Blog Entry

Kobe hits the Lakers where it hurts

Posted on: January 23, 2010 12:37 am
NEW YORK – The mental minefield Kobe Bryant began planting in Cleveland stretched all the way to New York, where the Lakers embarked on the second game of an eight-game road trip with his words still ringing in their ears.

Not tough enough.

Not part of their D.N.A.

Need to be hungrier.

“He’s a killer,” Lamar Odom was saying in the visiting locker room at Madison Square Garden Friday night. “He’s always gonna see things the way he sees them. He’s our leader, so if he sees that then we have to address it – and the way we address it is on the court. … Our problem right now is our cockiness, so he might be right.”

After the Lakers failed to close out a game in Cleveland Thursday night, thus surrendering the season series to the Cavs, Bryant wanted to leave no doubt about where the defending champs’ heads must be on this trip. The Lakers ran out to an 18-3 start, playing only four of their first 21 games on the road. Now they’re 0-2 against the Cavs and had lost five of their last six road games entering the Garden Friday night.

“Guys need to get going,” Bryant said after the Lakers beat the Knicks 115-105, “because I need them on this trip.”

Complacency has always been the enemy of these Lakers, and Bryant knows by now which buttons to push. He had stewed for months after the Lakers proved too soft to beat the Celtics in the ’08 Finals, and so he went for the jugular after the Cleveland loss by trotting out those hurtful buzzwords at the first sign of weakness.

Nobody in the NBA senses weakness like Bryant, and that goes for his teammates – not just his opponents.

Phil Jackson didn’t necessarily agree with Bryant’s assault on the Lakers’ lack of toughness, but it didn’t matter. The message was delivered. And it wasn’t just delivered to the notebook-toting masses. It was delivered in the locker room, too.

“We have to be prepared for teams to come after us,” Odom said. “I never knew how hard it was gonna be to try to repeat as champions. He does. So that might be his way of pushing us a little bit.”

Needing a push has been part of the problem, according to renowned locker-room philosopher Ron Artest. It was Artest who was brought to L.A. to stop LeBron James, and he willingly admitted Friday night that he’s 0-for-2. On Christmas Day, LeBron scored 26 in a 102-87 Cleveland victory and Artest fell down some stairs at home afterward and got a concussion. On Thursday night, LeBron had his way again with 37 points in a 93-87 victory without injured guard Mo Williams.

“I guess that’s why they got me, to take him out of the game,” Artest said. “[Thursday] it didn’t work. They got us this year, so all we can do is move on from that and see what happens in the playoffs.”

Artest is new to the Lakers’ midseason blahs, but he’s a quick study. The Lakers are so good, so talented, so dominant, he said, that the games are too easy for them to be engaged all the time.

“We haven’t played good basketball this whole year and I don’t even know how we’re in first place,” Artest said. “We don’t even know. We’re out there sometimes trying to figure out how we’re still in first place. … You can play against a couple of teams that have some star players or whatever, coast through the whole game, and win by 20 – real easy. And that’s how it’s been for us this whole season. A lot of wins just came from it really just being too easy for us. Sometimes it’s not fair. We’re up 20 in the first quarter. What else are you gonna do but win by 100 points? I guess that’s what we have to start doing.”

That’s where Bryant comes in, pressing his teammates’ feet back on the pedal. The ring finger on his shooting hand is broken in two places, his back is sore, and he just passed the halfway point of his 14th season. With those ailments and mileage, on the second night of a back-to-back, there wasn’t enough in the tank for his usual Garden explosion; Bryant was 8-for-24 for a pedestrian 27 points. But even if he had it in him, he said his teammates didn’t deserve it.

“I don’t think the way that we’re playing right now that we’re ready for that,” he said.

The rest of the trip will take them to Toronto, Washington, Indiana, Philadelphia, Boston, and Memphis a week from Monday. At some point, Bryant wants the D.N.A. to mutate.

The Lakers are 33-10, a half-game up on Cleveland for the best record in the league. If they face the Cavs in the Finals, they’re going to need it to attain homecourt advantage.

“We didn’t have [the best record] last year,” Jackson said. “And all of a sudden, Cleveland lost and Orlando stepped out into the vacuum. You can’t diminish it, but at some time you have to win on the road.”

Having achieved his desired result, at least for one night, Bryant went about his usual postgame meet-and-greets in the crowded hallways of the Garden, his favorite arena. He signed a pair of shoes for an actor from India, greeted someone who used to play in the driveway with Bryant’s father, Joe “Jelly Bean” Bryant, and shook every outstretched hand. Then it was down the freight elevator to a car that would take him to West 125th Street in Harlem, to a hush-hush event at the House of Hoops.

Mind games will resume on an as-needed basis.

Since: Sep 11, 2006
Posted on: January 23, 2010 3:08 pm

Kobe hits the Lakers where it hurts

Artest is such an idiot. He has no better chance of shutting down Lebron in the playoffs than he did on Thursday. The one advantage he had over Lebron, size and strength, is gone. He is far too slow to even do a marginal job of guarding Lebron and there is nothing he can do about it but talk about how he is so good that he has a hard time trying. The Lakers are a great team, Artest is a piece of crap.

Since: Oct 6, 2008
Posted on: January 23, 2010 2:04 pm

Kobe hits the Lakers where it hurts

You know what though dude.  If the Lakers make there freethrows.  They easily win this game.  What a joke but hey cleveland you guys deserve the win.  Dont dwell too much on it though.

Since: Jan 15, 2009
Posted on: January 23, 2010 1:54 pm

Kobe hits the Lakers where it hurts

Kobe is right, Bynum and Gasol should be the two most intimidating big men in basketball?

Since: Oct 6, 2008
Posted on: January 23, 2010 1:53 pm

Kobe hits the Lakers where it hurts

On other news, its nice of Gasol to donate a thousand dollars to every point he made during the Knicks/Lakers game to Haiti

Since: Sep 15, 2006
Posted on: January 23, 2010 1:04 pm

Kobe hits the Lakers where it hurts

The Lakers know how to play in June. Thats all that matters.

Since: Oct 6, 2008
Posted on: January 23, 2010 12:42 pm

Kobe hits the Lakers where it hurts

Kobe is right. Maybe if Pau Gasol made those freethrows, Lakers would have won.  Atleast now they can respect the Cavs and not get too cocky if and when they ever face the Cavs in the NBA FINALS.

Ron ARtest.  Sigh.  Artest needs to be challenged.  Giving up so many points to Lebron was unacceptable.

Oh well its  not the playoffs or NBA FINALS and the Lakers should and still improve.

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