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Kobe Bryant already has his game face on, a week before Lakers' next game

Bryant is one of several Lakers who acutely recall the team's last playoff series with Phoenix, a first-round defeat in 2007 that touched off a franchise upheaval. He appears keenly focused on rematch with the Suns in Western Conference finals starting Monday.

May 11, 2010|By Broderick Turner

Kobe Bryant narrowed his eyes and pursed his lips during Monday night's postgame news conference.

His demeanor had shifted suddenly, from excitement after the Lakers' 4-0 sweep of the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals, to disdain, his jaw taut, as Bryant reflected on the Lakers' past playoff failures against the Phoenix Suns.

The Lakers lost first-round playoff series to the Suns in 2006 and 2007, something Lamar Odom also brought up after Monday night's 111-96 victory over the Jazz.

"They took us out two years in a row," Odom said. "Yeah, I don't forget."

Bryant was told of Odom's comment and was asked how he felt about playing Phoenix again in the playoffs. Game 1 of the conference finals is Monday night at Staples Center.

"What do you think?" Bryant responded.

Bryant was asked for his thoughts, not what the media might think about how he feels.

"You already know," Bryant responded.

So he wants revenge against the Suns, even though the Lakers last played them in the playoffs three years ago?

"Just a little bit," Bryant said.

It's interesting Bryant feels that way because the Lakers are the defending NBA champions, and only five players — Bryant, Odom, Andrew Bynum, Luke Walton and Sasha Vujacic — were on the two Lakers teams that lost to the Suns back then.

So, are the Lakers, who took Tuesday off before they resume practice Wednesday, looking for some "get-backs" against the Suns?

"I wouldn't say get-backs," Odom said, smiling.

When the Lakers played Phoenix in the 2006 playoffs, they made history by allowing the Suns to become just the eighth team in NBA history to come back from a 3-1 deficit to win a series.

Some in the media, including TNT's Charles Barkley, suggested Bryant "tanked" in Game 7 after he didn't take a shot in the fourth quarter. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson had wanted to attack the Suns inside.

But that was nothing compared to what happened after the Lakers lost to the Suns in five games in 2007.

The defeat set in motion a series of events that eventually led the Lakers to back-to-back NBA Finals, including winning the 2009 championship over the Orlando Magic.

After the Lakers' elimination in 2007, Bryant voiced his displeasure on radio shows and with newspapers. He demanded that General Manager Mitch Kupchak upgrade the personnel of a team that had players such as Kwame Brown and Smush Parker.

Soon after, Bryant demanded to be traded, saying he would go anywhere, even " Pluto." He also demanded that then-19-year-old center Andrew Bynum be traded, which was caught on an amateur video.

In the end, Bryant stayed put.

In summer 2007, the Lakers re-signed point guard Derek Fisher, a free agent after leaving the Jazz. And during the 2007-08 season, Bynum blossomed before he got hurt. Then, the Lakers acquired Pau Gasol from Memphis in a trade on Feb. 1, 2008, and their rebuilding project was complete.

Now the Suns are standing in Bryant's and the Lakers' way again. The Lakers won the regular-season series, 3-1.

And from the sound of it, the Lakers have no intention of letting the Suns deter them from a third consecutive trip to the Finals.

"They are playing extremely well," Odom said. "They have a lot of momentum. It's going to be fun."

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