A long and awkward silence permeated the Lakers’ locker room.
Dwight Howard remained seated at his stall, alternating between reading his iPad and thumbing through his phone. Kobe Bryant stayed in the trainer’s room receiving treatment while keeping company with his family. And the reporters waiting by Bryant’s locker whispered idly to each other.
Among this backdrop, the Lakers white board displayed this message that coach Mike D’Antoni wrote following the Lakers’ 125-101 loss Thursday to the Clippers.
“Recharge your batteries. Come back ready to play.”
But as the Lakers (25-29) enter this weekend’s All-Star break with a 10th place standing in the Western Conference, Bryant left a message that went beyond believing four days of rest will suddenly boost the team’s spirits.
“Just focus on how bad you want it,” Bryant said, “and how important this is.”
It’s certainly important to Bryant.
He’s playing what his could be his second-to-last season hoping he can collect his sixth championship ring. It would inevitably solidify Bryant’s standing with Michael Jordan. More importantly, it would quench his two-year-old thirst for another championship.
But after seeing the Lakers lose the season series to the Clippers for the first time since the 1992-93 season, Bryant wonders if his teammates have that same mindset.
“Once things got difficult, we didn’t step up and meet that challenge,” Bryant said. “I’m not very happy right now. Hopefully my teammates feel the same way.”
Lakers center Dwight Howard vowed he has the same mindset.
That’s why he’s spending part of All-Star weekend working with the team’s training staff in hopes of working on his conditioning. Lakers strength and conditioning coach Tim DiFrancesco said that Howard’s drills will entail what he calls “circuit-based,” which consists of three to five exercises performed with minimal rest in between drills. The exercises includes ones involving the medicine ball and explosive sprinting drills in hopes of improving Howard’s footwork.
Still, Howard suggested he’s viewing All-Stsr weekend as an escape from the season-long adversity.
“I’m looking forward to having fun and getting away for a couple of days,” Howard said. “Hopefully we’ll come back and turn this thing around.”
Bryant remains appreciative in appearing in his 16th NBA All-Star game. But he hardly sounded giddy about the weekend festivities. It doesn’t help that Bryant will team up with the Clippers’ Chris Paul and Blake Griffin mere days after losing to them by a double-digit margin.
“I don’t feel like [expletive] with those guys right now,” Bryant said. “I probably won’t want to look at them on Sunday.”
Bryant suggested some teammates, possibly Howard, hardly had the same salty attitude after losing to the Clippers.
“After we lose by 20-30 points, we definitely can’t be laughing or joking around,” Bryant said. “That’s a team that just kicked our [butt].”
The Lakers’ season wasn’t supposed to end the All-Star break this way.
The Lakers assembled plenty of talent this offseason by acquiring an elite center (Howard), passer (Steve Nash), reserve (Antawn Jamison) and three-point shooter (Jodie Meeks). The Lakers made such deals while also keeping Bryant, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace. Such moves immediately thrust the Lakers’ into the championship conversation.
But the unexpected happened.
The Lakers fired Mike Brown following a 1-4 start because of dissatisfaction over his Princeton-based offense. They hired Mike D’Antoni in hopes that would restore “Showtime” with his fast-paced offense. Instead, the Lakers experienced overlapping injuries with Nash (fractured left leg), Steve Blake (lower abdominal muscle), Gasol (concussion, knee tendinitis, plantar fasciitis in right foot) and Jordan Hill (season-ending hip injury). Meanwhile, the Lakers struggled adapting to the pace and role changes surrounding D’Antoni’s system.
Even with all those scenarios, where does Bryant believe the Lakers should be given their talent level?
“I don’t know where it should be,” Bryant said. “I just know where we are and where we’re at., being three games back in the loss column and having some ground to make up. But I think we’re capable of doing it.”
But Bryant only believes that will happen if his teammates adopt the same serious approach that has maximized his greatness for all these years.
“If it’s important to us,” Bryant said, “we’ll show up ready to play.”
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org