Lakers learn to conquer adversity

LOS ANGELES -- The Los Angeles Lakers are not better without Kobe Bryant. Stop it.

Yes, the ball moved freely and better than it has in a while with Bryant in the training room, getting treatment on his severely sprained ankle, during the Lakers' 113-102 win over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night.

Yes, the Steve Nash who scored 19 points and had 12 assists looked like the Steve Nash you saw all those years in Phoenix.

And, yes, you saw Sunday why Antawn Jamison is closing in on 20,000 career points.

"The ball moves and there are some good guys out there on the floor," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. "Antawn has had back-to-back 50-point games in this league. Steve Blake is starting with a good team and has played really well in this league. Steve Nash is a two-time MVP. And Dwight Howard is really good. So we don't have to be one player dominant.

"That ball needs to move and, if it does, then we are really good."

But no, the Lakers are not a better team without Bryant.

They are a better team now because they've learned how to cope with adversity throughout this star-crossed season.

They are a better team now because that adversity seems to have brought them closer together, instead of ripping them apart.

They are a better team now because it finally got so embarrassing and humbling, they flat out had to change.

"We're just not making any excuses," said Jamison, who finished with a game-high 27 points Sunday.

"I think once we finally had our back up against the wall and people were counting us out, that's when we kind of went, 'OK, we've got to start playing better.' There's no excuse for us not to turn this thing around and make it one of the best stories in sports.'"

They also looked around the room and realized that even without Bryant and Pau Gasol, they had more talent still standing and playing than most of the NBA.

"I was talking to Metta [World Peace] and he was like, 'Now it's our time to finally play our style, posting up and things like that,'" Jamison said.

"You've got guys being accustomed to being the man or being the first and second option," he said. "We know how to do this and play with each other. And guys are eager to show -- when somebody is hurt, when my time comes -- we won't miss a beat."

In a way, that's part of why the Lakers fell so far behind this season.

They were a team filled with stars who had only ever been leading men.

And not just the four future Hall of Famers -- Bryant, Nash, Gasol and Howard.

At various points in their careers, World Peace and Jamison have been the primary scorers for their teams, too.

Even though they all came into the season knowing they'd have to sacrifice, it takes time to feel comfortable in a new role.

"You knew coming in that 30 minutes a game wasn't going to happen," Jamison said. "That 15 to 16 shots a game; that's out the window.

"It's a change. But we knew we would have to sacrifice when we came here."

Knowing and adjusting to that change are two different things, however. It's easy to accept something; it's far more difficult to internalize it and adapt.

Add in a coaching change after five games and the accompanying philosophical change D'Antoni asked the team to make, and you have what the Lakers became for the first five months of the season -- a mess.

"What happened a couple of months ago is behind us," Jamison said. "But we have learned from it."

They're tougher now. They're more desperate to make all this worth it.

They're more confident, knowing that whatever obstacles come next probably won't be as bad as what has already happened.

The latest uppercuts in what has been a season-long fight landed Saturday, when Gasol suffered a setback in his recovery from a foot injury and Bryant came down with the flu just as he was trying to will himself back from a severely sprained left ankle.

The news could've been devastating. Instead, the Lakers reacted like blasé Californians unimpressed by a mild earthquake.

"You've just got to roll with it," Howard said. "Hopefully this is the last time this happens and we'll get healthy at the right time and stay healthy."