ATLANTA -- The ship may have sailed Sunday on the Lakers' chances of securing homecourt advantage for a potential NBA Finals matchup with Cleveland. Just don't expect to find Kobe Bryant standing on the pier waving.
"We can win anywhere," Bryant said after shooting 7-for-19 from the field in the Lakers' 86-76 loss to the Hawks. "No question about it. I just feel like we’re a very good road team. Confidence, maturity, having seen the worst of the worst last year in Game 6 (against Boston) and then having to learn from that and then obviously the road success wthat we’ve been having this year. We’re fine playing on the road."
If they face LeBron James and the Cavs in the Finals, they better get used to it. Cleveland became the first team to 60 wins Sunday, and more importantly, opened a two-game lead on the Lakers for home court if the teams meet in the Finals. If they wind up tied, the Lakers own the tiebreaker by virtue of beating Cleveland twice.
After the Lakers shot 35 percent from the field in a team-wide meltdown Sunday -- the same day Cleveland was blowing out Dallas to extend its league-best home record to 35-1 -- Kobe was asked if the Lakers can catch Cleveland with only nine games left.
"Probably," he said. "They’ll have to give us a couple. But it’s fun. It’s a good challenge for us to see what happens."
The Lakers have won titles with homecourt advantage and without. But last year against Boston, they lost Game 4 of the Finals at home and thus had to go to Boston in Game 6 facing elimination. They were, of course, eliminated.
"Home court is important," Bryant said. "But in my years of experience, if you’re gonna be a champion, you should win on the road anyway. The better team is going to advance no matter where you play. It’s just the way it is."
Coach Phil Jackson has been trumpeting the importance of winning on the road all season, so he's not about to change his tune now.
"The fact that you can establish home court for as long as you possibly can in the playoffs is an added bonus," Jackson said, "but it’s not a determinant about whether you’re going to win or lose." Asked if a two-game deficit with nine to go is insurmountable, Jackson said, "We have no idea. Who knows what's going to happen with Cleveland? They're going to have to win, and we're certainly not going to win out. But we'll continue to put pressure on them."
As Bryant was shaking off the effects of a sore ankle -- it was fine, he said -- and an upset stomach that caused him to miss the morning film session, I asked him to assess the state of another race: the one between he and LeBron for MVP.
"I don’t even think about it. At all," he said. "It’s not something that crosses my mind. It didn’t cross my mind last year, either. I really, really, really, really, really want that championship. Really, really, really want it."
If they wind up playing Game 7 in Cleveland, a game like Sunday's is one they're really, really, really going to wish they could get back.