After playing 13 games in 26 days, the Lakers were ready for some rest. But is this much -- six days between the clinching game of the Western Conference Finals and Thursday's Game 1 of the NBA Finals at Staples Center -- too much?
Phil Jackson doesn't think so.
"No, not for us," he said after Sunday's practice, which was really a film session for everyone and a four-on-four workout for the reserves. Most of the starters -- Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Derek Fisher and Trevor Ariza --didn't get on the court. Neither did Lamar Odom, still dealing with an injured back.
"We really got banged up in these last two series," said Jackson, "and there are a number of guys who can really use the two days off. So we'll measure it out. We'll be ready."
Gasol, generally the forthright about his desire for some rest, displayed a bit less certitude about the break.
"Good or not," he said, "it is what it is. We've had situations where had days of rest, and then we were a little sluggish at the beginning of the series. Right now, we're in front of the NBA Finals, and there's no slacking or no slipping. We're ready to start, we're ready to play. We're going to get ourselves ready in these next days, and at the same time we're going to be able to recover from all the playing we've been doing in these last two series.
"We're excited. We're excited about what we're facing, who we're facing, and great things could come out of it."
Stating the obvious: A couple of the players were asked if there was any disappointment that they wouldn't get a chance to play Boston to avenge their title loss of a year ago.
"You already know what the answer to that is," said Derek Fisher. "It doesn't have who I played against on any of my rings. It just has 'World Champions.' That's it.
"I feel very good about the three I have, and if I can get a fourth one, I'll feel very good about that, as well."
Seconding that emotion was Luke Walton.
"We just want to win a championship," said Walton. "Obviously, you want to revenge yourself and beat Boston, but we haven't thought about it -- at least, I haven't thought about it at all. ... All that matters is that we win four before we lose four."
Gone, but not (quite) forgotten: Jackson was also asked how things changed with Vladimir Radmanovic -- still with the Lakers for both games with Orlando -- no longer on the squad.
"Well, we send him a telegram and say, hope you're having a good time on the beach," Jackson joked.
"Obviously, you know, Trevor (Ariza) has advanced as a player a lot. He's doing a really good job for us and it changes a little bit of what we do. We don't have as much of what you would consider a 3-point threat, but I think Trevor's really taken that spot well."
Brown suit: ESPN.com is reporting that guard Shannon Brown is being sued in civil court for what the website called a "sex-related incident" in Denver just prior to the trade sending Brown from Charlotte to the Lakers. Brown was served papers when the team was in Denver last week.
When asked Sunday about the suit, Brown had a very brief comment:"The truth is going to come out," he said. "I didn't do nothing. I'm innocent, and I'm just going to let it take its course."
May 2009 Archives
After playing 13 games in 26 days, the Lakers were ready for some rest. But is this much -- six days between the clinching game of the Western Conference Finals and Thursday's Game 1 of the NBA Finals at Staples Center -- too much?
Lamar Odom keeps saying he doesn't really want to talk about his back, that he doesn't want to make excuses for his play.
Even after a game that required no excuses -- a 19-point, 14-rebound effort as the Lakers won Game 5 of the Western Conference finals, 103-94 -- he still was reluctant to talk abut his back injury. But that doesn't mean we weren't asking.
"You know," he said, "everybody's a little banged up at this point of the year, this point of the season, and it's something you've just got to deal with. ...
"I'm trying to get better each and every day with treatment. A lot of ice."
But is it getting better?
"It's not going to get better until I stop playing, with the banging and the pounding," he said. "But like I said, everybody's either hurt, or with the change of weather, sick. It's just something I've got to get through."
Toward that end, he said he's doing more stretching when he's at home, and working out as much as possible "to keep everything else strong.
"Fortunately, I don't have any tendonitis or anything like that this year," he said. "I've been able to stay away from that. Other than my back, I feel pretty good."
Odom may not want to admit he's hurting, but Kobe Bryant knows.
"He's been playing through a lot, ever since the injury in Houston," Bryant said. "His back's messed up. He played extremely well yesterday, and hopefully this will get him in good rhythm to keep it going."
And, even with the injury, Bryant said he wasn't surprised what Odom was able to do in Game 5.
"He has the potential to do that," Bryant said. "It's just a matter of him getting used to what he's playing with, and then playing through it."
Odom was thinking in similar terms.
"I wasn't playing well," he said. "And I had to ask myself, am I pushing through it enough? Or am I holding back because I'm in pain? And before the game, I just said, no matter what, I'm going to push through it, whether the ball goes in, I miss shots, I make shots. And I was able to do that, and things are starting to fall my way."
Phil Jackson saw a difference, too, and hopes it carries into Game 6.
"He's been fighting through some things physically that I think have made him sit back, rather than be as aggressive as he can be," Jackson said. "So we hope that he stays aggressive in this game."
The Pau factor: Before Game 5, Phil Jackson discussed how big men can earn more touches by rebounding or running the floor or other forms of hard work.
Pau Gasol did all those things in Game 5, but still only had eight shots (making five). That, to Jackson, was a drawback to the Lakers' play, even though it was generally praised for the degree of teamwork and balance.
"I think that we know we're not functioning at 100 percent of what we can function at," said Jackson, " but everyone had a big impact in the game.
"For Pau Gasol to have as limited amount of shots as he had, 14 points, and play as well as he played, exceptionally well, just doesn't stand up to the standard of what we are as a team. He should have more touches, and more of this, and more of that.
"But it's however you have to win these games that counts. And everybody has to play the role and just doing the right thing. ... Guys know they have to sacrifice their roles and sacrifice part of their game at times."
Shannon Brown had been a bit player, rather than a featured one, for most of the Western Conference finals.
That changed Wednesday night, and says as much about how the Lakers' 103-94 win over Denver was truly a team effort as it does about the reserve guard.
Brown's stats -- 14 minutes, six points -- may not sound game changing. But those minutes all came in the second half, and the points all came in the Lakers' decisive 21-3 run bridging the third and fourth quarters, so he clearly had an impact.
"I put him in the ballgame," recalled coach Phil Jackson, "and said, 'You gotta make things happen for us, because we were down five, six, whatever it was, at that point in the game. And both (Derek) Fisher and Drew (Andrew Bynum) had four fouls and had to come out of the ballgame.
"He sparked our team, gave us a real big lift."
Brown clearly took Jackson's words to heart.
"I just tried to come in and bring energy," he said, "contribute on both ends of the court -- especially on the defense end, and not let Chauncey (Billups) run wild and let them get into sets and get open looks. The offense is just going to be the offense if you run it how it's supposed to be run."
Brown's most authoritative contribution was a dunk off a Pau Gasol assist late in the third quarter, inspiring a huge roar from the crowd as the Lakers began wiping away a seven-point Denver lead and the
"It felt good," said Brown, "for them to get loud like that. It gave us a spark."
Kobe Bryant said Brown's contribution "changed a lot for us.
"He came in, gave us a huge spark, and that's what you need. You play the game in spurts. It's about who controls momentum. And that spark that he gave us there late in that third quarter and going into the fourth was huge."
It was another example of why Brown's minutes climbed late in the season, as he learned how to fit in after joining the team in a midseason trade, and why Jackson wasn't hesitant to go to him even when he hadn't played in the first half.
"He's got a great attitude as a player," said Jackson. "He supports his teammates. He looks for his opportunities, tries to make the best out of them."
Jackson had both Brown and Jordan Farmar ready to go to start the fourth quarter, depending on what Denver did with its roster. If Anthony Carter had come in, Farmar would have entered the game. If Billups stayed in, so would Brown.
"They kind of waited us out," said Jackson, "and kept Billups out there on the floor. And we had Shannon out there and they were both connected. Both Jordan and Shannon stood in front of me and said go for it, and they did."
Inside job: In a series when the Lakers have relied heavily on the offense of Bryant, this was a different kind of night. He still led with 22 points, but Lamar Odom had 19 points, Pau Gasol had 14 and Trevor Ariza and Fisher each scored 12.
The Lakers may not have exactly followed Gasol's request to get the ball more -- he still was just 5 of 8 from the field -- but they did seem to get the broader implication of his message, which was that the Lakers had to exploit their front-line size. And so Andrew Bynum (nine points), Gasol and Odom combined for 32 shots and 32 points.
"Obviously," said Gasol, "when we started with the first unit, it's a little harder for me to get the ball in the post because Andrew is in there. And he got a lot of touches, I think, or a few touches in the first quarter." (Bynum was 2 for 4 from the field in the first quarter, 4 for 9 at the half.)
"So that was good," Gasol continued. "I mean, it doesn't have to really be me. I think Andrew can do a good job also of attacking the paint and being aggressive."
Jackson's explanation followed similar lines.
"Andrew's got that center position," he said, "and it's easy for him to get the ball in there, because we were using Pau to create cuts and get opportunities. We didn't go inside to (Gasol) I don't think once in the third quarter, and I kind of berated the team for that, in the fourth-quarter stoppage. And they went back inside at the end of the game. We got some things done."
Said Odom, "They do a good job of overloading, doubling down, getting back to their man. Today we wanted to get the ball to Pau or Kobe and score in position and make playoffs off of them -- cut to the rim and the basket and get easy looks, and we were able to do that tonight."
And so Gasol wasn't about to quibble about his specific number of touches.
"I'm just happy for the win, that's all," he said. "I think I worked really hard to help my team to win. That was my mission tonight.
"Whether I'm happier now with more touches or not, that doesn't matter. I'm going to continue to do what it takes to help my team win. ...
"I want to play in the NBA Finals and get that ring."
Postgame Nuggets: Meanwhile, on the Denver side of the ledger, Coach George Karl, who said he thought the Lakers "got the benefit of the whistle," added in response to a follow-up question, "I'm not going to get fined. I'm not going to get into the game of -- Phil is so much better at it than I am, so much more philosophical about the whistle and how it changed."
But, since he didn't stop there, he may, in fact, put himself in jeopardy for a fine.
"It was a very difficult whistle to play ... No question about that," he said. "Every player in my locker room is frustrated, from guards to big guys. Look at the stat sheet. Gasol goes after at least 20 jump shots, 20 shots to the rim and gets one foul. Our big guys have 16. I don't know. Nene has six fouls. Three or four of them don't exist.
"And it's frustrating where you take one of your best big guys off the court for that many minutes.
"But again, it just seems like, I think Stan Van Gundy says it right: In the postgame, we're lobbying for the league to help us with the refereeing. And this is too good of a series. It's too good of teams competing that we're sitting here just confused by the whistle."
A few other Denver postgame comments:
Carmelo Anthony, who scored 31 points, on his health and the Lakers' defensive play:
"First of all, my ankle is still a little sore. I'm fine. But it felt good tonight.
"The Lakers' ain't going to let me beat them. That's just the way it is. Every time I get it, I'm seeing two, three, four people at a time.
"So I take it as a sign of respect. If they was out there and backing off me and not even worrying about me, then I take it as disrespect."
Kenyon Martin, on the Lakers' 11-0 run to start the fourth quarter:
"That was the difference in the game, I think. We missed a few easy shots. I know I missed a few right around the rim. They came down and got a couple easy baskets, a couple open jumpers, but like I said, you have to tilt your head to them."
Chauncey Billups, on the Lakers' 27-18 edge in the fourth quarter:
"They got aggressive and they hit some shots. We just couldn't really get out of the hump. We got a lot of great opportunities, just couldn't get over the hump. Kind of disappointed. Like you said, even game all the way to the fourth and then they made plays when they had to."
The newest member of the media covering the Lakers-Nuggets series is one Kevin Love, working for NBA TV.
The former Bruin and current member of the Minnesota Timberwolves used his old-school ties to snag a pregame interview with Jordan Farmar, then stood around and talked with a number of reporters who'd covered him at UCLA.
