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Lakers Host a Long Talk Show

Pro basketball: Two meetings are intended to take team out of downward spiral.

April 28, 1999|TIM KAWAKAMI | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Group therapy, a bonding session, anger counseling, denying the inevitable . . .

Whatever you want to call it, the Lakers immersed themselves in a prolonged, double dose of how-do-we-save-ourselves closed-door angst Tuesday, all too aware that their season is dying on the vine.

"It was time to clear things out, discuss what we were doing at the beginning of the season, what we started doing in the middle of the season, what we're doing now, at the end of the season," Kobe Bryant said. "We want to pick it back up.

"We were trying to figure out what's happening, trying to find the reason why we're spiraling downwards."

First, Derek Harper initiated a 45-minute players-only session as the Lakers readied to start practice at the Great Western Forum.

Next, Coach Kurt Rambis took them through what must have been a painful review of Monday night's 22-point loss to Houston.

Then, that film session transformed into another long meeting, this time including the coaching staff and apparently involving some passion.

Two-and-a-half hours after the scheduled time, the Lakers finally started practice.

After three consecutive losses to playoff rivals and six losses in their last eight games, the Lakers actually could lose their No. 5-playoff seeding to surging Phoenix if they don't win at least one game in the final week of the season.

Maybe the greatest feat was getting all those restless Lakers crammed into the same locker room for 145 minutes.

"Well, I think it's a requirement after five games of getting your butt torn open," forward Rick Fox said. "You have to get together and talk about something.

"But we've talked--we talk a lot. I'd like to think that we would follow up."

Harper said he didn't want to comment on the meetings, adding only, "There's nothing else to say."

Shaquille O'Neal, while pointing out that the media are writing off the Lakers, also declined comment.

But Bryant said the Lakers' recent play necessitated a reevaluation of everybody's roles.

"We've only got four games left," he said. "We didn't want to just go out and have another practice and have another film session--just kind of let things blow over or whatever.

"It was a point in time to take matters into our own hands."

For his part, Rambis said the second meeting was a healthy exchange of thoughts and frustrations, though he conceded that he has no idea if that will translate into instant karma, or even a victory Thursday over Portland, which clinched the Pacific Division title with the Lakers' loss Monday.

The Lakers went 6-6 at the start of the season, then won 10 in a row after Del Harris was fired, Rambis was installed, and Dennis Rodman was signed. Since that streak ended, they have an 11-13 mark.

"We hashed out some things as a team . . . " Rambis said.

"It was a positive meeting. I think it was an honest meeting."

After a couple of heat-of-the-moment flare-ups between Rambis and the players and among the players in recent days, what's the current mood?

"I think frustration would fairly well sum it up," Rambis said. "I think the guys feel that they are capable of playing better, of playing harder, of doing things more as a team.

"And also, these guys want to win. I don't think [losing] sets well with them. . . . I think [morale] was obviously down after the ballgame. But I think after the meeting and after the practice, I think guys are up."

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