For a player who has pleaded patience throughout a difficult process, it appears Kobe Bryant has already started to lose his.
Bryant sounded calm following a double-digit loss last week to Phoenix. He even reported feeling pleased when the Lakers nearly upset the Clippers only four days ago. But following the Lakers’ 112-106 loss on Tuesday to the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center, Bryant struck a different tone both in demeanor and words.
“Just get a damn win,” Bryant insisted his team needed to do.
If only it were as simple as that. The Lakers (0-5) lost their fifth consecutive game and only need two more to match the 1957-58 Minneapolis Lakers for having the worst start in franchise history. The Lakers have more difficult games against playoff caliber teams, including Charlotte (Sunday), at Memphis (Tuesday), at New Orleans (Wednesday) and against San Antonio (Friday). With the Lakers opening their 2014-15 schedule against Western Conference powers in Houston, Phoenix, the Clippers and Golden State, Scott recalled saying two words to himself when he first saw the landscape.
“One was ‘aww’ and the other one I can’t say on national TV,” said Scott, who was then asked the letter count for the second word. “Four. There’s a couple of words you can choose from out of that. I knew it was going to be tough.”
It sure has.
The Lakers have lost all five games by an average of 14.8 points. They have ranked last out of 30 NBA teams in several defensive categories. Against Phoenix on Tuesday, the Lakers allowed 58 points in the paint and five double-figure scorers in Gerald Green (26 points), Markieff Morris (23 points), Isaiah Thomas (22 points), Goran Dragic (16 points) and Marcus Morris (12 points).
“You just got to be determined, man,” Bryant said. “You can’t listen to what everybody says. You can’t listen to the criticism of what’s happened, what other people are saying. You’ve got to be stubborn as a mule, gotta keep chipping away and gotta keep competing and going after it, and this thing will turn around. Just as easily as we lost five in a row, man, we can turn around and win five in a row.”
Bryant tried to jumpstart that trend by largely carrying the burden. He scored 39 points and played in a game-high 44 minutes. Bryant chased a ball that went out of bounds by clearing the first courtside row of Lakers fans and landing with his 36-year-old body intact on the Staples Center concrete.
That sparked concerns for two reasons. Bryant’s scoring output came on a 14-of-37 clip. His playing time exceeded the playing limit that Scott previously outlined between 35-40 minutes in hopes of conserving Bryant’s 36-year-old body.
Yet, Bryant and Scott downplayed both issues.
Scott argued, “He plays every game like it’s his last game. That’s what you want.” Bryant then added he only played in such a manner because no one else would.
“Just being aggressive and playing with a lot of energy,” Bryant said. “It’s easy to look at the box score and say 37 shots. But you don’t see how hard I was working to get easy opportunities.”
Scott also justified the large playing time for Bryant considering the Lakers do not play until Sunday against Charlotte. Still, Bryant showed the risks more playing time could entail. During the fourth quarter, Bryant chased after a loose ball and jumped over the first row of fans. Bryant admitted he felt “sore” afterwards, but insisted he felt “all right.”
“Whether I can shoulder the load of these minutes consistently, probably not,” he said. “But every now and then it will be necessary.”
Bryant believed that won’t be necessary if his teammates matched is energy level.
“The most important thing is they understand the relentlessness you have to play with,” Bryant said. “I’ll go out there and leave it on the floor, everything and compete and be relentless and not be fearful of criticism or fearful of not playing well or missing shots. That’s the same way I want the guys I’m playing with.”