Kobe Bryant did the heavy lifting for the Lakers on Tuesday night in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals, and it took a physical toll on him.
Bryant is up to the challenge of delivering for his team, of scoring 40 points, playing 43 minutes and defending players as he did against the Denver Nuggets in leading the Lakers to a win in the best-of-seven series that resumes tonight at Staples Center.
But the burden of carrying the Lakers has to be shared by their trio of big men of Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom, and not only by Bryant.
Denver's threesome of Nene, Kenyon Martin and Chris Andersen made a stand in the first game, outscoring their Lakers' counterparts and digging in on defense.
"Their bigs just did a phenomenal job defensively of beating guys to spots," a weary Bryant said after practice Wednesday. "But we'll be ready to go. Pau is a great player down there in the mid-post-up area. So it's something that we'll take advantage of and try to put their bigs in jeopardy."
The Lakers' big men were supposed to have an advantage.
But Denver's frontcourt beat the Lakers frequently in transition and got baskets off penetration, which helped Nene, Martin and Andersen outscore Bynum, Gasol and Odom, 37-26.
The Lakers' trio outrebounded their foes, 28-18. But the idea is to at least match the energy, effort and production of the Denver threesome.
"Not just match it, but hopefully dominate it if we can," said Gasol, who had 14 rebounds, six offensive, but only nine shot attempts in 42 minutes. "We've got to be ambitious. You can't just settle for trying to match somebody.
"If you want to be a better team, a better player, you have to overplay and outplay the other guys. That's our objective."
The Lakers hope to take advantage of 7-footers Gasol and Bynum and 6-10 Odom over the 6-10 Nene, 6-9 Martin, who will play despite a broken ring finger on his left hand, and 6-10 Andersen.
It will also help the Lakers if Bynum can stay out of foul trouble.
"He's got to be a power player in there, he's got to be a big guy that makes them feel small, use his size against them," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
"But Pau and Lamar can be active enough to do things out on the floor that change the game up because they can play away from the basket and they can pass the ball, dribble the ball and handle it. . . .
"We just have to be much more mobile and active."
No matter what, Bryant will be involved in all facets of the game.
In Game 1 he took turns defending Denver point guard Chauncey Billups, shooting guard J.R. Smith (who has a strained right calf muscle) and Carmelo Anthony.
In the process, Bryant's finger on his right hand popped out, forcing him to wear a splint after the game, and it was sore at practice Wednesday.
But if the Lakers need an offensive outburst from him or need him to become a defensive stopper, Bryant says he is up to the task.
"That's my job," Bryant said. "I don't worry about that at all. I'm prepared to do it. That's what you're supposed to do. Basketball players are supposed to play both ends of the floor."
The Lakers shot only 41.1% from the field in Game 1, so Jackson said his team had to rely on offensive rebounds: The Lakers had 17 offensive rebounds, Denver just seven.
The Nuggets are "sending an extra big guy to help defend Kobe," Jackson said. "They're stepping out on screen-and-rolls, making switches on cuts. We have to take advantage of the fact that we have some big guys in there that can use their height and find a way to get the ball."
Times staff writer Mike Bresnahan contributed to this story.