"So this is now the way to start a career in journalism?" someone wondered. "When you don't really need the paycheck?"
Love smiled. "Yeah, and you only need one year of college."
Just fine: Phil Jackson, in his pregame session, was asked what he thought of the $25,000 fine the NBA assessed for his criticism of the officiating after Game 4.
"Not very well," he said. "I didn't think very good of it at all.
"I thought I was very conciliatory, tried to soft-pedal it. My comments -- I didn't go through the litany of things that we certainly have over this series. But that's the league. That's the league for you. They'll come back and hammer you."
You might wonder how much of a hammer a $25,000 fine is for someone making $11 million a year. (Proportionately, it's about the same as a fine of $227.27 for someone making $100,000 annually).
"I refuse to comment on that," Jackson said. "I think that the just thing to say is it doesn't matter. If it was a $10 fine, it would still bother me. "Parking tickets still bother me."
Does that mean Jackson gets parking tickets?
"No," he said. "My kids do, though. I refuse to pay them for them any more, though."
In a follow-up, Jackson was asked if the complaints were just a case of playing mind games.
"I hope so," he said. "God, I hope so. That would be really good, wouldn't it?"
Was he genuinely upset, then, or just planting a seed?
"I'm a gardener. I like that analogy." He paused.
Upon further review: Jackson was also asked about the trend of flagrant and technical fouls being added or rescinded upon league review.
"A few years ago," he said, "when they came up with the flagrant fouls and then they kind of wanted to get into it, one of the lead officials ... said, that may not be a flagrant foul. It may be a flagrant foul. But hell, I'm going to call them all and let them sort it out back in the office.
"That I understood. The idea of not calling them and then being changed in the other hand, I didn't know. That's one of the things I just don't know.
"As I said yesterday, we might need some candidates for Supreme Court justices to be sitting in situations, because there's so many judgments going on."
Big vs. small: In light, perhaps, of Pau Gasol's request to get the ball more, Jackson was asked if big men can earn more touches, perhaps by rebounding or running the floor well.
"That's the way guards are supposed to play," said Jackson, who -- it should be recalled -- was a forward in his playing days. "If a big guy covers your butt on a drive, or he gets a rebound, or runs the court way, that's the way you learn how to play this game.
"Or else the big guys take the air out of the ball and tell the guards they can't dribble the ball any more. They have to pass it. That was what we used to threaten the guards with: 'We'll take all the air out of the ball.
Now what are you going to do?' "
Denver's Dahntay Jones picked up his second flagrant foul of the series, retroactively, when the NBA assessed a flagrant-1 for tripping Kobe Bryant in Game 4. (No foul was assessed at the time.)
This, among other incidents, had the Lakers answering questions about whether Denver had crossed a line between physical and dirty. Or not answering them, depending on the individual.
"I want to keep the topic on a positive note today," said coach Phil Jackson after Tuesday's practice. "I don't want to talk about that aspect of it. I want to talk about basketball."
Kobe Bryant had the same not-with-a-ten-foot-pool approach -- "It's just good playoff basketball," he said -- but not everyone was quite as circumspect.
"I wouldn't say the Nuggets," said Lamar Odom. "I wouldn't define a team on the actions of how one person is playing, or two people.
"But it's playoffs, so you've got to expect anything. ... But we'll take care of it on the court. There's no reason for us talk about it, or retaliate with words."
Pau Gasol went a little further.
"They get away with a few things," he said, "and at home they get away with more stuff. I think the league is pretty aware of it at this point in time, and they should be able to cut it off. So hopefully they will. ...
"Nobody got hurt, but they could've, and that's something that the referees should be able to protect us from, because we're not trying to hurt anybody. We're just trying to play hard and compete. But there's some plays out there that reflect some dirtiness."
Tired? Tonight's game will be the Lakers' 12th in 24 days. Mix in travel and practices, and you might say they have reason to feel a little fatigued.
You might. They won't.
"It's possible," said Jackson. "But we're really trying to take care of our players in the process between (games). Guys are doing anything from ice baths to massage. We're not asking players that play over 35 minutes, 30 minutes really, to do anything physical (at practice). So there's a recovery period, and they have to take care of themselves in that period, and we hope they're doing that off-site here.
"But we think they can respond to this. We're not going to use that as an excuse."
Gasol wasn't having any of it, either.
"It's all about mind strength right now," he said. "Forget about the fatigue and forget about the body. You've got to be strong enough mentally to be able to fight through everything and know what you're playing for. We're two wins away from being in the finals again. We have home-court advantage and we should take advantage of it."
Waiting for Bynum: Andrew Bynum's ongoing push for playing time -- which keeps running into Jackson's desire for his young center to play better defense -- may have taken a turn in the right direction at end of Game 4, Jackson said.
Indicating that he'd like Bynum to take some of the minutes that normally go to Lamar Odom, struggling with a back injury, Jackson said he liked what he saw in Denver on Monday.
"I thought he responded well in the fourth quarter, Drew did," said Jackson, "and helped get the game back under double-digit points. We lost it, but he stepped in there and tried to fill his job and do his job."
Jackson was asked if he had any sense why Bynum responded at that particular time.
"Well, I think he was upset about coming out of the game in the third quarter," Jackson said. "There were a couple of actions there when I didn't see him go to the ball defensively, and I thought, 'We can't wait around in this quarter after we got the lead down to three.'
"And so when he went back in, I liked his response. That's the way he has to play."
Any time a Lakers game comes down to the final shot, and Kobe Bryant doesn't take that shot, the play is going to the topic of some discussion.
So, naturally, there was a great deal of talk about Derek Fisher's unsuccessful 3-pointer from the corner at the end of Denver's 106-103 win over the Lakers in Game 2 of the Western Conference Finals.
"I thought they'd foul Kobe," said Lakers coach Phil Jackson. "They were just naturally going to foul him. I thought Fisher would be open for the shot. We'd have a 3-point opportunity as opposed to having to foul and going to the free-throw line and manufacture 3-points."
It looked for a moment that, off the inbounds play with 4.3 seconds left, that Fisher would have a wide-open look. But Denver center Nene jumped out and pressured Fisher as he shot.
"I had a pretty good look at it," Fisher said. "I figured they were going to try to foul to prevent us from shooting a 3. I think I got rid of it a little quicker than I probably had to.
"Definitely, you don't want to put yourself in a position where you need that kind of shot to try and tie the game."
Nuggets coach George Karl did, indeed, want his team to foul before the Lakers could get off a 3-pointer.
"I thought Nene got caught a little bit," said Nuggets coach George Karl, "but he got out onto Fisher, trying to deny Kobe a touch. ... You can cover Kobe and he can still shoot. And if we had a chance to foul, we were going to foul. But I don't think Fisher gave us that chance."
And how did Bryant feel about being a decoy, rather than the shooter?
"I always want the ball," said Bryant. "I want the ball every play, you know what I mean? That doesn't change down the stretch, for sure.
"But Fisher has also made big shots. So he had a good look. Nene made a great play, jumped in there, got a piece of the ball. But we've seen Derek knock those shows down how many times? So I can live with that."
The non-call they'll recall: The Lakers might have avoided that situation if things had gone a little better on a jump ball with 18.6 seconds left. Pau Gasol won the tip to Trevor Ariza, but Ariza lost it to J.R. Smith as he fell to the court -- with some help, in Jackson's eyes.
"Looked to me like (Carmelo) Anthony pushed on Trevor and Trevor tried to get rid of the ball, and no foul was called and they recovered the basketball," said Jackson. "Trevor tried to get rid of it because he was afraid he was going to be called" for traveling as he fell.
Said Gasol, "Unfortunately those little plays, in a game so close, make a big difference. If it goes the other way, maybe now we could be in a different state of mind. It went the other way. What are you going to do?"
Out of nowhere: Funny how guys go from zero to hero from one game to the next in a playoff series.
Case in point: Linas Kleiza.
The Nuggets' swing man barely played seven minutes in Game 1 of the Western Conference Finals. His line score was all zeros, save for a foul and a steal.
Thursday, in Game 10, Kleiza played 21:41 and had 16 points and eight rebounds (all in the first half), giving Denver a significant lift from the bench.
"In Game 1, we kept their bench points down," noted Kobe Bryant. "He came in for them and gave them a big boost."
Said Nuggets coach George Karl, "Not only did he make some shots, but he got us eight rebounds in the first half and it seemed like after we got in control of rebounding, we had a lot more confidence in winning the game."
Chauncey Billups said Kleiza "was huge for us in the part of the game that they were kind of running away. They kind of had it their way, and L.K. stepped in after ... not playing very much at all in the last game and even in the last series, eh stepped in and hit some big, big shots for us. Not only that, got some huge rebounds for us."
Kleiza was 4 for 7 on 3-pointers, 4 for 8 overall.
"He made 3s to space the court better," said Karl. "... I don't think we win the game without L.K.'s wild cards. ... He gave us two wild cards. He gave us a scoring wild card and he gave us a rebounding wild card."
A few other postgame comments:
Gasol, who was 5 of 8 from the field, finishing with 17 points and 17 rebounds, on whether he needs to demand the ball more:
"I'm playing hard, as hard as I can. I'm trying to give my best effort out there. When I get the ball, I try to make good decisions and try to be aggressive. We're going to continue to be aggressive and I'm going to continue to do my job as much as I can and hopefully get a few more touches."
Lamar Odom, on the Nuggets' second-quarter run:
"The second quarter I don't' think we did a good enough job of moving the ball. It keeps your defensive energy up when you move the ball and everyone touches it, everyone gets good looks, get the big men involved. We didn't do a good job of executing and that allowed them to get back in the game, and then it was just who's making more plays."
Carmelo Anthony, on a 34-point effort -- against significantly better defensive work -- on the heels of his 39-point night in Game 1:
"You're in the mode, you're in the zone. Making shots. I tell everybody, man, scoring is something that I always can do. That's what got me to where I am right now.
"My main focus is not to score 34 or 39 points. That's not my focus."
Anthony on guarding Bryant (10 for 20, 32 points), who had guarded him successfully in Game 1:
"I challenged myself to guard the best guys, whoever I'm playing against. A guy like Kobe, man, is a tough match for anybody. He's a great player. He's a great scorer. Can put the ball in the basket at any given time. ...
"I'm telling myself just make it tough for him. I always keep a hand in his face, try to body. I know I'm bigger than him. ... If he makes a tough shot with my hand in his face, I can live with that."
Phil Jackson actually stuck around for his Game 2 pregame media session -- and there were actually questions -- so there are a few highlights to pass along.
-- Jackson was asked about the Nuggets' effectiveness in defending the Lakers' inside game in Game 1, and whether he thought it could continue.
"I think, honestly, we're going to be pressed to get the ball in at times against this team because of the size," he said.
"If I'm not mistaken, we had like 14 post passes in the first quarter. We had a lot of post passes, but about nine of them were to Kobe. We still got post passes, but they weren't to a normal source of Pau or to Drew. They really stepped in front, high-sided, and we didn't handle that well. We can do a better job, but they're going to have that physical strength there that they can overpower some of our center."
-- He also was optimistic about Lamar Odom's improvement from the back bruise Odom sustained against Houston.
"I'm much more confident he's going to be all right," he said. "He was moving much better today and starts to look like he's natural again and not stilted by his injury. ... I thought, just watching the replay of that layup he had down the stretch that didn't go in for him, that he had to bring both his legs together. He just didn't seem to have any lift on that shot."
-- Jackson was also asked whether he was concerned about fatigue with the Lakers playing every other day, coming off a seven-game series.
"Well, we have 48 hours between," said Jackson, "and we're not putting them through much of a practice in between on days off. So that's OK. I mean, it's not great.
