Bad signs for Lakers in defeat
While Kobe Bryant felt the ill effects, otherwise healthy Lakers looked to be ailing
DENVER -- Kobe Bryant was sick. And tired. And out of time and patience for anyone who couldn't play with as much guts as he upchucked over the course of a long day.
He turned a question about the return of Metta World Peace from a seven-game suspension -- which will surprisingly take place in the first round of the playoffs, after the Los Angeles Lakers failed once again to finish off the Denver Nuggets -- and turned it into an indictment of his teammates.
"He's the one guy that I can rely on night in and night out to compete and play hard and play with that sense of urgency and no fear," Bryant said of World Peace. "I'm looking forward to having that by my side again."
Cue the Onyx: "SLAM! Dah dahhh dah. Dah dahhh dah."
His teammates won't like it, but there's no other way to put it in the wake of Denver's 113-96 victory in Game 6. Not after Bryant spent the day vomiting so much, he said, "my room resembled a scene from 'The Exorcist'" -- yet still managed to shoot 13-for-23 (57 percent), while the rest of the team shot 22-for-60 (37 percent). Not when the Lakers' big men either didn't defend the pick-and-roll (Bynum) or didn't rebound (Gasol) or didn't keep pace with Denver's bigs running down the court (both of them). Not when the perimeter players missed 10 out of 14 3-pointers.
This was Denver's game from the outset, and it was all the Lakers could do to make it close for a while. Bynum missed three shots at close range, Lawson drained a 3-pointer at the other end and the Nuggets put 13 on the board before the Lakers scored.
"They blitzkrieged us at the start of the game," Bryant said.
I didn't know "blitzkrieg" could be used as a verb, but it sounds about right for this one.
"They just continued to push and push and push," Gasol said.
Gasol didn't push back. He made only one of 10 shots, grabbed only three rebounds, picked up only one assist. Bynum got 16 rebounds but not much else.
All of a sudden this series is no longer about wondering what the Nuggets can do to counter the Lakers. It's about what the Nuggets are doing and whether the Lakers are going to find a way to stop it.
"They're playing much more aggressive, much more dare-you type of defense, and we're not responding," Bynum said after another lethargic-looking night.
His solution: "Everybody on the team has to go out and not allow their guy to score."
If that's not exactly feasible, it's the mindset the Lakers need to adopt. Denver is looking like the top-scoring team in the league again, with 215 points in the past two games.
The Lakers' Mike Brown is as patient and thorough at explaining the game as any coach in the league.
"Their bigs in transition are just beating our bigs down the floor," Brown said. "They've been getting beat down the floor, so our guards are helping out with their bigs at the rim "
That's leading to open shots for the guards, which is pulling the Lakers' defense away from the basket, and on and on.
Instead of explaining it, Brown needs to find a way to counter it.
The Lakers need to get the Gasol-to-Bynum interior passing going again. Sessions has to create for others. Matt Barnes can't settle for jump shots that aren't falling.
Most of all, Bryant called on his teammates to show the type of willpower that dragged him out of the sickbed and his bout with gastroenteritis to get 31 points.
"You have to emotionally put yourself with your back against the wall," Bryant said. "And kind of trick yourself, so to speak, to feel that there's no other option but to perform, but to battle. When you put yourself in that mindset, then your performance shines through. It doesn't matter what the defense does, it doesn't matter if you get fouled. It doesn't matter."
Bryant issued one warning after Game 5, when he went off for 14 fourth-quarter points and it wasn't enough to get the W. Kobe showed he could still put on scoring displays with the best of them. He also warned, "That's not something we can rely on to get us a championship."
It's not the getting pushed to the brink in the first round that set him off. That happened in the Lakers' championship run in 2000. It's not the no-show in a Game 6 that's so awful. Happened against the Rockets in 2009. It's the way this is going down, reminiscent of the days when Bryant outscored the Dallas Mavericks by himself through three quarters, or put up 81 points against the Toronto Raptors.
That was also the year the Lakers blew a 3-1 lead in a series and lost to the Phoenix Suns. It was the year Kobe got so frustrated with everyone else's unwillingness to fight he stopped bothering to cross the 3-point line on offense in the second half of Game 7.
So far this year he's still swinging on his teammates.
"No," he said, when asked if they matched his heart in Game 6. "Of course they didn't."
Maybe it was therapeutic for Kobe. Cleansing, like all of the other, uh, expunging Bryant did throughout the day.
The question is whether the Lakers, like him, have gotten everything negative out of their system.