In yesterday's practice report, I expanded on Lamar Odom's thoughts about the differences between the 2008 Lakers and the 2010 version. In a nutshell, the key change I noted is this year's team really understanding the edge needed to raise an O'Brien heavenward. The 2008 season was a magical, unexpected tumble into greatness for the Lakers. Without question, they evolved into an elite team, but ultimately weren't as mentally prepared to take the trophy as the Celtics, who'd spent an entire season gearing up to win at whatever cost.
When asked during Tuesday's practice about what from the 2008 experience can be applied to this title defense, Kobe Bryant expressed sentiments to mine:
"There's things we carried with us from the series in terms of how to play as a unit. Play both ends of the floor. The kind of tenacity that you have play with. Those are things from there that we still carry with us."
As for what else has perhaps evolved, I wondered if there were any differences for Kobe in the way he specifically led the team in 2008 vs. 2009 vs. 2010. During the first season, he was among the only players with NBA Finals experience. In 2009, just about everyone was better seasoned, but only he and Derek Fisher actually knew what it takes to get over the hump. This time around, everyone but Ron Artest has a ring, but only Kobe and Fish have actually defended a title. Did these differences in scenarios change the way Kobe needed to lead?
"Yeah. It was different," explained Kobe. "Last year it was very easy in terms of making sure everyone's moving in the same direction because of the tough loss we had. This year's been a little different. You just gotta make sure the ship continues to move as one. Especially when you have adversity and things like that, guys continue to disperse and go different ways. Just gotta make sure everyone continues to move as a unit."
As you may have noticed from the video, Kobe's residing in a fairly terse zone these days. And since Odom knows where his bread's buttered, no secrets from inside the Mamba's head were divulged, despite the media's best efforts to probe. For that matter, Odom was obviously cagey when discussing his own health. But rest assured, he's been using the extended time between series to get his body "hard" and "tight" for this upcoming battle.
You gotta love Fisher's matter-of-fact response to a question starting with, "If physically challenged in this series..."
"There's no question about if," noted the veteran.
Let the smackdown begin, kids!
Phil Jackson talked about the matchups with Boston and predictably, Rajon Rondo's name popped up quite a bit. Kobe, Fisher, Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown were mentioned as candidates to check the rapidly improving point guard. (I personally wouldn't be shocked if LO or Artest got the occasional crack.) But as the Kentucky product remained a topic of discussion, PJ downplayed the idea of any player as the "one" in need of stopping.
"We look at them as a team. We don't look at them as individuals. We gotta stop Rondo. We gotta stop [Kevin] Garnett or whatever. We look at the individuals and the strengths they have in how they're used and say we have to limit whatever their strengths are in any way we can. If we turn the ball over or he gets rebounds, he's gonna score in transition. It's what he does. He's great at that. If we make a lot of mistakes, he's gonna score more. If he gets a lot of rebounds, you know... That's kind of the things that happen in a ball game. It's not about an individual that we're gonna try to stop."
I don't want to ruin the punchline, but Phil had a great response when asked if the team might check out some past Lakers-Celtics Finals to get psyched up.
And finally, LO talked about his relationship with Ron Artest. As one might expect about a friendship spanning decades and encountering so many professional and personal issues, the bond is pretty damn deep:
"We've been through a lot. He's had to persevere. When I think of his game and his personality, that's one of the first things that comes to mind. We've been through a lot together. I remember we were on a trip in Arizona and he had to go home early. His baby sister had died. She was maybe about three or four months old. I kind of went through the same thing with my son. Being where we're from, the neighborhoods we come from, you had to be tough mentally to get out. So going through all that and having the opportunity to play for a championship after playing basketball with each other since we were like, 12 years old. It's something special. I'm ready to seize this moment... It makes me look at combat and competing in a whole other way, really."