"But I think it depends a lot about winning and losing. I think if you lose a ball game or you're disturbed psychologically, or your psyche is, so it makes sleep much more difficult, or rest.
"I think we're going to be OK in this game. Travel-wise, over the weekend, I think this is as good of a travel situation as we can have with a short trip and a one-hour time-zone difference, to get ourselves prepared on this trip to be ready to play."
-- Not surprisingly, Carmelo Anthony was also a topic of much discussion. Jackson was asked if he'd stay with Trevor Ariza as the primary defender against Anthony.
"Well, we'll use both our small forwards -- Trevor and Luke -- on Anthony," Jackson said. "It's going to take even more than that because there are a lot of screens for Anthony out there. We can switch Lamar off to him, and there's certain situations where we're going to have to.
Trevor has shown the ability to play ... physical forwards, give up 20 or 30 pounds and still survive, as was shown in that Houston series against (Ron) Artest. One he got a feel of how to play him, I thought he responded quite well. We hope he responds better in this game tonight."
He was also asked what the big difference was between Anthony in last year's playoffs and this year's.
"You know, if you look at his stats for the season, he was a .445 shooter from the field," Jackson said. "In the playoffs, he's shooting 52 percent. He's just lifted the level of his game.
"We played him very similar to what we tried to do in the playoffs last year, where we felt like we could contain him. On Tuesday, he felt like he was a hot iron. We just couldn't contain him at all. He just went, did what he wanted to, basically, with such a hot hand from the outside that it made everybody wary, and as he started to drive, you get people in foul trouble.
"So we have to find that level between where to play him, crowd him, make him half to take shots that are out of his range, get to him earlier in the sequence of an offense play, and play him with some kind of physical presence."
-- In the silly-season department, Jackson was asked (and it shouldn't be too hard to figure out which L.A. columnist was asking) a couple of questions about his appearance in the online videos by significant other/Lakers executive Jeanie Buss, shot as the couple drives to the game.
The best one closed this particular line of questioning:
Q: "Is it a good idea to be looking into a camera Jeanie's holding as you're driving down the road?"
A: "Yes. She's sitting on my lap, actually, while I'm driving."
As you may have heard, Kobe Bryant had a fairly significant role in the Lakers' 105-103 win over the Nuggets on Tuesday.
And as you might suppose, Bryant wasn't exactly rushing to embrace the idea that he might not stand up to the workload if the Lakers need more nights like the 40-point, big-time-defense effort in Game 1.
"It's my job, man," he said.
"I don't worry about that at all. I'm prepared to do it. That's what you're supposed to do as a basketball player. You're supposed to play both ends of the floor."
Phil Jackson was not quite as dismissive.
"We're concerned about how much energy he has to expend out there," Jackson said.
"I thought he got tired in the first quarter. (We) got some rest for him inside of a minute and half or so, just so he'd have that and five-minute time outs we have at quarter ends with ESPN running the show." (These little shots at the TV networks are a Jackson staple and are always good for a laugh; this one was no exception.)
"We knew that he needed a break. He looked like he was ... fatigued at some level. So we know that's going to happen.
"But that's the mark of a true great player, that he has the ability to come back and play with energy. He has a resource, or finds, digs out somewhere."
Bryant had scored 14 points in the last game of the Houston series, so the 40 points Tuesday was quite a swing. He said there was no frustration or trust issue over inconsistent play by his teammates.
"When we have nights like that, I don't get down on them at all," he said. "We all understand that offense will help you in the game, but defense will win the game for you.
"So it's important that they understand that, so if they're having an off-night offensively they don't feel down on themselves where it impacts the other end of the floor.
"And we had enough firepower. We just kind of sustained shooting slumps here and there."
Gasol didn't see why it should make any difference if Bryant was scoring 14 or 40, as long as the result was the same.
"Not really," he said. "We like it more when everybody's more involved, because that means we're attacking them and hitting them from more directions, and it's hard for them to adjust to more than one or two things.
"But we'll take it any way we can. Kobe did great last night, especially in that fourth quarter."
Revision: The Lakers expressed a sense of good fortune immediately after Game 1, suggesting they might have stolen a win given how well the Nuggets played.
Upon further review, they weren't all that enamored of that idea.
"We were lucky to kind of stay in that game," said Lamar Odom, who then corrected himself: "I wouldn't say lucky, we fought hard to stay in that game and not give up."
Gasol was more definitive: "We earned it, and we deserved it.
"I don't think we stole anything. We worked hard, and we played hard. We didn't play our best game. They played a pretty good game. And we deserved it."
Bryant, meanwhile, moved away from the idea that the Lakers won on energy and guts.
"I think it was more execution, actually," he said. "You change series, you change opponent ... you execute different things, feature different things. It takes a little while to get used to it."
Trevor Ariza may not remember it as one of his better nights defensively. Yet he will be remembered for the key defensive play in the Lakers' 105-103 win over Denver to open the Western Conference finals.
With 29 seconds left and the Lakers leading 101-99, Ariza -- who had just been subbed into the game for Luke Walton -- stepped in front of Chauncey Billups to intercept Anthony Carter's inbounds pass, allowing the Lakers to run time off the clock and eventually score on two Kobe Bryant free throws, giving them a cushion they would need at the finish.
"The guard just threw it," said Ariza. "That's all. I saw him throw it and I went to get it."
Coach Phil Jackson said some of the credit for the play had to go to Lamar Odom, who was fronting Carter on the inbounds play.
"The reason why he got the interception's probably because Carter and to make the pass over Lamar," said Jackson, "and the loop pass gave him an opportunity to speed into that ball. That was a huge play for us."
Given that Ariza had spent much of the night trying to defend against Carmelo Anthony, who scored 39 points, Odom said the play showed Ariza's "focus and resiliency.
"Carmelo had a great day scoring the ball, and for him to stay in the game, and of course it looked like it was the game-winning play, it shows character.
"We were able to get some pressure on the inbound, and they were close to a five-second call, it looked like, and Trevor did a great job of anticipating the pass and making the steal."
Bryant said the play was "terrific. It was a great read by him. You can't fault the passer in that situation, because Trevor really just made a great read and a heck of a play."
Ariza "anticipated really well," said Nuggets coach George Karl. "AC probably didn't see him and threw the ball with a little loft to it. Instead of going down, he went up. ... (I) just wish he would have called time out."
Bryant also did not fault Ariza for his work on Anthony, though it was Bryant who took over the defensive assignment on the Nuggets' star at the end.
"I felt like he did OK on Carmelo," Bryant said. "Carmelo is just a phenomenal offensive player, and Trevor hasn't had a chance to play against him too much. So I think there's some things that he'll learn from this game to carry over to the next one."
Big Fish: Derek Fisher has struggled in the postseason, and has been in the critics' bulls' eye because of it, with more than a few people asking why he was still the Lakers' starting guard.
Tuesday, he showed why.
After missing his first six shots, Fisher drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to give the Lakers a 55-54 halftime lead, and went on to finish with 13 points and six assists in Game 1.
"He's the ultimate professional," said Kobe Bryant. "It's hard for guys when they don't get a lot of touches and are called upon to make a lot of plays (and) are not in rhythm, and all of a sudden get that ball in the corner and knock it down like they've been in rhythm all game. That's very, very tough to do."
Luke Walton said Fisher has never gotten down on himself when he's struggled.
"He's one of the most professional people I know," Walton said, "and he's in there working hard every day. He never gets down on himself and most of the time he hits big shots; he hit one at the end of the half and he hit a couple toward the end (of the game).
"That's why he's a champion, that's why he has won rings, and that's why he's one of the leaders on your team."
To coach Phil Jackson, the key play for Fisher was a tough driving layup in the third quarter.
"I think that contact got him back in the game and things started clicking for him after that," Jackson said. "(His) shots looked OK. They just weren't going in until the last shot of the first half.
"We rely on him to be part of that -- Kobe's outlet guy and a person that can make those kinds of shots. He's a big person, big part of our offense."
The Lakers had to battle from behind most of the night, but Fisher's contribution ultimately was crucial to a game they could have lost.
"A lot of things didn't necessarily go well for us," Fisher said, "but the final score was what it needed to be and that's the key for us.
"That's when your character is tested, that's when your mental toughness is tested -- when you can win games when it doesn't quite look like ... you're playing as well as you think you can play, and you still figure out a way to win. That's what we did tonight."
Clank: Ariza's steal may have been crucial, but the Nuggets were mostly bemoaning their 23-of-35 shooting at the foul line.
"I'm sitting here thinking we had a lot of chances to win the basketball game," said Anthony. "I know a lot of people came down to that steal with 30 seconds left. But us missing 12 free throws, (being outscored) 22 to 10 in second-chance points, that's a lot."
Agreed Billups: "I think we lose the game with our poor free-throw shooting throughout the game from everybody. ... We missed 12 free throws, it comes back, we lose by two points."
Said Kenyon Martin: "A couple plays here, a couple free throws there, and there's a different outcome."
Other postgame comments:
Bryant, asked for reaction to a Jerry West interview in which West indicated LeBron James, not Bryant, is now the best player in the game:
"I've been telling you guys for years that that's not something I'm concerned with at all. ... That's not my goal. That's not my mission. If I wanted to go out there and put up 35 points a night, I could do that.
"That's not my mission. My mission is to win a championship. And the debate of who is the best player, that's going to go on for whatever. That's not something I concern myself with.
"Although I love Jerry West to death, obviously everybody knows that."
In response to a follow-up question, he added:
"I'll use it as motivation, certainly. But ... for years the challenge has been winning another championship, and that's the challenge that I've accepted. It hasn't been, 'Can you stay on top as the best individual basketball player.' That's not something that's driven me. It's winning another championship.
"Although I do enjoy the challenge of having another player come along to challenge me for that top spot. That's always fun."
Billups, visibly upset on the play at the end when the Lakers fouled J.R. Smith to ensure Denver didn't get a chance for a tying 3-point attempt:
"I wish I could have got the ball. They did a good job. I couldn't get it. But I wish I could have told J.R. that they were going to foul, and when you see them come to foul, shoot the ball. Just little things that you learn through experience and through a lot of tough battles that he hasn't been in yet.
"So that's why I was disappointed -- not that I didn't get the ball, (but) that I didn't relay that knowledge to him, that savvy to him, that when he sees them coming to foul him, to try and go up and shoot the ball and get three shots."
"They came out and were ready to go. Obviously, they had more time to prepare for us than we did for them, but it was nice how we came out the second half and really went to work on them. ... I mean extra, extra effort. That's how we got this home win."
And now, direct from Staples Center, the entire transcript of Phil Jackson's media session prior to Game 1 of the Lakers-Nuggets series. Questions are paraphrased; answers are exact:
Q: Are you the underdog?
A: I have no idea about that. That will be determined by the first game. Then we'll know what goes on.
Q: Why are so many people on board with Denver?
A: They've played exceptionally well the first two rounds. They've looked really good.
There was, as is sometimes a case, a pause when no one had a question. So Jackson got up and left.
Which, a few minutes led to this start to the session with Nuggets coach George Karl:
Q: Are you going to have more to say than Phil?
Moderator (Staples PR guy Michael Roth): You now officially have. Next question.
Karl was, indeed, more expansive than Jackson, though not necessarily more enthusiastic, particularly when asked about the difference between this team and the one drubbed by the Lakers in last year's playoffs -- a question more loaded than it sounds, given Denver's abysmal history against the Lakers.
"I know it's a new series," Karl said, "but I'm really tired of this story. "We're a totally different team. The psychological and conceptual culture change over the summer, basically knowing the way we played for two years could not win, or I could not coach any more it that way. The coaching staff committing to a kind of hands-on approach to all the players, that defense is going to be the end of the course that we respect and work hardest at.
