After a Christmas Day game to forget, the Lakers met again Monday amid claims of an added feistiness at practice, the need to move the ball more often and, in Ron Artest's case, a desire for more playing time.
The Lakers are a mess, last week serving as their worst in recent memory as lopsided losses to Milwaukee and Miami nudged the franchise off balance for the second time in a month, following a four-game losing streak that ended Dec. 3.
Kobe Bryant actually practiced Monday, a rarity for a 32-year-old who hadn't scrimmaged more than a handful of times this season. He didn't talk about it afterward with reporters, letting his words after the Miami debacle continue to speak for themselves as the Lakers headed into tricky back-to-back games in San Antonio and New Orleans.
"I didn't hear anything verbal" at practice, Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "He just went out and played hard."
The practice was closed to media members, but Jackson said his players "got feisty with each other. That's good. Competitive."
Artest had a couple of small scratches under his right eye, presumably acquired during the previous two hours, but said he didn't remember how he got them. He did, however, suggest that he should get more playing time after a fourth consecutive game under 24 minutes.
He had eight points in 21 minutes against Miami on Saturday and did not appreciate sitting out the fourth quarter. He is averaging only 7.6 points, sixth on the team, and shooting a ragged 39%.
"From an offensive standpoint, I was going pretty well, almost having a semi-breakout game," he said. "I felt good in the last couple games. It's just unfortunate I'm not able to work my way off the bench at crucial times. I've just got to continue to work out like I do, stay sharp."
The Lakers (21-9) are the opposite of sharp, their record puffed up by having played only six games against teams with winning records. They are 2-4 against such teams but get another chance to prove themselves Tuesday in San Antonio after flopping against Miami.
"We've been through this before," Jackson said. "Three out of the last four Christmases have been kind of bummers for us."
The Lakers appeared to be on solid footing after going 5-1 on a trip against weaker competition, but then they scored 79 points against Milwaukee and 80 against Miami.
Jackson blamed it on lack of ball movement. He also wondered about the players' off-court mind-set.
"I can't put my finger on it, but there's been some distractions," he said. "We think that these guys are veterans and they should be able to handle that. Christmas is always a distracting time."
Artest bristled mildly when asked whether his championship-ring raffle after Saturday's game was a distraction in the eyes of teammates, specifically Bryant.
"I thought I played pretty well last game, considering it was a big game on Christmas and limited minutes," he said. "I'm the last one to leave the gym every day. I work extremely hard on defense."
Then there are the Spurs (26-4), who own the NBA's best record and are having a blast, pushing the pace and averaging 106.2 points a game, fourth-best in the league. "They're doing something special this year," Jackson said.
Manu Ginobili is averaging 19.5 points a game, Tony Parker a steady 17.7 points and 7.2 assists, and Richard Jefferson is having a solid bounce-back season.
Add some young talent off the bench — guards George Hill and Gary Neal, and center-forward Tiago Splitter — and it's easy to overlook that Tim Duncan is experiencing a statistical downturn, averaging only 13.6 points and 9.6 rebounds in his 14th season.
Ebanks to Bakersfield
Rookie forward Devin Ebanks was sent down to the Lakers' Development League affiliate, the Bakersfield Jam, on Monday. Ebanks averaged 2.9 points and 6.4 minutes in 12 games with the Lakers. NBA players in their first two years can be sent to the Development League three times per season.
The Lakers weren't total losers on Christmas.
Their game against Miami drew a 6.4 national TV rating, 45% higher than last year's Christmas game against Cleveland. It was ABC's highest rating for a regular-season game since the Lakers and Miami drew a 7.3 rating on Christmas 2004.