just how talented he is and how used he is to playing in this system. It's a walk in the park for him.
"It's a big advantage for us. We got an All-Star (caliber player) that's been coming in off the bench. It makes us a much better ball club."
Gasol noted how LO's flexible nature off the court reflects his malleable play while on it.
"He's that kind of a guy. He's just very adjustable. He doesn't take it personal. He understands the needs of the team and he does everything for the benefit of the team. It's really a positive scenario. He's just so good and easy going.
As for LO, he downplayed the matter, saying his role remains basically the same no matter when he checks into a game:
"At this point of the year at this time, I swear it doesn't, because it's all about winning games. Going out there and doing what I have to help the team win games. Rebound. Run. Assist. Play hard. Play hard. I don't think it changes at all. Honestly."
More from LO about the playoff push and the fluidity of the standings.
More from Jackson about Bynum's psyche while suspended. As he explained, being separated from the team is a frustrating experience.