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T.J. SIMERS

Well, that was 'fun' for Kobe and the Lakers

Kobe Bryant starts laughing and, from the looks of the scoreboard, all appears well with the Lakers in a 103-88 victory at New Orleans

December 29, 2010|T.J. Simers

From New Orleans — I caught Kobe laughing on the court with Luke Walton and former teammate Trevor Ariza before the game.

He remained that way when the game started, calm and in control of himself. At one point he even looked as if he were enjoying himself. Where's a photographer to record history when you need one?

There was nary a scowl. No technical fouls. In the second quarter he sat on the bench joking with Andrew Bynum and then began coaching him.

Told after the game it appeared as if he had more fun, Kobe said with a grin, "I had a blast."

Had he changed anything in his approach to this game?

"To have more fun," he said, and I can't say for sure, but I believe he was funning with me.

Now frankly it didn't take as long to get Kobe straightened out as I thought it might. He can be stubborn, you know.

It just took a quick trip to San Antonio and a reminder that the game can be fun. Now all is well again with the Lakers.

That's what made Wednesday night's trip to New Orleans so enjoyable. I got the chance to just sit back and watch the Lakers like Phil does most nights.

The Hornets really aren't very good. But it shouldn't disguise the fact the Lakers look like a different team with Bynum fully engaged and starting.

An agreeable Lamar Odom coming off the bench is a tremendous bonus. Anywhere else, no one dreams of starting a game with Odom on the bench.

Odom's wraparound, behind-the-back drive in the fourth quarter that resulted in a missed layup with a follow-up dunk was a knee-slapper as well as spectacular. His 24 points, according to sideline TV gabber John Ireland, were the most by a Laker off the bench in five years.

Who knows if Ireland was just making it up. After all, most days he does sports talk radio. No matter, Odom's contribution made it appear as if everything were right in Lakersland.

As Khloe Kardashian wrote in a first-half tweet, "I'm so proud of Lamar for being such a TEAM player! He can handle any role and he has played phenomenally! I am so PROUD of him!!"

Great performances by Odom, though, are really not that uncommon. By most accounts he's been the team's most consistent performer this season.

The big story here was the big man. Jackson told Bynum on Wednesday morning that he would start. Jackson had planned to make the move after the start of the new year, but matchup opportunities and three straight defeats changed his mind.

"I'm not sure he's ready for it, but it was the right thing to do because this team was small, and we could overwhelm them with size," Jackson said.

Is he convinced now, after watching Bynum play, that Bynum is ready?

"You know, I think so," Jackson said. "What told me something, he was able to dunk the ball. He has not been finishing strong at the basket. But it looks like he's ready to do it."

Bynum laughed later when asked whether there is one thing he would still like to do better. "Yeah, dunk the ball," he said.

As for those who have had it all wrong, suggesting the Lakers should have traded Bynum by now, Jackson didn't mention Plaschke's name.

"A healthy Andrew Bynum is a major factor in the ballgame," Jackson said. "His size is overwhelming. Our goal is to keep him healthy so he goes into the playoffs at the level he can play."

Bynum gave the Lakers an impressive nine minutes in the first quarter. He went on to play more than 30 minutes. He was eight for 12 from the field and had six rebounds. A guy that tall should have twice as many rebounds, but this is still a work in progress.

He said he's still working on regaining his explosiveness and that it will just take more minutes — both in games and in practice.

He's a tough read, though, because he's so young and seems so laid back. It's tough to say whether he has the fire to become something special — unless you ask him.

"Ask anyone on the team and they will tell you I'm motivated," he said. "I play for these guys, and while I know the fans are going to have their opinions, I feel like I'm really trying to get back for everyone.

"I want to become the player everybody expects me to become and I want to become what I expect. An all-star. I just need to become consistent and stay on the court."

Fifty games to go before the playoffs begin, when it really matters whether Bynum is on the court. But as teasers go, this was a darn good start.

ASKED BEFORE the game about Kobe playing mad — and I didn't ask it — Jackson said, "He plays with an attitude of destroying his opponent. I don't know whether he's mad or aggressive. That's a good term."

AS FOR the three losses in a row, the coach was asked whether he's rattled, yelling more or going crazy. Jackson said, "We'll just try to keep a calm attitude toward these guys.

"We'll let them figure it out because they're professional players. They know how to play the game. They've been doing it for a long time. They can work it out. We've taught them a lot of stuff. They have to figure it out on their own now."

The record shows no one does nothing more effectively than Jackson.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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