"The Chauncey (Billups) trade was huge, because everything we're kind of preaching and teaching and coaching, he was an is a poster boy for -- play the right way, play defense first, play as a team. And I'm not the only coach in the NBA trying to build that culture, either. There's probably about 29 guys probably doing the same thing. But we were doing it from a different way, and from a personal standpoint, I think my passion came back because I got back to what I feel more confidence about."
Some historical background: The Lakers were 3-1 against the Nuggets in the regular season, are 13-2 against them all-time in the postseason, are 51-17 all time against them at home in the regular season (and 40-28 in Denver). And as noted by Denver columnist Woody Paige, the Nuggets are 9-41 all time at Staples Center, including games against the Clippers.
Karl was also asked if he'd been surprised how vulnerable the Lakers had looked at times against Houston. His answer was indirect but informative.
"About five minutes into Game 7," he recalled, "I said, 'They're woked up. We're not going to get that game. We're not going to be given that opportunity.
"They played by far their best defensive game in Game 7. Their activity, their aggressiveness was first class. And they did what they had to do.
Sometimes teams wake up, some times team group up in certain series where the end could go the other way.
"I think you're going to see two very disciplined and focused teams tonight, and I think it's going to stay that way the whole series."
This is, however involuntarily, the one day a year when American Idol has an impact on my life.
For the second year in a row, a home Lakers playoff game is being held at the same time as the finals of the absurdly popular televised launching pad for mediocre singers -- across the street at the Nokia Theater, another venue in the evil AEG empire. This means that A) the sidewalks are clogged with screaming teens (really) and B) parking and traffic are more of a mess than usual. (It's a great day, though, if you're a parking-lot operator, based on some of the extortionate rates being charged in the adjacent lots.)
I'll be posting a blog entry from Phil Jackson's pregame media session, and one after I've written my column for Wednesday's paper, probably by 11:30 p.m. if not earlier.
If you're looking for posts on American Idol, you're in the wrong place, but I'd estimate there are approximately 17 million other sites that can help you out.
One of the interesting subtexts for the remainder of the Lakers' season -- however long that is -- is going to be the reunion of Kobe Bryant with some of his U.S. Olympic basketball teammates.
The potential opponents in the finals are Cleveland, with LeBron James -- and much has already been said this season about James learning from his time with Bryant -- or Orlando with Dwight Howard.
First, though, the Lakers have to get past the Nuggets and their standout Olympian, Carmelo Anthony, who averaged 11.5 points and 4.3 rebounds in Beijing, and forged a strong relationship with Bryant in the process.
"He was like a brother to me," Bryant said Monday. "I mean, truly. I love him.
"We spent a lot of time together this summer. He's the one I was closest with on the team. ...
"He works really hard. I think that's one thing that I love about him, is that he continues to play all the time. He's not going to settle or accept the fact that you double team him, you deny him the ball, the shot goes up -- he's going to crash the offensive glass. He's going to continue to work. And in the summer, we saw that at both ends of the floor. And now with the Nuggets, you're starting to see that, too, which makes him even more dangerous."
Anthony averaged 22.8 points and 6.8 rebounds in the regular season, and is at 27 points and 6.4 rebounds in the postseason. Bryant was asked if he'd learned anything during national-team duty that might help against Anthony.
"A little bit," he said, "but he also stole a lot of my moves."
Anthony averaged a relatively modest (for him) 14.5 points and 4.0 rebounds against the Lakers, but Phil Jackson downplayed that.
"I think some of that's happenchance," he said, meaning of course happenstance. "He maybe didn't shoot the ball well and didn't get in a rhythm. And some of it's our defense; got to give some credit to it
"But the way he's playing now, he's playing exceptionally well. He's a streaky player. We just can't let him sit on shots when he gets hot."
Inside information? Jackson was also asked about a comment by Denver coach George Karl, who said he'd been able to get some Lakers secrets from his son, Coby, who spent last year with the Lakers, appearing in 17 games.
"Oh, you know, I think Coby's been away from us almost a year now, playing over in Spain," said Jackson. "He's a heady ballplayer. I'm sure he can give his father a lot of things.
"But the reality is that George and I have probably coached against each other a hundred times by now. Maybe not that many; maybe 70 times in our career. So there's a lot of things we can go back to and look and know about.
"He's full aware of what we do. He's one of the good coaches, one of the great coaches in this league."
The professionals: In answering a question about whether he's challenging to play for, Jackson mentioned that he feels a "responsibility, because we have so many young players at this level, to see them not only become good players but also professionals, that they know how to handle themselves as professionals."
Which all but begged for a follow-up question: In light of the erratic play against Houston, how would he assess his players' ability to be professional?
"We're still talking to them about that," he said.
"There's a lot of talk about how to be professional, about how to get the things done that have to get done in a professional way. And we have young players that are still very emotional about their game. Some of them are looking for contracts, and these are all things that have to be put aside at this time. And that's where, you know, the professional aspect comes in and takes that emotional part away, so they understand it's not just a job, but a special job, and it's a unique thing that they're doing."
He had, he said, had to deal with these kinds of issues before at playoff time, and the results hadn't always been satisfactory.
"We lost Horace Grant once after a year that was challenging like this," he said. "That was one of the issues that always remains with me, that he went on into free agency."
There is probably no Lakers player who exemplifies consistent effort more than Derek Fisher.
After the Lakers' 89-70 win over Houston in Sunday's Game 7 at Staples Center, he's hoping his teammates have figured out the need for that constant.
"I don't think at anytime we consciously went out onto the floor without that mindset," Fisher said, "but I do think we learned that if you aren't conscious about coming up and starting games aggressive and physical and being ready to play, you can get yourself into a lot of trouble. Hopefully as we move past this round and into the conference finals, that can be the one thing that we hold onto from this series that will help us not have the slippage we had in three or four of the games in this one."
Youth, Fisher suggested, had something to do with that. So did the fact that the Lakers made a relatively huge leap last year, going from one-round-and-out appearances in 2006 and 2007 to last year's berth in the NBA Finals.
"Obviously, with what we accomplished last year we just sort of shortcut some of the experience it takes to become a champion," he said. "We got to the doorstep. This year, that's not an excuse or something we're relying on and saying, 'OK, we're still young.' We want to win right now. At the same time, we're still learning that isn't easy to do. It wasn't last year because we didn't get it done. And this year, to get it done, it's not going to be easy."
Bynum bounces back: It would be easier, clearly, with Andrew Bynum playing like he did on Sunday -- mobile and agile, a force both offensively and defensively -- than at other times in a series that he conceded was "up and down -- anybody could see that.
"I just know where I can help out, and knowing what kind of minutes I'm going to get has a lot to do with it," he said. "I think we had a great couple of practices, and I was able to go out there and play well."
Jackson certainly agreed, as did Pau Gasol.
"We liked some of the things Andrew did," said Jackson. "Obviously, Andrew has a shooting touch; we'd like him to have more touches than he had." (Bynum was 6 of 7 from the field).
"The reality is he's a cleanup guy. He's a guy that's got to clean up the boards, he has to take passes that are received off drivers that are cut off at the basket and complete at the basket. He's going to have stats like he had tonight.
"The thing we want him to grasp his how active his defense has to become for him to be really the player we want him to be, and the player who can change how good defensively we are as a basketball club."
Said Gasol, "Andrew played great. His production was very, very good today. He played aggressive, he controlled the boards and he was a presence. We need that from him consistently, so I was happy to see him contribute and play hard and play with emotion. That was a big plus for us.
"We're going to need that in the next series against a front lineup that is going to be a lot bigger than Houston's."
Bynum said he and Gasol had talked with assistant coach Kurt Rambis stressing defense, "and we were able to cut down on Brooks' penetration ... They didn't get many easy layups, and I think that changed the course of the game."
Said Houston forward Shane Battier, "He's 7 foot, 300 pounds. ... It's hard to beat that size and length."
Offensively, too, the Lakers were helped tremendously by the focus on their two big men.
"We tried to put the ball inside," said Lamar Odom. "If you get Andrew and Pau going, you create shots for everyone, most likely wide open shots."
Other postgame comments from the interview and locker rooms:
Gasol, on his effort, which yielded 21 points, 18 rebounds, three blocks, a steal and an assist (along with five turnovers):
"Kobe always tells me to leave no bullet in the charger, or gun. ... As far as the energy and going after plays, holding them every single possession, stopping Brooks on all those pick-and-rolls and all that penetration, it hurt us in Houston so much, I made an effort on that to get me going that way. And it worked."
Lakers forward Trevor Ariza, on the ongoing questions about the team's inconsistency:
"We were a little stubborn. We thought we could beat teams off our talent alone. At this point in time, you can't do that. This is a tough time of the year. Everybody wants to win. They're going to step on your throats to get to where you want to go, and you have to do the same. ...
"We definitely realize that if we don't play hard, we're not going to beat anybody."
Rockets coach Rick Adelman, on the Lakers' defense and his team's offense:
"They (the Lakers) played more aggressive. That wasn't a big surprise to us that they were going to extend their defense. I thought we did some uncharacteristic things. We got a couple of shots blocked when the shots weren't even there; we crashed into their hands a couple times. That's on us.
"Usually, it's a combination of both teams. They picked their aggression up and it's not like we didn't talk about it. We should have been ready for that and we weren't. We didn't respond the way we needed to and we got down. It's hard to come back when you get down on the road, just like they found out."
Battier, with a lament not unlike that of the Lakers after Games 4 and 6:
"We knew they were going to give us their best shot, especially in the first quarter, and to be honest with you, we just didn't have the energy to match it.
"We turned the ball over, they got in transition, they got some easy buckets and we didn't move the ball well enough to make enough shots to make it a game."
Rockets guard Ron Artest, asked if his team -- which started 0 for 12 with two turnovers in its first 12 possessions -- came out tight:
"I don't' think we were tight. I just think we were maybe thinking too much. We didn't get a chance to get Shane open. We didn't get a call, we didn't get a chance to drive, and I think guys realize where we have a chance to improve. ...
"What happened was we just had an off game. They stepped up the intensity, we fumbled a little bit and they got off to a great start and kind of rode it from there."
Rockets guard Aaron Brooks on the Lakers' defense:
"They were just zoning up and we didn't react well. We couldn't make any shots and I think that was the problem. We did not make any shots in the first half. In games like this, it would have been nice to have a low-post presence."
Not that you could tell, but Phil Jackson did say he was nervous going into Sunday's Game 7 of the Lakers' second-round series with Houston.
"You should be nervous on a day like today," he said.
"There's no doubt about it," he said. "And I wake up an hour earlier than I normally would.
"It's an interesting phenomenon that goes through Game 7s."
This is Jackson's fourth Game 7 with the Lakers, who beat Portland in 2000 and Sacramento in 2002 on the way to championships, and lost to Phoenix in 2006.
He was not, however, to nervous to joke about some of the criticism of his coaching during this series, when he was asked if he felt like he was on his game.
"I don't know what I have to do," he said. "My shot is not falling, my 3-point shot has been limited. I'm worried."
The matchup: Jackson believes the problems the Lakers have had in this series are largely unique to playing the Rockets.
"I think there are personality matchups that are an issue with this team," he said. "There's a style of ball that's a little bit out of the unusual for us" -- he meant "out of the usual," but that's he said -- "that we've had some issues with in the past ... but we find periods of time when we seem to be OK, but not consistently. And that's what we're looking for today: consistency."
Certainly, he said, dealing with Houston is different than facing a team with one dominant scorer.
"You know, it does present some problems," he said. "We corralled Artest in the last couple games relatively well, but I anticipate he's going to be a force out there again today. And he's demanded double teams from us, so we're going to have to rotate. You have to get your rotations right. Those are things that we have to do.
"So how well we can hold him in, and corral him, and how well we can use two men to kind of hem in Brooks, and then make those adjustments and rotations, it will be the difficult point.
