The Lakers needed 23 games to win the championship last season. They hope Kobe Bryant can last that long to do it again.
Bryant looked weary on offense in their playoff opener, making six of 19 shots and scoring 21 points in an 87-79 victory Sunday over Oklahoma City.
He missed 10 of his last 12 shots from the field and five of his 12 free throws. He had a first-quarter dunk that couldn't be called thunderous, his body not quite where he wanted after sitting out four of the last five games.
Bryant bristled when asked to analyze his game, saying there was "less margin for error," presumably because of a broken right index finger, sore tendon in his left ankle and swelling in his right knee.
"I feel good," he insisted.
The Lakers hope he'll shoot better Tuesday in Game 2.
"I think it's a rhythm problem more than anything else, just a lack of playing the last, what, month or so, just consistent play," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said.
Then he uttered a phrase that Lakers followers hope to be true.
"I think he'll come through."
Bryant was active on defense, part of a notable overall Lakers effort against a team that averaged 101.5 points during the regular season.
He wasn't entirely humorless after the game, cracking a joke about teammate Ron Artest's solid shadowing of Thunder forward Kevin Durant, who made seven of 24 shots.
"I had a pretty easy time with Ron last year in the playoffs," Bryant said, smiling and then saying off to the side. "He's going to love that one."
Durant vs. Jackson
There was no discernible effect from Jackson's remark last week that referees treat Durant like a superstar, a comment that brought a $35,000 fine from the NBA.
Durant made nine of 11 free throws Sunday. He averaged 10.2 attempts from the line in the regular season.
"We tried to keep our arms out of there so he couldn't get the reach-in fouls that send him to the line," Jackson said. "He still got there 11 times, which is incredible."
How fast? Fast
Oklahoma City guard Russell Westbrook gained Bryant's admiration after emerging from a slow start to finish with 23 points and eight assists.
"They all run like deers," Bryant said. "If they get a step on us I'm not catching Westbrook. You've got to have a couple steps on him."
That time again
As is his custom when the playoffs begin, Jackson is wearing the championship ring of the Lakers' most recent title run, this time the large Staples Center-shaped ring they earned last season.
"I've been wearing 2002 for too many years," Jackson said. "I have a replacement this year. It's a very difficult ring to wear. It's a beautiful thing, but no clapping the hands, and watch [out] shaking hands with people, particularly ones that want to squeeze your hands really hard."