Perhaps the Los Angeles Lakers thought things couldn’t get any worse, that after being called out by Magic Johnson they were just about to turn the corner on a season that has been, to put it mildly, disappointing.
They would be wrong.
The Cleveland Cavaliers were the latest team to capitalize on the mess that is the Lakers, beating them 100-94 and stressing the patience of Kobe Bryant and Mike D’Antoni to the breaking point. Bryant, who scored 42 points and whose team is 1-10 when he scores 30 or more, replied to a reporter’s question with an answer that required such a lengthy bleep that it sounded like a test of the Emergency Broadcast System. And D’Antoni listened to one too many questions about the Lakers’ lack of defense.
Bryant called this “one of the most challenging stretches of my 17 years and the most baffling, too.” Then, because this is the Lakers and D’Antoni was chosen as coach over Phil Jackson, he was asked about now and Zen.
“I’ve been through tough situations before in the past, and I’d always blow my top and go crazy,” Bryant said. “Then I had a head coach who always kept calm and focused on the Xs and Os of things, and I learned from that. I’m trying to do the same thing here, but I won’t lie, man … [Lengthy bleeped sentence; listen here.] They’re really trying my patience with that Zen thing.”
The Lakers are 9-13, 4-8 under D’Antoni. “We have the talent and personnel to do it,” Bryant said, “but we’re not, and it’s baffling. It’s extremely frustrating. It doesn’t make any sense. We’re still finding ways to lose games.”
No less an eminence that Johnson questioned the Lakers’ dedication to defense, and a question about that from T.J. Simers of the Los Angeles Times set D’Antoni off.
“Hell, yeah, we worked on [defense] for a half hour,” he told Simers. “You’re starting to [tick] me off because you say something that isn’t factually correct. We work on defense all the time.”
Bryant offered a translation. “I’ll give the calmer response. Our defense wasn’t bad,” he said. “We talked about it [at the shoot-around] and we knew the rotations we wanted to make.”
Kyrie Irving, in his first appearance since missing 11 games with a broken finger, had 28 points and 11 assists in 39 minutes as the Cavs ended a five-game losing streak and won for only the fifth time this season.
“We have to stop the bleeding — somehow,” Dwight Howard, who had 19 points and 20 rebounds, said. “We can’t let this kill our spirits too much. This is tough on all of us right now. We want to win. We’re sick of losing. We all understand that situations like this don’t last forever.”
Over the next six, the Lakers play the Knicks on Thursday and the Wizards on Friday, followed by the 76ers, Bobcats and Warriors before a Christmas Day game against the Knicks.
“It kind of gets like that Mr. Magoo syndrome — the clouds just following you around all the time. To break that you have to be extremely determined to change momentum.”
Bryant seemed to be confusing Mr. Magoo with Bad Luck Schleprock, but, hey, he was on a roll verbally.