Friday, May 21, 2010
Bryant, Bynum limited at Lakers practice
By Dave McMenamin ESPNLosAngeles.com
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The Lakers returned to the floor in full force Friday after taking Thursday off since building a 2-0 lead on the Phoenix Suns in the Western Conference finals.
All 13 players practiced, but Kobe Bryant was limited to footwork drills "for activation," received therapy on his sore right knee and spent time in the weight room doing strength exercises.
"He did not do a whole lot of things on the court with us and anticipates doing some shooting tomorrow," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
Andrew Bynum, who also is rehabbing a right knee injury, arrived at the practice facility an hour and a half before the team started its group session to receive therapy on his torn lateral meniscus and was also limited in what he did once practice started.
"He did some things in the post, just individual post moves and defensive things to help him in the post," Jackson said.
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With three full days in between Game 2 and Sunday's Game 3, the Lakers are content with the trade off of putting the momentum of their eight-game winning streak on the shelf if means improving their health.
"Not at all, not at all," Bryant said when asked if he wished he didn't have to wait so long before resuming the series. "It's great to have time off."
Said Jackson: "It's impossible in this kind of schedule to expect the momentum to continue, you just have to rebuild."
Pau Gasol, who has been downright dominant in the conference finals, averaging 25 points, 6.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists and 2.0 blocks per game on 65.6 percent shooting so far, was not impressed by Friday's practice but confident the Lakers could pick it up in Saturday's practice before flying to Phoenix in the afternoon.
"[It was] a little sluggish," Gasol said. "Our legs weren't all there. ... Tomorrow we expect a much sharper practice."
Gasol said the challenge is staying sharp mentally with so much down time available to get caught up in the hype of how well the Lakers are playing right now when Jackson's teams' series record is 35-0 when they go up 2-0.
"You don't want to get too confident or too relaxed when you have an advantage," Gasol said. "You have to understand the importance of Game 3 and the importance of winning it, really. Giving yourself a chance mentally to go into it is really important, especially against as dangerous as the Phoenix Suns."
The Lakers had actually lost Game 3 in the last five series that they started off 2-0, but broke that trend in the second round in the process of sweeping the Utah Jazz.
The Suns are a better team than the Jazz, keeping the Lakers focused on improving even though they are averaging 126 points on 58 percent shooting per game in the series.
"Defend, defend, defend, defend," Lamar Odom cited as the goal for Game 3. "You can never play defense well enough."
The first thing Bryant mentioned was making sure to keep the offense flowing as well as it has been already.
"Offensive execution," Bryant said. "We want to make sure we continue to get high-percentage opportunities every time down the floor and try to minimize the amount of wasted opportunities that we have. On defense, obviously rotations and second-chance opportunities and things like that, that's something that we're concentrating on."
Gasol spoke for the team when framing just what is at stake Sunday.
"You got to understand what you're playing for here," Gasol said. "This is the Western Conference finals, we're two wins away from the NBA Finals, that's how you do it. You keep yourself from being relaxed, confident, anything. You understand every game is huge and you don't want to give them anything [in terms] of confidence or momentum, that's how you keep your head into it."
Farmar feeling it off the bench
The Lakers split two games in Phoenix during the regular season, losing by 15 on Dec. 28 when the Suns second unit outscored the Lakers' bench 52-31.
The balance in bench production has shifted in the conference finals, with the Lakers leading 80-61 through two games thanks to Odom averaging 18 points off the pine, but also because of Jordan Farmar nearly doubling his scoring, assists, steals and shooting percentage averages from the first two rounds of the playoffs to put up 10.5 points, 2.5 assists and 1.5 steals on 72.7 percent shooting from the floor against the Suns.
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"It's been big," Bryant said. "I think he's kind of the guy that gets the second unit into the flow, orchestrating the offense and kind of commanding that ship. I think in the first two games he's done a great job of that. I think our bench as a whole as done a good job. They took the criticism when all the praise was being donned on Phoenix's bench personally."
Farmar averaged just 7.2 points, 1.5 assists, 0.6 steals and shot 43.5 percent from the floor this season, his fourth year in the league and the final year of his contract.
"I think it's always about Jordan coming out and being aggressive," Jackson said, "looking for the open opportunities on the floor, being active defensively -- because he can be a disruptor if he's active -- and try and get through picks and get around these big guys as quickly as possible."
Bryant not bothered
Bryant's mortality as an elite-level basketball player was bantered about at the start of the playoffs by several media outlets after his right knee injury was making him look every one of his 31 years of age against the up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round.
But just like he said, "It's nothing personal," after he and Grant Hill went at it like Greco Roman wrestlers in Game 1, Bryant said Friday he hasn't been bothered by all the discussion about his supposed decline.
"It's assuming that something's gotten under my skin," Bryant said. "That's the assumption. It's entertaining. It's not something that has gotten under my skin, but it's something that I find funny, enjoyable. The notion that I'm old and I won't figure things out, that's the part that's really funny to me. They should know me better."
They said it
"I've seen him do it before. That's why I'm not impressed. He's one of the best players in the league, he's still underrated." -- Bryant on Gasol's improved play in the postseason.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.