Just a few weeks ago the Lakers looked like the clear-cut best team in the Western Conference and the second best team in the NBA behind Cleveland. How quickly the perception can change. The Lakers have played terrible down the stretch and they don’t nearly look like the same team that we saw rip off seven straight wins from March 7th – March 24th. Now, we’ve seen it before with teams, so I’m certainly not counting out the number one seed in the West, but this just doesn’t look like the same team from last year or even the beginning of this year. The Lakers are 4-6 in their last ten games, Andrew Bynum is hurt again, Ron Artest hasn’t found his niche yet in Los Angeles, and Kobe Bryant looks tired and banged up as well. If the Lakers are going to make a serious run at an NBA Championship, they need Andrew Bynum back healthy and Kobe has to be a superstar. Over the last ten games or so, that hasn’t been the case and you can see that in their record. The Lakers have the number one seed locked up, they are still supremely talented, and it’s not time to hit the panic button yet, but the defending champs are reeling and are not going into the playoffs with the kind of momentum and swagger of a champion.
Kobe Bryant joined ESPN Radio with the Scott Van Pelt Show to talk about how bad the team has been playing recently, how his game has changed as he continues to get older, whether or not he thinks he is easy to play with, and what he thinks of Kevin Durant.
On what he thinks the identity of the Lakers is heading into the playoffs:
“Underdogs. That’s what it feels like because we have been playing so inconsistently. You start hearing the rumblings and the chirping about us being beatable and teams wanting to see us in the first round and things like that. You start hearing those things and it kinda puts you into that mindset.”
On how his game has changed over the years as he gets older:
“What you have to do is you have to be honest with yourself. There’s certain things that I could do then that I can’t do now. I think once you make that level of assessment, you can still be as effective or as efficient as your team needs you to be. You just have to do it differently and I think that’s the challenge of aging or your body maturing.”
On how tough it can be to play with him for his teammates:
“For guys that play with me that enjoy hard work and that enjoy pushing themselves to raise their level of play, they’ve never had an issue with me. For guys that don’t want to do that…go the extra mile or run through that wall, we’re gonna have problems. It’s as simple as that.”
On the road that they have to go through to get to the NBA Finals:
“Last year was tough. We had a tough road getting to the finals. Houston gave us a lot of problems and Denver scared the heck out of us. This year it’s gonna be even tougher. It’s gonna be rough. I’m looking forward to it and we’re all mentally preparing ourselves for an uphill battle but we’re all looking forward to it.”
On what team fears them the most in the West:
“Man Scott in the West? The west is loaded. I think I saw somewhere where they said maybe all eight playoff teams in the west might win 50 games. (Host: I was looking at the East vs. the West and it’s bananas) It’s crazy. We’re sitting in the first slot and typically the first round might be kind of a cupcake. We’re looking at San Antonio, Oklahoma, or Portland.”
On the development of Kevin Durant:
“He’s developed into a great player already. In a hurry. He’s really developed, he’s really blossomed and he seems to have a thirst for the game to which I really like. He wants to continue to get better at it.”
Listen to Kobe Bryant on the Scott Van Pelt show on ESPN Radio here (Audio begins 8:10 into the podcast)