|ESPN.com: BlogsColumns||[Print without images]|
|The Lakers were riding high heading into South Beach. They left with their heads hung low.|
“"Phil's not really tripping off a regular-season game," Bryant said. "He never has." As far as the Heat are concerned, Bryant obviously sees them as a challenge but isn't about to shower them with praise just because they've beaten the Lakers twice this season. "They're still working out some things," Bryant said. "You can see they're still trying to figure out who's going to do what." The Lakers have long known who's going to do what for them. It begins and ends with Bryant at the end of games, for better or for worse. While the Heat are still trying to figure out whether to give the ball to LeBron James of Dwyane Wade in pressure situations, the Lakers made sure to get the ball in Bryant's hands Thursday against the Heat, and his effort fell in the "for worse" department on this night. After tying the game 88-88 with a 28-foot 3-pointer with 2:26 remaining in the game, Bryant proceeded to miss his next two attempts and lost the ball out of bounds on another possession. It was a familiar sight for the Heat's fans, who have grown accustomed to seeing their star players choke away wins this season, but it will always be unfamiliar territory for Bryant.
Phil's not really tripping off a regular-season game. He never has.” -- Kobe Bryant on Phil Jackson's understanding of the long season
"You live with it," Bryant said after the game, sitting in front of his locker. "I take it hard and I look at it and I try to do better. That's part of the responsibility. You got to take the good with the bad." Not long after making those comments and about an hour after the game had ended, Bryant was back on the floor, practicing shot after shot at the same basket he was unable to connect with at the end of the game. He was still cursing himself and the basket after misses, shooting again and again for over an hour until his shirt was drenched with sweat and he was satisfied with his efforts.
While the Lakers may have breathed new life into the Heat on Thursday, you couldn't help feeling that maybe they had breathed new life into Bryant and the Lakers as well, as Bryant went through his late-night workout until American Airlines Arena shut down.
The Lakers didn't begin the season hoping to finish the regular season on a long winning streak. They lost seven of their last 11 games last season before winning the championship. They didn't begin the season hoping to win 60-plus games. They went 57-25 last season and two years before that en route to the NBA Finals. They began the season wanting to win a championship in June; not a regular-season game in March. That's what ultimately drove Bryant back to the court long after everyone had left the arena. It wasn't so much about the game that had just ended as it was about the game he hopes to be playing here in three months. "It will be much more enjoyable coming back to Miami in the summertime," Bryant said. "If we win another one." Arash Markazi is a columnist and writer for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.