"What they surprised us with last game was Scola, which we don't double-team. ... That was a leak we didn't expect."
At first: The team that has won the first quarter has won the first six games in the series, but Jackson tried to cast that as something that really matters to just one of the teams.
"It's consistent for Houston," he said. "It's not consistent for us. It's a consistent stat for Houston. Stats have some meaning; sometimes it's after the fact.
"But I think it's been drilled and drummed home pretty well in this series that Houston definitely reacts according to how they get started. Our team, it really doesn't matter.
"But if it's a psychological advantage for Houston, we want to take it away."
Odom update: Jackson said forward Lamar Odom (back contusion) was "in early" for Game 7 and "did a little activation workout. Now he's doing some therapy. We hope for the best."
Somewhat out of character, he also tipped his starting lineup when asked if Odom might be part of it.
"Might if he was 100 percent," he said. "Right now, Andrew's the starter for today's game."
If there's a secret to success in a playoff Game 7, it's going to remain that way. Phil Jackson is not about to part with it.
Jackson was asked after Saturday's practice -- the one to prepare for Sunday's Game 7 with Houston -- if, in his experience, there was a common factor in the Game 7s he had coached.
"Not to tell you guys," he said.
A few moments later, someone tried a similar question: What was the message to his players.
"I'm not telling you that, because you're not in my locker room," he said.
He did eventually hint at a little bit of that message.
"The guys on our team believe we know what we have to do to get this accomplished," he said. "We came out in the third quarter and got the game back in hand, but we lost it. We lost it by a series of misplays that just weren't related to anything Houston did, but more what we didn't do.
We were able to match the energy level in that third quarter, but we weren't able to sustain our mindset, how we were going to play against them and what we were going to do. So that's what we have to do."
Jackson was also asked about his generally low-key public reaction to the Lakers' struggle, and made it clear he saw no point in getting more animated.
"You have to play with control," he said. "This is a game you have to play with control, but you have to play at optimum speed. So if you get hyped up and you're trying to play above the level at which you can play controlled basketball, you're doing a disservice.
"So it's a combination of two things. I think (former UCLA coach John) Wooden said it best: 'Be quick, but don't hurry.' ...
"We want our guys not to get amped up. We want them to play with great intensity, but still with a level of understanding of what's happening out there so they can make adjustments on the court."
Tuned out: If you're wondering what the Lakers think about the criticism they've received for their inconsistent play in this series, the answer is "not much," since they say they aren't paying attention.
"I don't watch it," said Kobe Bryant. "I don't watch it. But I know who's criticizing, though."
Pau Gasol agreed, but had a bit more to say.
"I haven't watched TV," he said. "To me, it's a little bit of a waste of time. But that's OK. People need to talk about whatever they want to talk about, and find explanations about why things happen in life and in particular in our series. So that's OK.
"We've just got to come out tomorrow and play well, do what we need to do, win the game, move on, and then people will be talking about a different thing, and hopefully how great things are."
And Derek Fisher, asked if the team was upset about those who doubted its ability to win, said, "I haven't heard or read much of it personally myself. I don't think there's any anger on our part toward people outside of our locker room, our building."
More Fisher: The guard was also asked how he'd assess his play against Houston guard Aaron Brooks.
"I don't really look at it as me against Brooks," he said. "My role for my team is completely different than his. They need him to be aggressive, to attack, to score points, in order to win. My team doesn't necessarily need that from me, So I haven't really looked at it as a one-on-one matchup kind of thing; I've looked at it more as me personally not being able to find rhythm offensively and not being able to knock down shots I'm capable of making. Other than that, I haven't wasted a lot of time stressing over what Brooks is doing versus me. It's more what Brooks is doing versus our team, what (Luis) Scola's doing versus our team, what (Ron) Artest is doing versus our team."
More from the interview and locker rooms after the Lakers' 118-78 win Tuesday -- the largest margin of victory for the Lakers in a playoff game since a 46-point win over San Antonio in 1986:
Given the Lakers' inconsistency in this series, there were many postgame questions asking if the team could carry this effort over to Game 6.
Phil Jackson, asked if the Lakers had "now tapped into the place where they can be consistent:"
"Nah. We have one game. We'll go out and play another game on Thursday night and try to reach that consistency. A lot of it has to do with our opponents. As I said before, we want to do it defensively, hold that team down and find opportunities to run in the open floor. That helps us out so much more as a basketball team.
"We didn't get that accomplished until late in the first period, and in the second period kind of shut them down defensively."
"Yes, I do think so. I think that if we are able to have the intensity and aggressiveness we had tonight, we'll give ourselves a chance at Houston. We look forward to that."
"You've just got to stay focued and you have to understand that the effort that we did tonight is not going to be enough on Thursday. It's just not. So you've got to pick it up and bring more energy, bring more effort, because that's what the playoffs are about. Each game, you have to raise your level."
"Every day's a new day. It doesn't matter how many points they won by, or we won by today. It doesn't carry over. It's a new day, a new game, and we have to come to play."
Other Lakers comments:
Jackson, asked if he looked at the series as an evolving story:
"Usually, it's about finding a way to squelch the other team is what the process is about. And we keep trying to do that with them and they pop out and find another way to get going.
"They're very reslient and defensively, it's about eliminating what they can do, and shortening their possessions. And we know they came right back in the second half and went right back with penetration off the dribble, off screens, still trying to attack us in that realm and still trying to pursue what they've done well against us. We were much better at it tonight."
Derek Fisher, on the team's mindset entering the game:
"It's not about trying to send any messages or get revenge for something that happened before. You go out there and you do the best you can on that given night. We did that tonight."
Luke Walton, on finishing with an actual blowout:
"I think we did a good job keeping our focus with it, too. We didn't want to let them -- you know, a lot of times we get big leads and let teams back in. We were on each other to make sure that we got a lead and kept on pushing it higher and definitely not letting them cut into it."
Walton, on the defensive effort:
"We watched a lot of film the last couple of days. And we saw how gross that was and how easily they were penetrating our defense and getting kick-out shots and layups."
On the Houston side, there was understandably much talk of what went wrong.
Coach Rick Adelman:
"We played absolutely the opposite than we did in the last game. We turned it over in the first half, shot it poorly. Felt we forced shots and then we got shots and we couldn't make shots. ...
"We got to the middle of the lane, we turned it over, we forced plays. We were trying to force the issue and they got their hands on the ball and they got the open court. I think they had almost 20 points at halftime from fast breaks" -- at the half, the Lakers had a 19-7 advantage in fast-break points -- "and we said it: if we turn it over against this team, we're going to be in trouble. And that's exactly what we did. It just fed their energy level."
"We didn't take care of the ball. They jumped on us, ran out, transition buckets, got everything to the basket that they wanted. Offensively, we were out of sync. I take my hat off to them. They came off better prepared than we were, ready to play, so they got the win."
The Lakers scored 24 points off 18 Houston turnovers; the Rockets had 10 points off the Lakers' 13 turnovers.
"We got off to a good start. It was 11-4, and then turnovers. They had 19 transition buckets in the first half, and that's too many. We had too many turnoers. There are adjustments we have to make."
"I think Bynum had a great performance tonight and gave them a good boost. They scored more points in the paint, 56 points in the paint, and that's a lot more than they had in our previous wins. They played with more passion and more energy."
The pregame active roster list has come up, and Lamar Odom's name is on it.
As recently as 6:15 p.m., that was no certainty.
That was when Phil Jackson, in his pregame media session, said he'd left part of the roster list blank because there had been "no decision yet whether to even dress" Odom, who suffered a back bruise in a nasty fall during Sunday's Game 4 with Houston.
Since he's in the lineup, he's almost certainly going to start.
"I'd assume after talking to the trainer that if he's warmed up," Jackson said, "and he's done all the therapy work that's gone into his rehab or whatever you want to call it before the ballgame, that you'd want to put him out on the floor rather than have him sit on the bench for 15, 20 minutes. So yes, more than likely he'd start if I intended to play him."
Odom's availability remained in question based on what Jackson saw at the team's shootaround earlier in the day.
"Just the way he moved, just his activity level," Jackson said. "He was walking gingerly, and the back is really an area you can't protect. You've got to expose it all the time and box out when you're on the offensive end, in a post-up situation and those things.
"We know we have him on the rebound from this injury. He's coming back. He's improving, and that's important. Just how far we want to take him right now is really a decision that he's got to make and we've got to make."
That was pretty much it for pregame news, but the session actually began with an interesting bit of give and take, which I've transcribed and will pass along verbatim. It's amusing because it ends with Jackson owning up to something he's often done in his Lakers tenure.
The questioner is (no surprise) the Times' T.J. Simers.
Q: Do you buy into the concept of killer instinct?
A: Well, yeah. I don't like that term, actually, the use of it. But there's a human element that goes into relaxing or feeling secure. Playoffs, you know, go from multiple elation to severe depression in the matter of a win or a loss. This is something you really have to maintain your edge all the time. For the most part, I think players know that they have to come out and compete every night. It's just the element of how to get that advantage, how to get that edge, and when do you find it, how early and where.
Q: Do you think that team has a comprehension of that within a game, let alone between games?
A: Well, you know, they were down 14 in a half in Houston during the regular season and came back and won the ballgame. I mean, relatively handily. It wasn't a blowout by any means, but relatively handily, they came back and won a game after being down 14 points. So, yeah, they know how to come back from various deficits.
Q: But the killer instinct isn't coming back. It's putting someone away.
Q: That means I don't get an answer?
A: You got it.
Q: I got a wrong answer, though. It didn't apply.
A: It applied to what I wanted to say. It didn't apply to what you wanted me to say.
OK, so that wraps up the Four Full Days extravaganza: About 500 miles in the car, six columns (including two second-edition rewrites) and 13 blog entries (this makes 14) on three playoff games, four practices and two suspensions. Total output, 16,138 words, plus more than 12,500 words in interview transcrips. (To put that in perspective, the average column runs 850-900 words. Yes, I do feel written out.) Oh, and seven stops at Starbucks or Coffee Bean to refuel and write.
It's been interesting, challenging -- and exhausting. I'm not really looking to duplicate this little marathon any time soon.
Although, if the Lakers and Ducks both advance to the next round of the playoffs, and the schedules cooperate, I just might.
Somewhat belatedly, because of the Manny Ramirez coverage -- a column and story that will appear in Friday's paper -- here are a few notes from Thursday's Lakers practice that didn't make the Friday story, which focuses on Derek Fisher's suspension.
Phil Jackson, asked how the officiating changes in a series after a physical game like Wednesday's Game 2:
"You know, it's usually a little tighter calls, and they're more watchful, and they're ready to step in and do things immediately. And I think that was the players' complaint, that they hadn't stepped in prior to that time and said anything. And then all of a sudden, the players take it in their own hands, and then suddenly there's a reaction. It's always reaction, rather than having the right control."
Jackson, asked how he assessed the Lakers' play in Game 2:
"You know, we played probably 32 to 35 minutes of pretty good basketball last night. There's 10-13 minutes in there where we didn't play so well."
Jackson, with a rather indirect answer to a question about his comfort level with Jordan Farmar:
"Matchups are not an issue for us right now. That's not going to be a major issue. The issue is experience and familiarity. ...
"We've got some guys that have played well against this team. DJ has played well against this team. He hasn't had a chance to play well in this series. Josh has had a very good game against this team. He had some limited minutes.
So we've got guys that have experience, we have knowledge. Even though our bench had some moments out there that were a little bit loss of momentum, cost us problems, they still handed the starters a nine-point lead at the end of that second period. So I'm not going to lay everything on their hands, but we do have to do a better job of controlling the foul situation in the second and fourth quarters when our bench is in."
