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Wednesday, March 10, 2010
A bittersweet game winner

By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com

LOS ANGELES -- "None."

That was Kobe Bryant's assessment of the improvements the Los Angeles Lakers made after he hit his seventh game-winner of the season, evading two Raptors' bodies and four Raptors' arms when he tossed in a 17-foot fadeaway jumper from the baseline with 1.9 seconds left.

Even though Los Angeles will spend Tuesday night resting in the win column for the first time within a week, they don't feel like winners.

"I'm throwing this [expletive] in the garbage," Bryant said. "Our defense in Orlando was much better. The effort we had in Orlando will make it tough for teams to beat us four times in a series. This thing tonight was garbage."

At Monday's practice, Bryant was asked if it was a good thing that a call didn't go their way in Miami and his last-second shot against the Magic missed because a 2-1 road trip wouldn't have made the Lakers reassess their situation like an 0-3 one would.

"It's been happening a lot," Bryant said about his team winning when playing poorly and being able to gloss over the problems lying under the surface." A lot of the game winners I hit have done that."

This one didn't.

There was no glossing over at Lamar Odom's locker after the game. Just glaring. Odom was so boiled up in frustration he didn't face reporters as he spoke, staring instead staring at the sneakers in his cubicle. At one point, he picked up an empty water bottle and threw it.

Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant hit his seventh game-winner of the season to finish off the Raptors, but the performance leading up to it was less than perfect.
"We got so much power here, offensively, but [let's] win an ugly game 84-79," Odom said, deciding to key in on the Lakers' defensive woes. "They don't deserve to score 100 points on us.

"A lot of these teams we need to hit first, and keep hitting. ... There's leverage that we're not supposed to be giving, there's ground that we're not supposed to be giving these teams."

Odom wasn't finished.

"What's crazy about it is that it's giving these teams like a quiet confidence where they think they can beat us and they start talking and carrying on and getting extra animated, even when they come here," Odom said, with dried blood caked under his thumb nail as he moved his hands around for emphasis. "I don't expect that. It's like the respect level [isn't there]. It seems like we got to take it to teams. [They're] way too confident against us."

He made a promise that teams trying to disrespect the Lakers will be finished, however.

"That [expletive] that Matt Barnes pulled," Odom said, "That ain't never going to happen again."

The three-game losing streak exposed just how much had been going wrong for the best team in the West. Or just how much had not been going exactly right.

On the offensive side, there were too many turnovers, slow ball movement, Bryant taking a disproportionate amount of shots and the rest of the team plain, ol' not making shots. On defense, they were too slow to close out on 3-point shooters, allowing too much penetration off the screen-roll, giving up too many points in the paint and making too many fouls to give teams free points at the line. Not to mention an overall lack of focus, urgency and execution on both ends.

That's too many issues to expect the Lakers to remedy after just one game. They accomplished cutting down on turnovers (they had only nine on Tuesday), picking up the energy (they had all seven of their steals in the second half) and finding some balance (Bryant led the team with 32 points, but three other players were in double figures) on Tuesday.

But all of a sudden there were new deficiencies creeping up on their home court. They gave up 14 fast-break points in the first half. They stopped feeding Andrew Bynum the ball in the fourth quarter when he was having an 8-for-12 shooting night. They made bad decisions against Toronto's zone defense.

Right now they're a little like the sailor plugging up leaks in the hull of a ship, yet the sailor doesn't have enough fingers to fill all the holes at once.

They're not a confident bunch, Gasol admitted as much at Monday's practice. But if they start concentrating on playing the way they're capable of playing one facet of the game at a time that list of problems will be pared down and their confidence will kick in. You're never going to be perfect, but if you're riddled with defections there's no use in even trying to get there.

"You don't need a lot of games or a certain amount of games to be the team that you need to be," Derek Fisher said. "Sometimes it just takes one game or one quarter or one play. Tex [Winter] used to have a saying when he was around, that 'Everything turns on a trifle.' That's how quickly things can turn."

Which is about as quickly as it takes for Bryant to launch a game winner. He's now 7-for-10 on his hero heaves this season if you count the make he had in Dallas, which wasn't a traditional game winner because it didn't occur in the game's final five seconds, but it did put the Lakers ahead for good, breaking a tie with 28.9 seconds left in the fourth.

Kobe's shooting percentage in the last 10 seconds (since 2000-01) of a game or overtime in which a made shot would have resulted in a win is 28.7 (25 of 87), according to the Elias Stats Bureau. If he kept his average this season, Bryant would have made only three of his 10 attempts. Then the Lakers are suddenly a game behind the Mavericks for the best record in the West.

Bryant's bailed them out of games, but it's going to take the whole team to save the season.

Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.