ATLANTA — What a long, strange trip. The Lakers got thumped by the Atlanta Hawks tonight and fell to 2-3 on their five-game trip. They never found the right kind of rhythm tonight, unless you count reeling as a rhythm. Kobe Bryant scored 28 points, Pau Gasol had 16 points and 11 rebounds, Jordan Farmar had 16 points and Ron Artest had 15. Joe Johnson led the Hawks with 25 points on 10-for-20 shooting. The Lakers never led after the early minutes. Now they return to L.A. to face the Utah Jazz on Friday.
“What we did just didn’t work,” Artest said. “I’m not going to make excuses. We definitely tried out best. On this trip, our best wasn’t good enough. I don’t think we need to fix anything. We just need to continue to play.”
Said Bryant: “We’re not playing well defensively. This trip, it’s been consistently bad. So we have to get back to work.”
Said Lakers coach Phil Jackson: “They just outplayed us. Regardless of inspiration, they beat us to balls, they were quicker to the offensive boards. They had no turnovers in the second half.”
ATLANTA — Sasha Vujacic’s sideline blow-up at the coaching staff during the Lakers’ loss last week to the Oklahoma City Thunder apparently had serious consequences. He did not play in their victory over the Houston Rockets or their loss to the New Orleans Hornets. He also wasn’t going to play tonight against the Atlanta Hawks without making good on a preseason promise, according to Lakers coach Phil Jackson. Vujacic said he didn’t know what Jackson was talking about and referred reporters to the coach.
“I’m in the doghouse? I don’t know ask him,” Vujacic said. “There’s no agreement. Thanks for letting me know. Nothing unusual. Typical player/coach (disagreement). Nothing to make a big deal out of, at least that’s what I was told the next day. I think the whole season I haven’t gotten much playing time. At least now I know what my role is. I was trying to find that out all season long. Now I know.”
And what is that role?
“Well, I’m out of the rotation,” he said. “If they’re winning, I’m not playing. If they’re losing, if this team is down by 20 points, I get three minutes. So … All year I was trying to find out what my role is and trying to see if I can help this team in any kind of way. I was playing a little bit, in and out and now that I know. I’ve got to be ready. Always. Like I said, it’s typical player/coach disagreement. It’s not a big deal. If you want to make a big deal out of it, go ahead.”
ATLANTA — Kobe Bryant didn’t have much to say after the Lakers’ loss Monday to the New Orleans Hornets. He was more expansive when he was a pregame guest in the NBATV studios Tuesday night, however. Here’s some of what he had to say:
Bryant on the vision he has for his team going into the Playoffs: “It is my responsibility to make sure that we improve and continue to move in the right direction. The playoffs are right here so it is important that I put my foot on the gas and make sure that we have in our mind’s eye the kind of urgency that we need to play with and defend.”
Bryant on his attitude during (Monday) night’s loss against the Hornets: “The trap that you run into is that you play with that sense of urgency when you are down 10, 12, 13 points. That is the kind of mentality that I do not want us to have going into the post season. You kind of lollygag going into a series and then you are down, 3-1. You kind of fall into that false sense of security and all of a sudden it is time to go and it’s too late.”
Bryant on the motivation the Lakers need to have going into the playoffs: “This is the first time that we have ever had to repeat. We don’t want to be that type of team that has to lose a championship in order to appreciate a championship. The experience we had in Boston (two years ago) should be enough to sustain that hunger for a period of time.”
Bryant on the difference between the Lakers this year and the Lakers last year: “We are a different team; it is tough to say if it is better. Ultimately, if we win another championship, we can’t go any higher than that. We won last year and if we are fortunate enough to win one this year you can call the teams on par. We have a different identity. Last year, Trevor (Ariza) had his hand on balls, he was active, he was a lengthy long defender. This year, our team is more physical, we’ve slowed things down quite a bit, used more of the shot clock quite a bit, it is just different.”
Bryant on his role as a scorer going into the playoffs with this team: “It entirely depends on the defense and how they play me. I will let them pick and choose how I’m going to play. If they double and come quickly then I’m going to kick it and facilitate my other guys. If they want to play me straight up certain stretches of the game, then I’m going to work and do what I do. I let them pick their poison.”
