Lakers guard Kobe Bryant brings the ball upcourt in transition as Coach… (Paul Buck / EPA )
Rough air couldn't be blamed for a few bumpy moments on the Lakers' flight back from Denver late Sunday night.
They came courtesy of the replay of the Lakers' 99-90 loss to the Denver Nuggets that Kobe Bryant watched with Coach Mike Brown. What galled them wasn't Bryant's six-for-28 shooting performance as much as the Lakers' inability to stop the Nuggets from scoring easy baskets in transition off missed shots, particularly late in the game.
Denver's Danilo Gallinari scored 12 of his 20 points off layups or dunks, mostly as the result of plays in which he sprinted down the court unguarded after contesting a shot. Brown said the Lakers' guards needed to do a better job of retreating on defense when shots are taken, a point the coach reinforced during a practice drill Monday.
"If a shot goes up," Bryant said afterward, "somebody has to get back at all times."
Brown and Bryant also dissected the shooting guard's offensive performance. The coach's assessment: He was "OK with most of" Bryant's shots but said Bryant needed to find a shooting rhythm with the torn ligament in his right wrist that has plagued him since the preseason.
"He might not say it," Brown said, referring to Bryant's tendency to avoid excuses, "but try to hold a microphone with a torn ligament, let alone shoot it and make sure you get a follow-through. That's a bear."
Actually, Bryant acknowledged that his wrist was "a pain in the [rear]" and said he needed to tweak his jumper. Not that he planned on taking fewer shots.
"I do what I do," Bryant said, sounding almost defiant. "If guys are open I kick it to them; if they're not, I shoot it. I play my game, do you know what I mean? It stays consistent."
Asked whether there was anything he saw different defensively Sunday as opposed to Saturday, when he took 10 fewer shots and was more of a facilitator with nine assists during a victory over the Nuggets, Bryant said, "I had shots. If I shoot the ball 40 times and they're good looks, that's what it is. If it's 15 or 20 times, that's what it is."
Bryant has made 12 of 46 shots (26.1%) in his last two games, a sharp contrast to the inside duo of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum, who have made a combined 35 of 55 shots (63.6%).
Nevertheless, Brown said Bryant did not need to scale back his shots, noting how Bryant had persevered through a finger injury in recent years.
"He's going to work his way through it," Brown said, "just like he did with his finger."
Nearly a Rocket man
If you can't join them, beat them?
That could be Gasol's mantra Tuesday when the Lakers play host to Houston, the team that almost acquired him last month in a three-team trade.
As part of the proposed deal that was nixed by NBA Commissioner David Stern, the Rockets would have received Gasol while sending Kevin Martin, Luis Scola and Goran Dragic to the New Orleans Hornets. The Lakers would have received Hornets point guard Chris Paul.
Gasol said joining the Rockets would have been difficult because he would have left a franchise that had won two championships and been to the Finals three times in four years to join another that was clearly in rebuilding mode.
"That would have very been hard for me to adjust to," Gasol said. "But if it would have gone down, I would have still done my best to do what I do and be the player that I am and continue to play my best."