Sixers 108, Lakers 92

There was a great story waiting to be written Friday about Kobe Bryant visiting Lower Merion High in the afternoon and finding the inspiration in the place where his career was launched to score 50 points and lead the Lakers to victory over the 76ers.

I guess it wasnt meant to be. Bryant made just 3 of 14 shots in the second half, the Lakers dropped their fifth consecutive game (remember when they went 12-9 without Lamar Odom earlier this season?) and the trip back to Lower Merion gets overshadowed.

That shouldn’t take anything away from what Bryant did. For starters, he spent two hours – – that’s more than just making an appearance – – at his old school and got around to a bunch of places, which was remarkable given the crush of students that followed him everywhere.

He did a 15-minute question and answer session with the boys and girls from all levels of Lower Merions basketball program. Bryant, in fact, has done everything from outfit the teams in Nike gear to offer a pep-talk (via Internet video) before a big game this season.

When he was back in Philadelphia this summer, Bryant put on a clinic that several of the schools varsity players attended. To say Bryant got to know them might be an understatement.

His last stop at Lower Merion was to huddle with the varsity boys in advance of Saturdays state playoff game. Bryant walked into the cramped locker room and asked one of the players: “Are you using that in-and-out move I gave you?

How cool is that for a teenage kid? Here’s a little of the background story:

“That clinic this summer, he spent a full day just sweating and working with the kids, said Doug Young, who was one of Bryants former teammates and now works at the school and is an assistant coach. “They gained a lot and he got to know them.

“So when he calls and asks about the team, its `Hows this guy doing? Is he going hard to the rack? Is he finishing his lay-ups? Is he working on his 3-ball? All that is really important to him. He wants to see these guys develop.

Young made the point that Bryant has no alma mater other than Lower Merion because he made the jump to the NBA straight out of high school. He told the players: “I always keep track of how were doing. Always. When we have a bad season, it upsets me.

The Q-and-A was particularly insightful. Bryant was asked which of his teammates was the hardest worker (Sasha Vujacic), which player was the toughest for him to guard (Clyde Drexler and Michael Jordan) and which player is the best at defending him (Bruce Bowen).

He also talked a little trash upon learning that the ninth-grade team had gone undefeated this season. “I heard if the ninth-grade team played the varsity team, Bryant said, “the ninth-grade team would win.

Bryant was asked if he ever would have wanted to play for the Sixers and didnt hesitate in answering “Absolutely.

“They drafted (Allen Iverson) instead of me in 96, Bryant added. “Theres nothing I could do. Obviously, Im locked into L.A. for many, many years. Ive been in the league for 11 years now; I dont see myself playing that much longer. But it would have been great to play here.

He was asked about the good and bad parts of being a celebrity.

“The bad thing just off the top is that everybody thinks that your life is an open book – – like they have rights to you, Bryant said.

At the same time, Bryant talked about the platform he has and his work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Boys and Girls Clubs. “By you speaking out about those particular causes, it enhances their cause,” Bryant said. “So theres a lot of positive things you can do.

There was a question about being a leader and what is required of him in that role.

“Its about trying to get the best out of (my teammates), Bryant said. “I kind of had to go back to what my role was here in high school. Im trying to do the same thing: I was trying to lead this team to a state championship.

“The essentials of being a leader in a team sport, they dont change. The faces do. Its just about trying to get the best out of them and keep them moving in the right direction.

Bryant was asked about the All-Star Game and what it has become. He said he talked on the Saturday before last months game with Celtics great Bill Russell, who told him there were three fights at one All-Star Game during his playing days.

“They were getting after it, Bryant said, “and Id like to see us kind of get back to that.

Young said he thought the visit was actually well-timed in the wake of Bryants suspension.

“With something like what happened the other night, regardless of whether its right or wrong, hes capable of moving forward, Young said. “I think thats a good message to send to kids, especially a young group like we have.