Jackson, asked how Lamar Odom looked in his return to the starting lineup:
"Well, you know, he never really got comfortable out there, where he felt like he was controlling the game the way he has in the past. He'll get that, I think, as he gets more familiar with how to play the variety of people that are on the Houston team. ...
"We played much better. Obviously, it gives us much more speed and agility out there on the floor. So it is a matchup that kind of favors up."
Lamar Odom, asked if there was a concern about losing composure in Game 3:
"We won't lose our composure. We'll take our time. But we'll be prepared for a physical game."
Odom, asked if a game like that is fun:
"Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's fun. Winning at this level, in playoff competition, there's going to be games like that, with both teams going at it. ...
It makes you hustle a little bit harder, focus a little bit more."
Odom, asked how Wednesday's game compared to the playground games he played growing up in New York:
"It was the same thing. Playoffs are like 'who's got next, 'right? Playing four on four, guys waiting for next. Sometimes you get to the point where the game never ends -- you've got fouls, and it went out off your foot, and my ball, all that type of thing.
"It's cool, though. It's fun."
Jordan Farmar, on playing against Aaron Brooks, who was at Oregon State when Farmar was at UCLA:
"We've played against each other for a while now. He's doing all right. He has a green light, he's running the show. You just have to make it tough on him. He's really quick and he runs their team. So just make it as tough as possible, and try to slow him down a little bit."
Farmar, on how he feels about the state of his game:
"I feel really good. I worked really hard, and a lot of things last night felt really good -- a centimeter here, a centimeter there, things could have gone a lot differently. So I'll play with confidence, try to run the show and make good decisions, try to get us into our stuff. Kobe was hot, late in the game, just go inside to Pau -- just things that we do well. And then, you know, be aggressive, knock down shots, get to the basket."
Derek Fisher, asked if the knockdown of Luis Scola -- the play leading to his suspension for Game 3, which had not yet come down when he spoke -- set a "new standard for physicality" in the series:
"Possibly. That wasn't what I intended for it to be. But because we haven't faced the Rockets in recent playoff history, there was a newness and a freshness to the matchup there that probably wasn't there perhaps when the series started. After they won in Game 1, our eyebrows were raised, and we knew we had to come back in Game 2 and play a much better game.
"We feel like we did, and now the scene shifts to Houston. I think the series will continue to be what it has been, physical, with guys matching up with Kobe trying to make things difficult for him, and obviously our big guys having their hands full with Yao Ming in the middle."
Fisher, asked if there would be any motivation to tone down the physical play:
"We have to just play the game as it unfolds. It's playoff basketball; you have to be mentally tough and physically tough. But I just don't think there are many plays where guys are intentionally trying to harm guys or injury guys or take guys out.
At the same time, there are only eight teams left, and you're playing for a championship, and you work your whole career or for a whole season to put yourself in a position to win. So you try and do everything it takes, still within the framework of playing good, hard quality basketball, basketball that our fans want to watch and that you enjoy playing.
"And at times, it's going to involve more physical play than others, but compared to our game years ago, I don't think there's a lot of stuff happening that is completely over the top. I just think our game has grown so much that we have so many more outlets to look at and review and talk about and speculate. That's the good part and the bad part about it, and you have to live with it."
(Oops, failed to hit the right command on this when it was written this morning. Here it is now)
Well, it's still going to a full day. Just not the one I expected.
Once again, I'm at that Coffee Bean by the Lakers' practice facility, about to head over for the media session before the team flies to Houston.
After that, instead of heading southeast to Ducks-Red Wings Game 4, I'll be going northeast to Dodger Stadium, for the inevitable media circus connected with Manny Ramirez' 50-game drug suspension.
I'm thinking if you sat in that Mannywood section and got the T-shirt, you may have a collector's item. But that's just one of many Manny questions that have to be answered. What do you do when the player you've built your team and all your publicity around turns out to be a drug cheat?
Fortunately for the Dodgers, the Manny Ramirez bobblehead giveway isn't until late July, after the suspension ends. Still, that should be an uncomfortable night, don't you think?
With the incredibly late finish to Wednesday's technical- and toss-out-filled game, I simply wasn't able to get in a lot of the salient reactions to the Lakers' 111-98 win, and all the extracurricular activities therein. This meant relying on the partial transcripts provided by the team, and they were disappointingly sanitized for your protection (well, yours if you're part of the Lakers or the NBA).
Nothing from Derek Fisher on his ejection. Nothing from Ron Artest on his ejection (or anything else, though this probably is more a reflection of Artest than anything else). Nothing from Kobe Bryant on his little set-to with Artest (although I can paraphrase, from television, his reaction when told Artest said Bryant should have been ejected. He disagreed, saying the battle under the basket where Bryant appeared to elbow Artest was simply "fighting for position.")
You'll probably see more of that material elsewhere, from organizations that had multiple reporters to gather them, or more time to get them. You may see them on TV. Unfortunately, you won't get them here.
So here's what I can pass along -- some from the transcripts, some from my own tape -- flawed though it may be.
Fisher, on the Lakers' toughness:
"I think we have to be who we are. We have guys that have particular styles of play, which have particular skills that are based more so on skill ... than the ability to move and not just line up and play physical basketball. At the same time, we're capable of doing a lot of things out there, and we intend to win a championship. Whatever it takes to do that, that's what we're willing to do. I don't think it was different last year and I don't think it's any different this year."
Pau Gasol, on the game almost getting out of control:
"Almost, but it didn't. It was a physical game, a game we needed to win, a game that we needed to establish ourselves, get going, and we did."
Yao Ming, on the Lakers' defensive changes.
"In Game 1, then played straight, played behind me and I scored big. Game 2, they changed their defense to tonight like Gasol did to me -- fronts and their other perimeter guys stayed behind to see if they could steal the ball. We need to make adjustments again."
Rockets coach Rick Adelman, on the Yao-Pau matchup:
"We knew that there was a strong possibility that they would start Odom and that matchup out there, and there's nothing we can do about it. Yao's just got to do a better job staying out of foul trouble and know that he's facing a guy that's more active, and is going to put it on the floor and attack the basket on him."
Bryant, on the physical nature of the game:
"It was a good physical game. You know, it's playoff basketball. Intensity is elevated a little bit because there is a lot at stake. I think it was just a good, physical game. ...
"Its fun. Eighties style."
Lamar Odom, on the physicality:
"I wouldn't say they were dirty. I hope not. Dirty means you're trying to hurt people. I don't think they were trying to hurt anybody out there. ...
"Tempers fly sometimes in the playoffs. You've got to expect that. That's what it's all about. It's where we all come from, where we all started playing basketball. It gets like that."
Odom, not really happy with a suggestion he had an off night with seven points, 11 rebounds and four assists.
"Well, you know, for a guy that has 11 rebounds, four assists, turned over the ball four times; for a guy that's starting, then not starting, then starting again, I feel like I'm playing well. I'm not shooting the ball a lot. You shoot the ball seven times, you only make two, you're going to have games like that.
"The importance is for me to do other things -- help defensively, play all-around game. I was a poster boy for playing well, two games ago. Two games of playing not great offensive basketball won't take me off course."
Luke Walton, asked if the game was "on the edge:"
"Yeah, it was right there when all that stuff was going down.
"Obviously, we know the consequences of actually fighting, so I don't ever think it was going to go over the edge. But it was right there. if that was a practice, and there was no consequences to go with it, there definitely probably would have been a fight going on."
"We came into Los Angeles looking to get two wins. We got a split and now we're going home. The way the game ended maybe was not the way we typically like to see a game end, but we're going to go home and regroup and see if we can get back on the ball here."
The Lakers may not be concerned about being down a game to the Houston Rockets, but that doesn't mean they're aren't making changes.
Phil Jackson indicated Lamar Odom would replace Andrew Bynum in the starting lineup for Wednesday's Game 2 at Staples Center, meaning that starting spot has gone from Bynum to Odom to Bynum and now back to Odom over the first six games of the postseason.
Jackson could not recall making similar changes in his starting lineup during the playoffs, either with the Bulls or Lakers, except because of injury. He was asked in his pregame press conference if that meant he felt the situation was serious.
"I don't think so," he said. "I think it's a little bit more about our type of execution we can do on the floor, and the number of collective games we played together as that unit in the last year and a half gives them a little more comfort on the floor.
"Our damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don't aspect is we know we need rebounding and shotblocking and size with Andrew in there at some level, if we're going to be very successful this season, and that means continuing forward. We're not as forceful or as intimidating around the paint if we don't have him. But we're so much better at the offensive end because of the mobility we have (with Lamar) it's kind of like a situation where you have to live with one or the other. I think we'll give up more points in the process, but we also gather more points, gain more."
For all that, Jackson said he didn't know if the Lakers are a better team with Odom in the lineup.
"You know, we want Andrew to be that force, that player out there," said Jackson. "We think that it's an important aspect or premise for this team. But we have not functioned well in these playoffs, or as well, as we have when Lamar started."
It's a choice that means surrendering some size against Yao Ming and the other large, bulky Rockets, but Jackson said toughness is not his big concern.
"Spacing is, really," he said. "We need to have good spacing and ball movement, and we have to have a flow in our offense. We can't get static and get them into a mud-pit game where they can grind it out in those kinds of half-court situations. And that's what we'll try to establish."
Odom more or less shrugged off the change, and a question whether it was difficult to keep switching between the bench and the starting lineup.
"The game's the same," he said. "... It is what it is. It's what's needed."
Walton returns: Luke Walton returned to the active roster for Game 2, after missing two games since injuring his ankle against Utah.
"I think he's going to have an opportunity," said Jackson, "but we'll see how significant his role is."
Dee-fense: Kobe Bryant was second in the voting again, but this time it was a little closer.
A couple of days after LeBron James' landslide victory over Bryant in MVP balloting, Dwight Howard edged Bryant as the top vote-getter for the NBA's all-defensive team.
Howard finished with 55 points and 27 first-place votes, followed by Bryant (53 points, 24 first-place votes), James (47 points), Chris Paul (36) and Kevin Garnett (35) to complete the first team.
Named to the second team were Tim Duncan, Dwyane Wade, Rajon Rondo, Shane Battier and Ron Artest.
The NBA's 30 head coaches vote for the defensive team, and are not permitted to vote for players from their own team.
Fisher, Trevor Ariza and Pau Gasol were among the other players receiving votes.
*-- Updates with Wisniewski release from hospital.
Through three games, the third period has been white-knuckle time for the Ducks in their playoff series with Detroit.
Even though Anaheim leads the series 2-1, they've been outshot 51-17 in the third period, and outscored 2-0. That includes Detroit's 18-3 advantage in Tuesday's Game 3.
Add in the three overtimes in Game 2, and the Ducks have been outgunned 80-34 after the second intermission.
A couple of different theories were advanced by the Ducks to try to explain this after their team meeting and optional practice on Wednesday at the Honda Center.
"I don't think anybody's happy how we played the third period," said Teemu Selanne. " It seems like every time when we start to play safe and start backing up, we're going to have problems.
"The best defense is offense. You can't really change your style and your game plan there. And I think we changed too much in the third period, and they got momentum."
Forward Todd Marchant thinks desperation on the part of the Red Wings is a factor.
"In two of the games, we've been in the lead, and they've been trying to catch us," he said. "And in one game, it was tied.
"You know, when a team is down or fighting back, you're going to do anything you possibly can. At times, it's very difficult with the team that is in the lead to turn that around and get your opportunities. A lot of times it seems like you're receiving rushes because they are putting pressure on you. And they're taking chances. So it's certainly an area we have to improve that, and hopefully we can do that in Game 4."
It's also been suggested that the Ducks, who are not spreading their minutes around quite as evenly as the Red Wings, might be wearing down as the game progressed, a theory that sent coach Randy Carlyle into full bristling, blustering mode.
