One team reminds Kobe Bryant of the Showtime Lakers.
“They’re very spectacular and fun to watch,” he said. “There’s no question about it. They have higher jumpers than Showtime.”
There’s one team that Bryant considers a team the Lakers will have to go through should they win an NBA championship.
Said Bryant: “They’re one of the top contenders.”
Sense a pattern?
Once they remained nothing more than a punchline and an opponent the Lakers could automatically pencil with a win. Now the Clippers (25-8) lead the Western Conference and enter Friday’s game against the Lakers (15-16) in a designated home game at Staples Center fielding plenty of compliments from the team’s star.
Bryant credited Chris Paul for changing the Clippers’ culture. Bryant touted Jamal Crawford as the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year. And Bryant sounded well aware on public sentiment after seeing the Clippers’ 17-game winning streak and the Lakers struggling to stay around .500.
“They expect the Clippers to come in there tomorrow and run all over us,” Bryant said. “I find it interesting.”
Bryant wore a foam-type material inside his right nostril while talking to reporters on Thursday, insisting his recent cold caused a bloody nose instead of a sharp elbow during a five-on-five scrimmage. Nonetheless, it personified the Lakers physically battered image.
The Clippers (25-8) may have lost two consecutive games after their 17-game winning streak snapped. But they’re still competing with Oklahoma City (24-7) and San Antonio (26-8) for the top spot in the Western Conference. The Lakers (15-16) have won six of their last eight games. But with an 11th place standing in the West, they’re just fighting to stay relevant in the playoff hunt.
After all these years the Clippers viewed their Los Angeles counterparts as a benchmark, the roles have reversed. The Lakers haven’t lost a season series to the Clippers since 1992-93. A Clippers victory Friday would make them 2-0 against the Lakers with two more left this season. The Lakers suddenly need this win more than the Clippers.
“Obviously from a record standpoint,” Bryant said. “Absolutely.”
The Lakers have struggled keeping from younger and faster teams from doing that all season. That’s why Bryant advised the Lakers need to strike the right balance in playing in Mike D’Antoni’s fast-paced system and knowing when to slow things down.
“He wants to run on opportunity,” Bryant said on D’Antoni. “When we have a chance to run, we’ll run. But we’ll be smart about it.”
“When you have a break and the numbers in transition, you take it,” Bryant said. “When you don’t, you slow it down.”
So far, the Lakers haven’t found that balance. But Bryant’s trying to psyche his team up that a win against a top Western Conference opponent would mark a turning point in the Lakers’ fledgling development.
What does that mean? I don’t mean even know what that means. I’m not sure I know what that means. I think they’re a great team and are playing extremely well. But I don’t know what that means.
“If we’re going to be a champion, you have to face the adversity eventually whether it’s in the postseason or regular season,” Bryant said. “That’s something you have to deal with. You have to come out of it the right way. You’re better off because of it. The opportunity is what you make out of it. When you’re going through a tough time, if you look at it as doom and gloom, that’s what you’re going to be stuck in. If you look at it as an opportunity, you have a chance to come out on top.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org