“Were going into the state playoffs. Theyre going through a lot of these things for the first time. If things dont happen for you, just move forward.

* * *

What was it like to be Bryants teacher? He took the time to visit with Jeanne Mastriano, who teaches English and speaking arts at the school. She told one story about taking a field trip to attend a play and watching as strangers kept coming up to Bryant.

“It would take me by surprise because Id look at him as my student who happens to like basketball, Mastriano said. “Even now, it kind of takes me still by surprise because hes a human being who loves basketball. I was always startled by it.

* * *

There was a big story in the Philadelphia Daily News about Bryant’s relationship with the city’s fans, who have booed him ever since his “cut their hearts out” quote in the 2001 NBA Finals. Yet Bryant heard more cheers than boos during player introductions Friday.

His high school coach, Gregg Downer, said at Friday’s event: “I do know if he played for the Sixers, hed be worshipped. This is a blue-collar town and people would quickly understand his work ethic and his love of winning.

* * *

One thought from Friday’s game…

Shammond Williams had a great second quarter off the bench and was one of the few players who delivered when the Sixers doubled Bryant. Williams hit his first 3-pointer that way and went on to knock down two more 3s in the quarter and score 11 points.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson noted afterward that Smush Parker “has trouble resetting himself when he doesnt get going. But I doubt Jackson will give much consideration to starting Williams instead of Parker because he worries about the matchup against bigger guards.

* * *

By Ross Siler [ep
Staff Writer [ep

PHILADELPHIA–The traffic was so snarled for the bus ride to Wachovia Center for Fridays game that Phil Jackson jokingly claimed it must have been a product of the flower show at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Then came the second half of the Lakers 108-92 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, when Jacksons team gave up a 20-3 run out of the locker room and left the coach to continue with the horticultural theme for the night.

“It was a wilting, Jackson said.

All that was left was for the Lakers to pack up and head home from an 0-4 road trip. They dropped their fifth consecutive game, 11th out of the last 14, and have to wonder if theyll be able to stay in playoff position these final 19 games.

Kobe Bryant returned from his one-game NBA suspension and finished with 30 points but made just 3 of 14 shots in face of double-teams all second half. It was just one factor in an avalanche that saw the Lakers lose the second half 57-35.

“Thats called them going in and making some adjustments and us going and out doing the same thing we did in the first half, Kwame Brown said. “They put that `Kobe-dar on like every team is going to do and nobody else stepped up and made a play.

Bryant said: “Our execution just fails us because we dont have the guys out there that know the intricacies of the offense.

The Sixers won their sixth consecutive game while the Lakers remained winless since Lamar Odom was lost to a torn labrum. Jackson spent the third quarter trying to find any combination that worked and contemplated lineup changes afterward.

Foremost in his mind was 19-year-old center Andrew Bynum, who has started the last 32 games since Brown went down with a sprained ankle Dec. 31. Bynum missed all four shots he took, committed four turnovers and was called for five fouls in 33 minutes.

Jackson said Bynum “didnt get anything accomplished out there tonight, and later added, “He needs to get off the front line and get out of that enemy fire for a while.

The question is if Brown is ready to play heavy minutes only five games after returning from the ankle injury. Brown finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds against the Sixers and said afterward, “Whatever (Jackson) decides, Ill be ready.

The Sixers trailed 57-51 at halftime but started the third quarter on a 12-3 run that saw Brian Cook pick up his fourth and fifth fouls in two minutes. Jackson had seen enough when he called timeout with 8:25 left after Philadelphia scored eight consecutive points.

He sent Shammond Williams and Aaron McKie to replace Smush Parker and Bynum. With only 10 available players due to injury, the Lakers were left at times with McKie playing 7-foot Steven Hunter on defense.

Andre Iguodala, the Sixers third-year guard, finished with a game-high 31 points and punctuated the third-quarter run by burying a 3-pointer while drawing contact from Bryant. He completed the four-point play and scored 14 points in the quarter.