Bryant on the changes he has made during his career: “I think it is a growth period; once you come into the NBA you have to find out what your game is going to be. How are you going to develop, what is going to be your identity and how is the team going to be able to adjust to it on a nightly basis. It took me a little while to figure out what my game was going to be. I went through periods where I changed throughout the years but the important thing is to be as consistent as you can.”
ATLANTA — Lakers coach Phil Jackson left it up to me to answer my own question about whether the team is just in a little pre-playoffs lull or whether their losses to Oklahoma City on Saturday and New Orleans on Monday were something more troubling. Jackson said: “You can speculate about that if you want to. I couldn’t guess about that. What have we won, eight out of 10 games? Who’s to whine? What are we gong to whine about?”
True, true, but if they had played up to their usual standards they might be on a 10-game winning streak going into Wednesday’s game against the Atlanta Hawks.
NEW ORLEANS — No misprint, the Lakers really did lose to the going nowhere New Orleans Hornets tonight. They’ll need a victory Wednesday over the Atlanta Hawks to post a winning record on their five-game trip. So far, it’s been win one, lose one, win one, lose one. The Lakers didn’t play with any sense of urgency until it was too late tonight. Chris Paul, Darren Collison and somebody by the name of Marcus Thornton had carved them up by then. The Lakers didn’t have much of anything going. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 31 points and Pau Gasol had 26 points and 22 rebounds. David West had 20 points for New Orleans, Thornton had 18, Collison had 17 and Paul had 15 points and 13 assists.
NEW ORLEANS — The Lakers started out just fine tonight. Other than the fact that Pau Gasol was the only one who could make a basket, that is. Gasol scored 12 points on 5-for-8 shooting in the early minutes. No other Laker had scored with 5 minutes, 18 seconds left in the first quarter, which was a bad sign. Things didn’t get a whole lot better in the first half. Gasol had 14 points and 10 rebounds and Ron Artest scored 12 and Kobe Bryant had 10 points. But they were no match for the scalding Hornets, who shot 7 of 13 from beyond the 3-point arc (53.8 percent). David West and Marcus Thornton had 10 each.
Jackson said it wasn’t imperative for Andrew Bynum to play in one of the Lakers’ final regular-season games. Bynum has ditched the walking boot he was wearing at the start of the trip to protect his strained left Achilles tendon. Bynum isn’t sure when he might play. Also, Jackson said Luke Walton could practice with his teammates as soon as Thursday, when the Lakers return from their trip. Walton has played in only 24 games this season because of a back injury. He hopes to play Sunday against San Antonio.
NEW ORLEANS — I’ve been meaning to post this exchange between Charles Barkley and Kenny Smith during Thursday night’s TNT doubleheader. Barkley makes it clear he’s picking the Cleveland Cavaliers over the Lakers to win the NBA championship.
Barkley on why he believes the Cavaliers will win the championship this year: “I think the Cavaliers are the team to beat this year. This is not the same Cleveland team (as last year). With the addition of Shaquille O’Neal and Antawn Jamison they are not the same team. I never thought I would pick against the Lakers, but I’m going to.”
Smith: “The L.A. Lakers and even the Lakers fans are spoiled to the fact that they have the second-best record in basketball and they are asking ‘what’s wrong in Laker land?’ That’s a little spoiled. They are an incredible basketball team.”
Barkley: “They are missing something, they really miss Trevor Ariza. Nobody wants to say that. I like Ron Artest, but he has not played well. They are going to miss Trevor Ariza. He played great in the playoffs.”
Are they right? Are the Cavs the better team and are Lakers fans spoiled?
NEW ORLEANS — The Lakers (54-19) need to win six of their final nine regular-season games in order to hit the 60-victory milestone for the second consecutive season. Can they do it? They say they want to, according to Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who said, “It’s a number that’s kind of a distinction in this game. Now there’s a chance. They’ve got some pride in themselves. They want to do it.” The Lakers were 65-17 last season.
HOUSTON — The Lakers rebounded from Friday’s debacle against the Oklahoma City Thunder, defeating the Houston Rockets tonight with relative ease. Kobe Bryant missed a triple-double by one assist. He had 17 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists. Pau Gasol scored a seaon-high 30 points on 11-for-17 shooting. The Lakers had 21 assists against Houston after recording a season-low seven against Oklahoma City.