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Situation is fluid for Kobe and Lakers

The entire team appears exhausted after Saturday's tough Game 3 win over Denver, especially Kobe Bryant, who needed an IV drip. There's little time to recover, with Game 4 Monday night.

May 25, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

DENVER — There was some stat-clarifying to do, and Kobe Bryant provided it.

Did he receive one or two IV bags after Game 3?

"Just one," he said in a husky, almost drowsy voice before offering a brief smile.

It was a little more than 12 hours after the Lakers' 103-97 victory over the Denver Nuggets, and the Lakers arrived at Sunday's practice as if they were walking through a sandstorm.

They trudged off the team bus, bleary-eyed and bedraggled, but not beaten.

They are tired and fatigued and whatever other synonym fits here, but they lead Denver, 2-1, in the Western Conference finals. Game 4 is tonight in Denver.

Bryant and Pau Gasol made sure of a Game 3 victory, as did Trevor Ariza, but this series is taking a toll on both teams, really.

Bryant, who seems to work out 17 hours a day and then plays a three-hour game, rarely acknowledges being drained, but he did after his 41-point effort Saturday night, saying he hadn't had a break "in three years now," including the last few summers devoted to Team USA training camps and the Beijing Olympics.

"He seemed pretty tired," said Gasol, who also played in the Olympics. "He and myself are playing a lot of minutes. It's hard out there for so long at this level, but we're aware that it's a time where it's 'whatever it takes.' "

The mile-high altitude isn't helping, and neither is the Nuggets' aggressive disposition, but the Lakers had a very light practice Sunday, shooting free throws and watching video.

"I'm going to recharge the batteries a little bit," Bryant said from the sideline as other players shot around. "Just need to rest, get some fluids and be ready."

Gasol had 20 points and 11 rebounds in almost 43 minutes of Game 3. Bryant made 12 of 24 shots and also had six rebounds and five assists in a little more than 41 minutes.

Lakers Coach Phil Jackson noticed Bryant was lagging when his defensive assignment, Chauncey Billups, made a three-pointer with little resistance from Bryant late in the third quarter. Jackson wanted him to get more rest in the fourth quarter, but Bryant insisted on playing almost nine minutes of it.

There's a simple solution for the Lakers tonight -- more successful plays down the stretch by Gasol, who hit two midrange shots in the final minutes.

"We do have to watch our minutes," Jackson said, "But [Saturday] night, Pau was the guy that gave Kobe the break during the fourth period where he could get some things accomplished in the post and take some pressure off him being the scorer all the time."

The Lakers aren't the only ones feeling the intensity of a series in which the games have been decided by two, three and six points.

The Nuggets seemed weary Sunday despite being accustomed to the altitude.

Carmelo Anthony, like Bryant, was subdued while talking to reporters. And Kenyon Martin was even-keel at best, perking up when told that Bryant was tired.

"Well, that's a great thing, then," he said, laughing.

History will probably show that the Lakers did a smart thing by winning Saturday. When losing Game 3 after splitting the first two, they are 4-8 in best-of-seven series. When winning Game 3 after being tied 1-1, they are 17-4.

The Lakers, though, have some issues to get through before even thinking of the NBA Finals.

Ariza is hobbled by a hip pointer and a strained groin that was aggravated when he fell over Gasol on a layup attempt in Game 3. He is not expected to miss tonight's game but was moving gingerly Sunday.

The Lakers' free-throw shooting in Game 3 was horrid (31 for 45, 68.9%), causing them to have to work that much harder despite getting 14 more attempts than Denver.

And they fell down just two weeks ago in the same position against a much weaker Houston team, a 2-1 series lead turning into a best-of-three series. In fact, not long after the Lakers won Game 3 against the Nuggets, talk of their Houston flop cropped up in the locker room.

"We can't expect [Denver] to lower the bar," Gasol said. "It's going to be even tougher. It's a must-win for them, otherwise they have very low chances to beat us in the series."

Then again, it could be worse for the Lakers. How tired would they feel had they lost Game 3?

"It's definitely easier to recover when you win," Gasol said.

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Jordan rules

Jackson hates questions that involve comparisons between Bryant and Michael Jordan, but he'll occasionally reveal something about the two of them.

In fact, he was asked Sunday if Bryant's late-game success (13 fourth-quarter points, including a key three-pointer Saturday) was similar to Jordan's fourth-quarter prowess.

"There's some comparable things," he said. "Their strengths are a little bit different, but the similarities in their competitive drive are very much the same."

Earlier this season, Jackson said Jordan was the better post-up player but Bryant had a better outside shot.

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Sorry, Odom

Ariza has received plenty of praise for his late-game steals in Games 1 and 3, but Lamar Odom was the player guarding the inbounds player both times.

Odom said his main strategy was to jump up and down, using his 6-foot-10 height and long arms to distract the passer.

"Hopefully, he might throw it a little to the left, a little to the right," Odom said. "He might have to put a little bit of air behind it and hopefully that'll give your teammate enough time to get it."

Should Odom receive more attention for his role?

"Trevor deserves credit," Odom said. "He got the steal. He got the stat."

--

Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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