Another humiliating loss to another bad team Sunday night had the Lakers co-captain ready to take on the whole team if his teammates don’t start getting their games — and attitudes — together.
“I’ll kick everybody’s ass in this locker room if it doesn’t happen,” Bryant said after a 113-103 loss to the Orlando Magic at Staples Center. Yes, the 6-10 Orlando Magic. “It’s the attitude you have to have. Metta (World Peace) is the same way. Dwight (Howard) has it in him as well. Even though he smiles a lot, he cares a lot about this. Come hell or high water, this has to get done.”
The Lakers, now 8-9, entered the fourth quarter with a 77-73 lead, and later added three more points to give them a 7-point margin with 7:50 to play. But instead of the more-talented team taking over and closing out the game, the Lakers went to sleep, allowing the Magic to score a massive 36 points from that point on to win by 10.
Bryant couldn’t believe what he had just witnessed — and participated in.
“(The intensity) was there,” Bryant fumed. “We just continued to miss a lot of easy (shots).”
And free throws. Howard, who entered the game as the star attraction in his first game against his former team, was 9 of 21 from the charity stripe, including 4 of 8 in the last 3:37 of the game. But Bryant said he wasn’t upset with Howard for missing the free throws. He encouraged him to look at it as a challenge he has to conquer.
“He should look at it as an opportunity,” Kobe said, “because once he conquers the ability to make free throws, the sky’s the absolute limit for him. So he should really approach it as an opportunity.
“The pressure is on me and Dwight to really perform well, and we’ll pick up for everybody else’s mistakes, whatever they may be. He and I have to perform at a really, really high level night in and night out.”
One player who hasn’t been performing at anywhere near a high level this season is four-time All-Star Pau Gasol. He’s averaging a mere 12.7 points and 8.9 rebounds per game, and has looked lost for much of the season. Bryant saved much of his ire for the 12-year veteran.
When asked how the inconsistency of his team is affecting him, Bryant admitted frustration and then tore into his long-time friend and teammate saying, “Pau has to make some adjustments, obviously, to his game. He might not be posting up as much as he likes, but he just has to adjust.
“The reality is, I’ve adjusted. I’ve never run this many screen-and-rolls in my entire life. But I’ve worked on it. I’ve worked on handling the ball; worked on coming off screens and making plays. I’m used to being in the post much, much more. You have to adjust; you have to master what it is we’re trying to do here. Pau’s talented enough and good enough to be able to do that.”
One of the biggest concerns among the Lakers coaches is how to prevent the sensitive Gasol from checking out mentally when he doesn’t play a lot, especially with the game on the line.
Head coach Mike D’Antoni said he and the other coaches would just keep talking to him about it. Bryant had another suggestion for Gasol.
“Put your big-boy pants on,” Kobe said with a trace of disgust in his voice. “C’mon . . . just adjust. You can’t whine about it or complain about it. Heck, I’m 34 years old, and I’m running screen-and-rolls out there because Steve (Nash) is out, and my ass is running up and down the court more than I ever have in my entire career. But you have to adjust to it.
“I stay after practice and work on my ball-handling and screen-and-rolls, and when you have the talent to adjust to it, you just . . . have . . . to . . . adjust . . . to . . . it.
“We’re not going to lose (Pau). This is just not going to happen. I’ve been around him long enough to know how to deal with him.”
1. It’s impossible to figure out how good this Lakers team can/will be until Nash comes back and gets a few games under his belt. But it’s not a good sign — Nash or no Nash — that they can’t come up with any game-to-game consistency. Whether it’s on offense or defense, it’s never the same team back-to-back. Even with all the new players this season and all the injuries so far, the roster is too talented to look like world champions in one game, like zombies in another. Is the coaching staff getting its message across? In particular, is D’Antoni? I’d say the answer right now is a loud NO.
2. Howard has the reputation of being a fun guy to be around, the life of the locker room. And while that’s true most of the time, the more you’re around him the more you realize that this guy is a serious as one can be in his pursuit of becoming the greatest player he can be and winning multiple championships. So, the Lakers had better hope this D’Antoni experiment is the right one. Because as happy as Howard is to be with the Lakers and living in Los Angeles, I don't think he'd hesitate a moment to sign with another club as a free agent if he feels the Lakers aren't primed to win those NBA titles he covets so ferociously.
3. Haven’t heard much about Bernie Bickerstaff since he went back to being an assistant, but he seems to be the only coach to get through to the Lakers so far this season. They were 4-1 under the 40-year NBA veteran, and the team played its most consistent, confident basketball with Bernie at the helm.