"Well, they like to tell everyone they are (wearing Anaheim down)," Carlyle said, referring to the Red Wings. "They're worried about our players. I've got to worry about our players. I'm worried about our players performing to the level they perform to.
"As far as anybody getting tired: It's the playoffs, they're young, they're well-conditioned athletes. We worry about our players and we take the necessary steps that we feel are going to give us the best chance to recover."
Wisniewski update: As of the Ducks' practice, defenseman James Wisniewski had been scheduled to remain at the UCI Medical Center until Thursday morning after being hospitalized with a lung contusion after taking a shot to the chest in Game 3. He's expected to be released from the hospital Thursday morning.
"He'll stay, I think it's a 36-hour time frame, just to watch as a precautionary (measure)," said Carlyle. "He's moving forward, he's healing. He's just in a situation where he'll rest in the hospital."
But later Wednesday afternoon, the Ducks reported Wisniewski had been cleared to go home and released from the hospital.
Carlyle said there is no estimate when or if Wisniewski might return.
"Obviously we have to wait sure there's no more damage being done, or his recovery is fully under way," he said. "It's a unique injury from the standpoint that with all the protection that's out there, you very rarely get a puck in that area."
Brendan Mikkelson, Brett Festerling and Brian Salcido are the candidates to move into the starting lineup. None have seen playoff action so far. Mikkelson played 34 regular-season games with two assists and a plus-minus of zero; Festerling played 40 games and had five assists and was plus-five. Salcido, a 24-year-old born in Hermosa Beach, played two games, had one assist and was plus two; with the Ducks' Iowa farm team, he had 10 goals, 33 assists and 108 penalty minutes, and was minus-22.
"We have to make a decision on one of those three," said Carlyle, "and we'll do that in the next 24 hours. Both Festerling and Mikkelson have played with our hockey club this year, so we feel confident with putting one of those guys in."
Carlyle also referenced Tomas Holmstrom's elbow to Wisniewski after the defenseman had been hit by the puck, as he had after Tuesday's game. So he was asked if he knew if the league was reviewing the hit.
"Don't know that," he said. "Don't know that for sure.
"There were a few incidents last night that I'm sure left the war room" -- the NHL situation room in Toronto, where goals and other plays are reviewed -- "scanning tapes. There was a cross-check in the last flurry, with 10 seconds left, to the head area, on Scotty Niedermayer. There were a few upper blows being delivered in various situations in the series."
Carlyle was asked who cross-checked Niedermayer.
"Do I have to give you everything, for crying out loud?" he responded.
Given a yes in response, he didn't hesitate: "(Johan) Franzen."
Franzen, incidentally, is tied for the Red Wings' scoring lead with four goals and eight points in seven games.
Not letting go: Inevitably, there was still a lot of talk about the tying goal that wasn't, a Detroit score by Marion Hossa with 1:04 remaining that would have made it 2-2, but was disallowed because referee Brad Watson lost sight of the puck and blew his whistle.
"Last night was a situation that probably happens," said Carlyle, "on our hockey club, five or six times a year, where a puck is available, for us or against us. Those things happen all the time. And everybody's saying why did they blow the whistle? Well, because the individual lost sight of the puck. It's all about positioning. He moved to the corner, and fortunately for us, his sight line was blocked.
"We got a break."
Said Selanne, "Yeah, it was lucky. The referee, he didn't see the puck, and makes the whistle. It was our luck."
Selanne was asked if there should be a way to review such plays, but recognized this would be almost impossible because at least some players stop when they hear the whistle.
"It's hard when the referee blows the whistle," he said. "I don't think you can go and have any other option. That's the tough part. ...
"That was a good break for us. It's tough. The refereeing in this league is not easy. Everything happens so quickly and you have to react.
It was a tough break for Detroit, but you know, you have to move on."
Today's chapter of the four-day epic begins at a Starbucks within sight of the Honda Center, where the Ducks are holding an 11:30 a.m. practice. The Red Wings follow at 2 p.m., but by then I'll be on my way to Staples Center, where I'll post a report on the Ducks and grab my spot in the pressroom for Game 2 of the Lakers-Rockets series.
Early arrival is clearly a good idea at Staples. Every seat in the workroom was filled well before Game 1 -- which has at least a little bit to do with the Chinese media contingent. I counted 22 credentials for members of the Chinese media on the Game 1 seating chart, which to Western eyes certainly seems a tad excessive. I mean, think about it: The Dodgers now have one full-time beat reporter (two if you include mlb.com's Ken Gurnick) -- and one very tall guy from China has 22 beat reporters. Maybe I should start working on my Mandarin.
Anyway, blog plans for today are for a Ducks report, a Lakers pregame report and a Lakers postgame report. Plus, of course, the Lakers game column for Thursday's paper.
I'm keeping a word count on just how much I write in this stretch. I'll share it with you at the finish. Let's just say the number is already a bit daunting.
Not surprisingly, a lot of the postgame talk after the Ducks beat Detroit 2-1 on Tuesday night was about the goal that wasn't -- a potential tying goal by Marion Hossa late in the game (with 1:04 left by my memory, 1:09 remaining according to the AP story) that was disallowed because referee Brad Watson lost sight of the puck and blew the whistle, thinking it was under Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller. It wasn't, and Hossa knocked the loose puck in, to no avail.
Not surprisingly, the Red Wings were not happy, while the Ducks basically shrugged and said, that's the way it goes.
"We should be playing obviously right now," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "Two teams scored twice tonight, but it just didn't work out that way.
"There's no sense in complaining about the refereeing or anything like that. I think we should have started better."
Said Red Wings forward Dan Cleary, "Early whistle, maybe. In a situation like that, you have to make sure the puck is covered at least."
Which it wasn't, as noted by Henrik Zetterberg, who scored the lone Detroit goal.
"The puck wasn't covered and it was just sliding under him. It was lying on the far post for awhile. Unfortunately, he didn't see that and he blew the whistle."
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said it was something he'd seen before.
"You have to remember that the official has the ability, if he thinks he should have blown the whistle, the play is dead," said Carlyle. "He lost sight of the puck and he blew the whistle. He thought the puck was dead underneath the goalie and blew the whistle. ...
"We've been the victim of that numerous times this year, where the puck seems to be alive, we've made the play on the puck and he blows the whistle and says, 'Well, I lost sight of the puck.' "
To the Ducks, there was no disputing what had happened, though everyone seemed to recognize a bit of good fortune.
"It was lucky for us," said Hiller, who made 45 saves, "but I always say you have to fight to be lucky and everybody in here fought hard tonight. I was looking at the referee behind and he waived it off right away."
Todd Marchant said Watson "blatantly blew the whistle before it went in. The referee was right there, right behind the net. If he couldn't see it, he's got to blow the whistle. That's his job.
"I'm sure they aren't happy about it."
Wisniewski update: Anaheim defenseman James Winsniewski was taken off the ice on a stretcher after taking a shot to the chest in the second period. A statement from the Ducks reported tests at the UCI Medical Center diagnosed a lung contusion, and that Wisniewski would be held overnight as a precautionary measure.
"He took a pretty good elbow after the fact, too," said Carlyle. "I'd like to mention that. ... The shot to the upper chest was enough, but when you're huddled over and someone gives you a good, stiff elbow to the chin, it's a little bit surprising."
A few odds and ends from Lakers practice that didn't make it into the story for Wednesday's paper.
-- The affable Derek Fisher almost became testy when asked about what the Lakers had to do to prove their toughness, giving the reporter who asked a rather steely look.
"We don't have to answer questions about toughness," Fisher responded. "We have to win games. You can continue to question that all you want to, but it doesn't seem to come out until we lose.
"The 65 times we won, it was not as big a deal, but the 17 times we lost, it was a big deal. And now, obviously, losing Game 1 on your home court, all those same questions start to come back up. But the way you silence that is to win games and win a series, and that's what we intend to do."
Fisher was also asked if he could envision the Rockets playing any better than they did in winning 100-92 on Monday.
"If we allow them to play better, they're capable of it," he said. "I don't think either team played perfect basketball. There are some things we'll have to do much better to win tomorrow's basketball game.
"But with the Rockets, the reason why they've been successful is they're going to come play hard every night, they're going to play good half-court defense and they're going to execute offensively, get the ball into Yao Ming. So those consistencies have allowed them to really build some momentum as a team, and we have to take some of those things away."
-- Andrew Bynum said he felt his knee was at "85, 90 percent" of normal, but felt he could still be effective at that level.
"I can try to get down (court) first, get some early court position, and make Yao run," he said, and admitted his limited action to date "is hurting the team, and it's something we're going to have to deal with."
-- While some other players seemed offended, or at least bemused, by the reaction to the Lakers' loss, Lamar Odom understood.
"It's news, because we expect to win," he said. "You probably expect us to win, or especially play at a high level, and we didn't last night."
To play at that higher level, he said, the team would have to "move the basketball. Hit the offensive glass, take care of the basketball, make them work a little harder offensively. Our defense has to work a little bit harder, has to play with a little bit more energy."
-- Pau Gasol admitted that he, like most Lakers fans, kept waiting for the decisive scoring run the team usually rides to a victory:
"We were kind of waiting for it, right? We were all kind of expecting to put three or four stops together, get three or four good offensive possessions together and open the game up a little bit in our favor, take advantage of the crowd and our home court. We couldn't seem to do it. We put a couple things together defensively, then we couldn't convert offensively, and vise versa. It was a little bit frustrating at times. We competed, we just weren't sharp."
-- And Phil Jackson, asked if Monday's outcome was more because of the Lakers' shooting or the Rockets' defense, chose neither.
"You know, it might have been our attitude," he said. "We came unfocused. In a game like that, there's like two or three possessions that are critical in a ballgame. Things turn on a trifle as we say in sports, and there were a couple things out there that kind of changed the dimension of the game."
And what were those?
"Well, I'm not going to reiterate them," he said. "I think that's your job. You guys can do that for us."
Day Two of the Four Full Days extravaganza begins -- at least from a writing standpoint -- at a Coffee Bean in El Segundo, a couple of blocks from the Lakers' practice facility. Media members have been told to be at the facility by noon, which usually means we'll get to sit in a tiny holding room (cell?) for about an hour before actually being allowed in to talk to players at the end of practice. (Supposedly, there's an NBA rule requiring the media to be admitted for the last 30 minutes of practice. Hah. I doubt you'd see 30 minutes total at Lakers practices over the course of an entire season).
Anyway, from there it will be down to Anaheim for Ducks-Red Wings Game 3. Before that starts at 7:40 -- setting up another challenging night of writing on deadline -- I'll be writing and filing a Lakers practice story for Wednesday's paper (and probably filing some additional material on the blog) and writing a just-in-case column for the Ducks game, the just-in-case being for the eventuality of a multiple-overtime game that blows past the paper's deadlines. In that case, that column would run in the paper, and anything from after the game will just be on the blog.
Also in the just-in-case department, there's an overnight bag in the car tonight. If the game runs long -- or if I just feel particularly tired -- I may get a motel room tonight in Anaheim, rather than driving home and turning right around and coming back for the Ducks' Wednesday morning practice.
The harshest critics of the Lakers' play Monday night?
In his opening remarks after his team's 100-92 loss to Houston in the opening game of their second-round playoff series, coach Phil Jackson downplayed the significance of the loss -- although Game 1 winners advance 79 percent of the time in best-of-seven series -- while taking a positive look toward Wednesday's Game 2.
"That was no surprise to us, to me at least, the outcome of the game," said Jackson. "But it's not as bad as it seems. We're OK. We feel confident we'll come back and give a good effort on Wednesday."
And the reason for that confidence?
"I don't know if we can play much worse, to be honest with you," he said.
Jackson was not alone in that view.
