The alternative was to get on a plane to Salt Lake City, so Kobe Bryant hung out and talked to reporters long after the final horn Sunday. The questions had less to do with the Lakers victory over Golden State than with Bryants personal comeback this season.
It has been a long climb back for Bryant, first from the Colorado accusation, then following the Shaquille ONeal trade and Phil Jacksons book. He said that he had all kinds of marketing and p.r. types trying to offer him advice on how to get his image back.
“They wanted me to go on this big campaign, do `Saturday Night Live, do all these talk shows and all this other stuff, Bryant said. “My response to them was, `I dont want to do that. What I want to do I just be myself.
“I said the one change that I will make is Ill allow people to see more of who I am as a person outside of the basketball court because I felt like throughout my earlier years, I never allowed people to truly see that.
“The side they saw of me was the killer instinct that I played with or the disagreements that we had on the team.
Wherever we go, you can see that the court of public opinion is shifting in Bryants favor. He ran off the court Sunday to cheers from hundreds of Lakers fans who filled the front rows of seats trying to get as close to No. 24 as possible.
Bryant said one example of how he changed came in publicizing his work with charitable causes, including the Boys and Girls Clubs and Make A Wish Foundation. You might remember a segment Bryant taped this summer with ESPN and a Make A Wish child.
“My philosophies there were, `I dont do this for publicity, so why would I promote this or advertise it or blast it everywhere? Bryant said. “One of the things they told me, they said, `Look, by you going out there and making it newsworthy, by putting it all over the place, helps the causes even more.
* * *
Bryant also told a story from his days as a high school star at Lower Merion (Pa.). He was asked about March Madness and whether he felt like he missed out by jumping to the NBA straight out of high school.
Its not a surprise to Lakers fans that Bryant was planning to go to Duke before he entered the draft. What I hadnt heard before was that North Carolina coach Dean Smith actually backed off recruiting Bryant because he was so sure he was headed to the pros.
Bryant could remember sitting in class and reading a letter that had been sent to him through his school. He said Smith had written him saying, “Im not going to waste your time. Ive seen you play. I know youre going to the NBA. Good luck.
Theres definitely an appreciation for the college game on Bryants part. When the Lakers were in New York to play the Nets earlier this season, Bryant and Ronny Turiaf went to watch Duke play Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden.
Bryant also went to a Pepperdine-Gonzaga game last season in Malibu with Turiaf, where he met up with Adam Morrison.
* * *
Every concern and criticism is minimized in a victory, but Lamar Odom had a pretty modest afternoon with eight points, eight rebounds and five assists Sunday. He didnt even touch the ball, in fact, for nearly the first five minutes of the game.
The Lakers didnt need a big game out of Odom to beat the Warriors but that wont be the case tonight against a Utah Jazz team that has won eight of its last nine games.
* * *
I wrote about Jackson’s new way of approaching timeouts (in the notes below) but forgot to mention that he also didn’t hesitate in calling one only 1:08 into Sunday’s game. The Lakers gave up three quick baskets to the Warriors and Jackson wasn’t happy with how Andrew Bynum was playing defense.
* * *
By Ross Siler
OAKLAND–It was only two weeks ago in Cleveland that Lakers coach Phil Jackson offered a reminder that life in the NBA is nothing more than a six-month roller-coaster ride between winning and losing.
His team was on the downward plunge that Sunday, ultimately bottoming out with a six-game losing streak. Now the question is if the Lakers are back on the upswing after their second cruise-control victory in 72 hours.
They beat the Golden State Warriors 102-85 Sunday at Oracle Arena, building a 20-point lead in the second quarter and beating their division rivals for the seventh time in seven games since Jacksons return last season.
They did it with Maurice Evans making his case to stay in the starting lineup, scoring a career-high 26 points, and with the Warriors making just 2 of 19 3-pointers and 9 of 21 free throws. Golden State came in averaging 105.8 points a game.
“I told the players this afternoon that we have Mo on our side, Jackson said, “and we have to stay with it, in more ways than one.
Are the Lakers back after their six-game losing streak? The answer might come tonight against the Utah Jazz, who are leading the Northwest Division with a 37-18 record and are 2-0 since Carlos Boozers return from injury.
“You cant forget about (the skid) because its so easy to happen, Evans said. “You have to really stay focused and try and build this streak the other way because . . . teams are good in this league and they can take control in a minutes notice.
The Lakers did just that at the start of the second quarter, turning what had been a four-point game into a 20-point rout. Once again Shammond Williams and Aaron McKie were the first guards off the bench, but Evans came through with the play of the game.
Evans leaped to steal an entry pass by Sarunas Jasikevicius, then hit a shot that lived up to his Kobe Bryant-given nickname of “Lotto. With Jasikevicius wrapping him up with both hands, Evans tossed in a lay-up while drawing the foul.
“I think thats what having good strength will allow you to do, Evans said, “is still make a run at tough shots.