Bryant, meanwhile, spent two hours in the afternoon at his old stomping grounds of Lower Merion High in suburban Ardmore, where he visited with coaches and teachers and talked to the boys basketball team on the eve of the state playoffs.

He also took part in a question-and-answer session with players from all levels of the basketball program. Asked about his suspension for striking Marko Jaric in the face, Bryant said, “Theres too many NBA cameras in this room to say anything.

Bryant returned with a furious first half, in which he scored 21 points and made 9 of 13 shots, including a stunning three-point play in which he spun away from Iguodala, cut back on Hunter and scored while drawing a foul from Joe Smith.

The Lakers arrived at the arena barely an hour before tipoff because of the Friday traffic. They didnt show up at all in the second half, though, losing the third quarter 32-18 and trailing by 16 points with seven minutes remaining.

Cook fouled out in barely 90 seconds in the fourth, depriving the Lakers of both a big man and a shooter to help Bryant. Philadelphia made twice as many free throws (29 of 37) as the Lakers shot (11 of 14) for the game.

We didnt play smart enough, Jackson said. “I think some of the guys felt we didnt play hard enough; I thought we just didnt play smart enough.

The only good news for the Lakers was that Denver lost to Detroit, leaving them with a 2 1-2-game lead for sixth in the Western Conference standings. They also could take comfort in returning home . . . to play a Dallas team that has won 16 games in a row.

With Sundays loss, the Lakers became the first Jackson-coached team ever to suffer two five-game losing streaks in one season.

“You cant feel that pressure about winning or when youre going to win or how youre going to win, Jackson said. “You just go play (the games) and play hard.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA–Every time the Lakers are in town to play the Philadelphia 76ers, Kobe Bryant makes a point of stopping by his old school. Theres something about the smell of the gym at Lower Merion High that just brings back memories for him.

After serving a one-game NBA suspension this week for striking Minnesotas Marko Jaric in the face, Bryant paid a visit to the school on Friday and said taking a trip back in time for two hours might have been the best thing for him.

“I remember coming into this gym at 5 oclock in the morning and working on my skills before class, said Bryant, who was originally given the No. 24 as a freshman by coach Gregg Downer.

He took part in a question-and-answer session with players from all levels of the boys and girls basketball programs. One was about his favorite cheesesteak (Larrys) but another touched on his rebuilt relationship with Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

“I think a lot of it is team dynamics, Bryant said. “Now we have younger players, Im the veteran on the team. Its my 11th year. For a lot of guys on the team, its their second or third year in the league. So he and I have to rely on one another to make sure the message is the same.

Pippen update: The Lakers explored petitioning the NBA for a roster exception involving injured players that would have enabled them to audition free agent Scottie Pippen on a 10-day contract before deciding such a move didnt make sense.

Although the Lakers have a full 15-man roster, Jackson outlined a special case in which the NBA would allow the Lakers to add a 16th player provided that they declared four of their injured players out for at least 14 days.

The Lakers have three players who fit the bill in Chris Mihm, Vladimir Radmanovic and Lamar Odom. When it comes to a fourth player, however, Jackson is hopeful that Luke Walton can return from a sprained ankle next week.

The Lakers could release Mihm, who is out for the season after undergoing ankle surgery, and sign the 41-year-old Pippen. The benefit of keeping Mihm comes in retaining his free-agent rights for this summer.

“We have to assess what has to happen, Jackson said. “Our priority is just to get this team back and righted and getting some winning games again and get back in the playoff hunt. If thats our chance and we have to do something, well have to do something.

As for the Lakers fifth injured player, forward Ronny Turiaf said he was hopeful he could overcome back spasms and play Sunday against Dallas.

“I can actually walk now as opposed to walking like a grandma, Turiaf said.

Also: Bryant couldnt quite keep his elbows to himself in Fridays game, catching Kyle Korver in the face as he tried to dribble into space for a last-second shot in the first half. No foul was called on the play.

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