"It's tough to play worse than that," said Pau Gasol. "We didn't play (like) ourselves. We didn't play the way we usually play -- the way we move the ball, the way we communicate on defense, and that's why they had so many open jumpers and penetration.
"I think we can play a lot better than that. Let's put it that way."
It was, noted Jackson, bad right from the start. At one point, the Lakers were shooting 27 percent in the first quarter. They finished the period 8 of 24, 33 percent. It wasn't just the misses, it was the kind of shots.
"I didn't like the start of the game at all," said Jackson. " I didn't like our poise or control. I didn't like the way we tried to execute our offense, or not execute our offense. Those are things we have to do a better job."
The Lakers shot just 11.1 percent (2 of 18) on 3-pointers, just 63.2 percent at the free throw line, and 44.3 percent (39 of 88) overall, so the room for offensive improvement is obvious.
"We're going to have to work at what we do and get some things accomplished," said Jackson. "But 2 for 18 from the 3-point line -- we've shot it very well, and those are uncontested. It's not like we had people running at us with hands in the face. So those are things we'll do better job at. And we'll do better on the little things, the slip-ups in the transition game that we didn't do well tonight."
Said Gasol, "This is a (Houston) team that takes away the first and second option of every play you have out there, and you've just got to move the ball. You've got to do that."
If the offense was ugly, the defense was what bothered Kobe Bryant most.
"We just blew some defensive assignments in key moments," said Bryant. "We'd make a run, cut it to one, and then you miss a rotation here or there and give up a basket (on) good looks. That's something we can't do. When you make a run, you've got to make at least contested shots. So that's something we've got to correct."
Bryant, too, downplayed the 1-0 series deficit.
"It is one game. Everybody is disappointed that we lost, and so are we, but there is nothing much we can do about it now. We are a good road team; we believe that we can win anywhere. We just have to bounce back Wednesday and go from there."
Other postgame remarks:
Lakers forward Lamar Odom:
"If you miss, you miss, but when you do miss, you have to get better offensively. This is a game where we have to be a little tougher defensively to keep those guys out of the game."
Lakers center Andrew Bynum:
"It had a lot to do with the refs, but I also think we had too much time off and we kind of got out of sync. Tomorrow's practice is one we'll attack and work a lot on execution and defensive schemes."
Lakers guard Shannon Brown:
"Some of the time we didn't execute our defensive assignments right, and they took advantage. Yao stretched the floor a little bit. He stepped out and knocked down the open shot. We just have to tighten up.
"It's definitely a wakeup call. You never want to lose in the first game of the series, but we'll be fine."
Rockets coach Rick Adelman:
"We thought we could play well. We talked about it. We saw four games of what happened (in the regular season). We knew Kobe was going to turn it up. We knew everything.
"I've got to give Aaron Brooks a lot of credit. He came in and I told him at the start of the third, the first time out in the third, quarter, that he's got to get more aggressive. He's got to make things happen for us. And he did."
Rockets center Yao Ming, on his fourth-quarter knee injury and the overall performance:
"My knee feels fine. Thanks for asking. There's no need to worry about it. I just need to put ice on it.
"Tonight, I think my team had a great night. Everybody came out with a very active attitude. I think Ron Artest and Shane Battier did a great job on guarding Kobe. Everybody played very unselfish and I think Aaron Brooks in the second half made a big turn for us against their guards. I think that's one of the best games he's had."
Rockets forward Shane Battier, on the defense against Bryant:
"We did a great job of team defense tonight. Every time he came up with a pick-and-roll, we had a guy there to make him think about passing the ball. He still scored 32 points, so there is room for improvement."
Rockets guard Brent Barry:
"Every game we played against the Lakers this year, we struggled in the fourth quarter to get some things done, and we know that is a point of emphasis for us. We understand that's a point of strength for them, so it's up to us to be better in the fourth quarter."
There was no argument from the voters, and not much from the Lakers, about the NBA's MVP award.
LeBron James was the runaway winner of the award on Monday, receiving 109 of a possible 121 first-place votes and 1,172 points. Kobe Bryant had two first-place votes and was second (692 points), followed by Dwyane Wade (seven first-place votes, 680 points).
"I certainly think LeBron deserved it this year," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said in his pregame press conference Monday. "Maybe not by the landslide that he had, but he certainly had a terrific season, and so did Cleveland."
Was finishing with the best overall record the difference for James and the Cavs?
"I think there's a lot of sentiment toward that," said Jackson. "Somewhere I felt that shift, toward the end of March and the beginning of April, where they ran off 12 games in a row or something like that, a little winning streak that kind of separated us from them. Not much, but enough."
Lamar Odom felt the lack of the best record hurt Bryant.
"We think about some games that we let slip away," said Odom. "We'd like to have the best record, and I think that probably would have given Kobe a better opportunity to win it.
"But every year since I've been on the Lakers, Kobe has had an MVP-caliber kind of season."
Odom was asked if he thought Bryant would be happy to trade the MVP award for the championship trophy.
"LeBron would, and he just won it," Odom responded. "Anybody (would) that has never won the championship."
Jackson was thinking in similar terms: "The real trophy is winning the championship, and that's what this is all about."
Kobe yes, Luke no: Jackson said Bryant, who missed Sunday's practice with a sore throat, was ready for Monday's series opener with Houston.
"I think he's doing fine," Jackson said. "I would doubt he's 100 percent after not coming to practice, but he says he's OK."
Luke Walton, meanwhile, was not on the active roster for Monday's game, still recovering from a torn ligament in his left ankle suffered in Game 4 of the Utah series.
"I think he's close," said Jackson, "but not quite there."
Big guys: With Walton out, DJ Mbenga remained on the active roster and figures to see action.
"We actually are going to dress three centers," said Jackson, referring also to Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, "and we think all three of them can perform against Yao in different ways."
Hopefully, he said, they can do that without too much defensive help.
"I think throwing too many bodies at him, we're going to free up 3-point shooters," Jackson said. "... They are going to get some 3-point shots anyway, but we certainly don't want them to have easy looks.
"So we're going to limit how many times we double-team or trap him."
The Ducks' primary focus Monday? Getting over Sunday.
And there was plenty to get over, what with the three-overtime win at Detroit, followed by flight home. So it's not surprising that the Ducks kept it light in a physical sense Monday, holding a 12:30 p.m. team meeting, followed by an optional skate.
"I just think they're tired right now," Coach Randy Carlyle said of his players. "It's taxing on the body, mentally and physically.
"The most important thing for the players, the athletes, is to make sure they have the proper nutrition and get as much rest as possible and eat proper foods here today, and then get the proper sleep and make sure we take all the necessary steps to prepare for tomorrow, because it's a very, very huge hockey game for our team and the Detroit Red Wings."
Todd Marchant, who scored the winning goal early in the third overtime, knew which part of the physical/mental equation was tougher.
"Physically, I didn't feel like I was that tired," he said. "Mentally is where you get taxed. You keep saying to yourself, 'It could be this next shift. It could be the one after that. That could be the difference.'
"We just tried to focus on one shift at a time, and whoever was going to go over those boards is going to go out and give it their best effort. Some guys played more than others, obviously, but we relied on everybody. We needed a contribution from everybody on that bench."
With that in mind, he said, the recover day was "huge.
"We talk about it all the time -- rest and nutrition are as important a part of the game as going out on the ice. Today's a day we all come in here -- some guys go on the ice, but it's all about preparing yourself for tomorrow's game. And we know that they're going to be prepared, and we're focused on what we have to do to be successful."
Ryan Getzlaf, who logged an amazing 35:46 of ice time -- more in keeping with a defenseman than a forward -- was another of the many players who did not go on the Honda Center ice Monday.
"Everybody's different," he said. "Some guys go and ride the bike and just stretch and all that stuff. Personally, I do a little of both, actually. I ride the bike and stuff, and we're going to stretch and make sure we're hydrated."
Goalie Jonas Hiller, who made 59 saves in the longest game of his career, felt he'd have no problem in bouncing back.
"Obviously, I've got stuff that I do, like when I play two games in three days," said Hiller. "So I eat well, I drink a lot, and have proper nutrition and everything. I think we did a pretty good job already last night, so I felt pretty good today, and my weight was still there, so I think I'm on the right track."
While he'd never played in a game remotely as long -- in the Swiss League, where he played before coming to Anaheim, playoff games are decided by shootouts after one overtime period -- he didn't feel he was totally in uncharted territory.
"I have some experience, too, so I know how my body's going to react," he said. "For example, we played Spengler Cup" -- a prestigious Swiss tournament -- "where you play like four games in five days. That's even tougher. So I know how I get my body back and my mind back."
And he didn't expect Tuesday's game to be any tougher than any other.
"They played as long as we did, and it's sure easier if you come out of such a game with a win," Hiller said. "But I think everybody's going to be ready tomorrow from the first second."
The message: Carlyle was asked what he told the team going into the third period, and if he'd done anything special in determining if any players were particularly worn down by the marathon.
"What we do is, we basically go in there and just say, hey, we're looking for a hero," he said. "There's a chance in here -- we've got 18 people or 19 people or 20 people that have a chance to be a hero. And a hero might mean blocking a shot. It might be taking a check to make a play. It might be assisting on a goal. It might be driving the middle lane.
"The heroes are not always the guy that puts the puck in the net. It's just as important to prevent a goal as it is to score one in this situation.
"Stay patient, don't go outside the structure, don't play the game on your backhand, make strong plays. That's basically the message, for all three intermissions were the same."
The game, however, tends to change a bit, noted Marchant.
"Well, I think there's little things that you have be aware of," he said. "You have to take shorter shifts. I think once you saw it get later and later, guys were taking one rush up the ice, one rush back and then changing. You don't want to get caught out there too long.
You want to make the right play, the simple play. Don't get too crazy with the puck. And both teams were able to do that. They generated a lot of shots on net, but we generated our chances, too."
And ultimately, the Ducks were very satisfied with the result.
"This is the playoffs," said Marchant. "This is why we play the game. (NBC broadcaster) Darren Pang asked me, 'Are you guys tired?' I'm like, 'Heck no.' Chris Osgood (Detroit's goalie) said it the best: It was a fun game to play. It was.
"You ask anybody in this dressing room. We enjoyed playing that game. Tired as we were, that's what you live for. That's what you train so hard for. So it was a pleasure to be in that game."
These are going to be four full days.
With the Lakers and Ducks both home for playoff games -- the Lakers playing tonight and Wednesday in Games 1 and 2 of their second-round series with Houston, and the Ducks going Tuesday and Thursday in Games 3 and 4 of their second-round series with Detroit -- I'm going to be bouncing between the two series every day. Today, I was in Anaheim for the Ducks' 12:30 p.m. media availability (a few notes from that will follow); now I'm at Staples Center, having just finished transcribing about a half-hour of audio tape from that session, and awaiting the start of Lakers-Rockets.
This will be a tough write because it will start about 7:50 p.m., probably end about 10:20 p.m., and my column will be due at 10:45. Normally, I have a first-edition deadline of 10:30 and a final deadline about an hour later, but with a single edition on Monday, I get only one shot, and am pretty much caught in no-man's land in terms of getting post-game comments; no one is available until about 15 minutes after the game, so I can either get something, come back to the media room and finish the column -- sacrificing all other post game comments -- or go without comments and get some material to follow-up on line. Probably, I'll go with the second option.
Tomorrow, it will be Lakers practice and the Ducks game; Wednesday, Ducks practice and the Lakers game, and Thursday, Lakers practice (assuming they practice before flying to Houston, which is likely) and the Ducks game.
I'm going to try to post blog entries at least a couple of times a day throughout the process, so check back frequently between now and Thursday.
He has covered the last four Olympics, as well as the World Series, NBA Finals, Stanley Cup Finals, NCAA Final Four and a wide variety of other events.