The next possession, Evans buried a 3-pointer to send the Warriors into a timeout down 44-28. Golden State made just 1 of 10 shots to start the second quarter and watched as Stephen Jackson and Mickael Pietrus each missed two free throws.
“I definitely saw that they were on the brink of letting us take control of the game, Evans said. “We were all talking about it on the sidelines. They were ready to wilt, and if we could just continue to put pressure on them, we could gain control of this game.
The Lakers are now 4-0 with Evans in the starting lineup. He made 8 of 13 shots and said afterward the biggest difference between starting and coming off the bench is as simple as being able to shake off a couple early misses.
“Its hit or miss when you come off the bench sometimes, Evans said.
The last thing assistant Brian Shaw wrote on the locker room board as part of his scouting report was “Road mentality with an asterisk beside it. The Lakers came into Sunday with just an 11-16 road record, having lost their previous three road games.
If they are to advance in the playoffs, the Lakers likely will do so without home-court advantage, forcing them to win at least one game away from Staples Center. They will learn more about their ability to do that tonight in Salt Lake City.
“You have to gut it out, you have to grind it out, Jackson said of playing Utah. “You have to be able to play a physical game without losing your cool.
The Warriors, who lost Saturday to the Clippers, needed a victory before leaving on a five-game road trip. They never got closer than 13 points in the second half, however, and trailed by as many as 25 in the fourth quarter.
Bryant shook off a blow to his left shoulder to finish with 26 points on 9-of-23 shooting. He served notice at the start of the second half, stealing an Al Harrington pass and taking it the other way for a three-point play.
That defensive activity might be the biggest change for the Lakers. They had 11 steals in Fridays victory over Boston and another 11 steals Sunday.
McKie sent most of the crowd to the exits in the fourth quarter when he drilled a 19-footer with seven minutes remaining. The Lakers fans who remained until the final horn crowded the first rows of seats to cheer Bryant as he ran off the court.
“I think its a sign of support, Bryant said. “I think, at least from what I see, from talking with fans and communicating with them on my Web site and so forth, is that they appreciate somebody that goes through adversity that bounces back.
“I think thats something that they relate to in terms of drawing inspiration from or whatever the case may be. Thats what I try to do. Even though you may fall down or get knocked down, the key is to get back up and keep on moving.
Bryant was speaking in terms of his own personal comeback but the same could be said for his team. The roller coaster of the NBA, after all, wont end until April, May or beyond.
* * *
By Ross Siler
OAKLAND–Even after 16 seasons as an NBA coach, nine championships and more than 900 wins, Phil Jackson has shown in recent games that he isnt above changing his style for the good of the team.
Jackson has taken to sitting in a chair to face his players on the bench during timeouts, a change that forward Maurice Evans said was suggested during a meeting last week with the Lakers mired in a six-game losing streak.
“I just want to get their attention and make sure that theyre on the same page and that we can talk about some things, Jackson said. “I felt like theres some distances that they were pulling away from each other in the timeouts and I just wanted to tighten it up a little bit and get more cohesive.
Jackson previously stood with a clipboard and huddled his players around him during timeouts. This month has seen Lamar Odom and Sasha Vujacic engage in a shouting match during one timeout and Brian Cook and assistant Brian Shaw do likewise.
“We were one guys over here, another guys over there, Evans said, adding, “It was something that we brought to (Jacksons) attention thats something that has to change.
Jackson has lamented his ability to communicate to his players on occasion this season. Once was in the final minute of a loss at Toronto when the Lakers unsuccessfully played the two-for-one possession game.
Despite the change, one thing has stayed the same: Guard Smush Parker regularly walks away from the huddle without hearing Jacksons words when he knows hes not going into the game.
He sat alone on the bench during a timeout with 3:03 left in the first quarter Sunday when Shammond Williams was set to check in for him.
Jackson said earlier this season that he didnt have a problem with Parker doing so. Evans wasnt asked about Parker but did say of seeing players standing out of the huddle, “That doesnt look very good.
In memory: Odom pays tribute on his sneakers to the all the people – – his infant son, mother and grandmother – – he has lost in his life. He had the No. 3 written Sunday in honor of Dennis Johnson, the former Boston Celtics great who died last week.
Johnson was an assistant during Odoms years with the Clippers and later served as the teams interim head coach. Odom said the two talked when Johnsons NBA Development League team played at Staples Center on Jan. 12.
“He told me he loved me, Odom said. “Count your blessings.
Also: Jackson said he allowed Vladimir Radmanovic to address his teammates informally about the snowboarding incident in which the forward suffered a separated shoulder. He also was the latest to joke about Radmanovics new nickname of “Slalom. . . ..
Once the Lakers return from this trip, Jackson plans on contacting Scottie Pippen, who has said he wants to make a comeback at age 41. Jackson noted that Pippen said he wants to play for a contender and added, “He didnt mention us at that particular time.