- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant had a thousand-yard stare late Thursday night while talking to the media, as if this whole Los Angeles Lakers season had finally just hit like a sack of bricks across the face.
That's what a true reality check will do to you.
Bryant, the same guy who is either so optimistic or more likely so stubborn that he truly believed the Lakers would become the first team ever to rally from a 3-0 deficit and win a seven-game playoff series in the last postseason of Phil Jackson's career, sounded like someone fully aware of the predicament he was in.
"It's not a good feeling at all," Bryant said, the shame of a 125-101 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers hanging over him. "Once things got difficult, we need to step up and meet that challenge. I'm not very happy right now, and hopefully my teammates feel the same way."
The problem is, Bryant seemed to know before those words even left his mouth that his teammates' minds weren't in the same head space as his, as he tries desperately to turn this season around.
"After we lose by 20 or 30 points, we definitely can't be laughing and joking around with a team that just kicked your ass, that's for sure," Bryant said.
He wasn't naming names, and as frustrating as it must be to see a teammate cracking up with an opponent after getting your doors blown in, it deserves mentioning that Bryant met with former teammates, and current Clippers, Ronny Turiaf and Matt Barnes in the training room after the game.
So it's not the Lakers' relationships with the Clippers that matter; it's the relationships with their teammates that will decide whether they can somehow turn around their 25-29 season with 28 games left to play after the All-Star break.
"Just focus on how bad you want it and how important this is," Bryant said when asked what he wants his teammates to think about over their five-day break before they start back up against the Boston Celtics on Wednesday.
Bryant wasn't the only one trying to impart a message before the break. "Recharge your battery ... Come back ready to play" was written on the whiteboard in the locker room after the game. The message was in all caps. With five exclamation points following it. Maybe things need to be screamed at this point.
Thursday was another example of the Lakers failing to meet a goal they set out in front of them. After going a pedestrian 4-3 on their seven-game Grammy trip, all the Lakers' players and coaches spouted about how they needed to go 2-0 in their final two games at home before the break to feel good about themselves.
They went 1-1, barely beating Phoenix in one of their ugliest wins of the season and then falling behind 15-0 against the Clippers in a game that was basically over before it started.
It was reminiscent of the stretch earlier this season when the Lakers were about to play five straight games against Western Conference opponents ahead of them in the standings and talked about how big it would be for them to establish themselves. They went 0-5.
Then there's the other goal they've set of winning three out of every four games the rest of the way.
Even with their recent improved play since their air-it-out meeting in Memphis, they've gone 8-4, meaning they've won just two out of every three.
"You just keep going forward; there's no secret," Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said when asked about how his team can digest failing to meet goal after goal. "Everybody knows what's at stake."
What's at stake after the All-Star break is becoming one of the biggest disappointments in pro sports history if the Lakers fail to meet their final goal of making the playoffs.
"We have to be stubborn to find the ways that we're successful and stick to it," Steve Nash said, hopeful, pointing out like D'Antoni did that L.A. has games against the Utahs and Houstons of the world to try to gain ground in the second half.
Nash, who has played in the league 17 seasons, was asked whether he ever has been on a team that was able to take the All-Star break to totally change things around.
"Not with this much talent and not with this much lack of chemistry," said Nash, who had his own personal reality check weeks ago when he suggested that the Lakers just might not be able to get it done this year.
The assumed notion of when the Lakers will turn it around is out the window just like all those failed goals along the way. It's now a question of if.
"If it's important to us, we'll show up ready to play," Bryant said of what lies ahead.
If it wasn't important enough to them already, that says enough.
The reality of a failed season is starting to hit the Lakers fast.