Reporting from Dallas
Not everybody seemed to approve of Kobe Bryant's personal overtime session after the Lakers lost to the Miami Heat.
Many media members were riveted as Bryant's 75-minute shooting bonanza unfolded in front of them, and Bryant's teammates spoke semi-reverently of it a day later, but Lakers Coach Phil Jackson apparently thought Bryant overexerted himself.
Jackson has pointedly tried to limit Bryant's playing time this season to an average of 33.8 minutes a game, his fewest since 1997-98. So it made sense he wouldn't like the impromptu but intense postgame shooting workout after Bryant played almost 40 minutes in the Lakers' 94-88 loss Thursday.
"I don't want to think about it. I really don't. I mean, whatever," Jackson said flatly on Friday. "He felt the time to improve his shot was right away so he went back at it."
Was it too much? Jackson replied "Next" and turned away when a reporter posed the question.
Jackson historically doesn't like postgame regimens. He criticized Ron Artest earlier this season when the Lakers forward began riding a stationary bike for up to half an hour right after games in which he played sparingly.
Needless to say, Bryant did not practice Friday. He could be seen at the far end of the practice court at American Airlines Center, straddling a padded trainer's table and playing with his phone. He had the hood of a gray sweatshirt pulled over his head and didn't stifle a long yawn. He did not talk to reporters.
Pau Gasol said Bryant was "very focused" after the Miami game and was probably trying to work through frustrations with his shot. Bryant missed 13 of 21 attempts in the game, including three in the final 66 seconds. He also had two turnovers late in the game.
Gasol has never returned to the court to shoot after a game, he said.
"Usually I'm hungry after a game," he said, "so I need to hurry and go to dinner."
Despite Bryant's casual appearance and Gasol's one-liner, the Lakers seemed a little on edge after their eight-game winning streak ended against Miami. They have a bigger game Saturday in Dallas, against the team they've been chasing for second place in the Western Conference.
Jackson initially waved reporters away as they filed on to the practice court Friday and quite archaically said he would talk to them off to the side in an "antechamber."
He was willing to talk more freely, however, when he revealed the real reason the Lakers wanted to close the 1 1/2-game gap between them and the Mavericks.
"I just wouldn't want Mark [Cuban] to have another home-court game against us," he said sarcastically.
It was the latest barb in a longstanding verbal joust between the two basketball bigwigs.
Meanwhile, there's the game itself.
Too many unexpected losses have canceled out too many motivated victories to get a feel for any kind of consensus in the Lakers' season. But buried far into Jackson's seven-minute session with reporters was the importance of Saturday's game.
If San Antonio is the surprise team of the West, Dallas is the silver medalist despite an aging roster that makes the Lakers look like preschoolers.
Jason Kidd turns 38 this month, Jason Terry and Peja Stojakovic are 33, Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion are still plugging away at 32, and rejuvenated defensive center Tyson Chandler is the cub of the core group at 28.
The Lakers trail Dallas in the three-game season series, 1-0, and could lose the head-to-head tiebreaker Saturday. The teams are on track to play each other in the West semifinals, which is why Jackson stated the importance of the tiebreaker.
"The chances of us meeting in a [standings] tie are great," he said.
The Mavericks have been fighting a few problems, including the dreaded "soft" label applied by their coach after a weak loss to New Orleans. The slumping Hornets played without Chris Paul but scored the final eight points of the game and won by a point Wednesday.
Rick Carlisle didn't like the Mavericks' lack of rebounding late in the game and an overall perceived lack of toughness.
The players didn't like being called soft in any capacity.
"Who said that?" Terry said to reporters. "I'm not soft, not me. We ain't soft. We'll have to see how he meant soft in that aspect, but I know he wasn't talking to me personally or any of my teammates because I don't think none of these guys are soft."
Chandler was equally unamused by the soft description: "I wouldn't go that far."
The Mavericks, however, responded by beating New York on Thursday, 127-109.