LOS ANGELES – The Boston Celtics became the latest team to walk into Staples Center and hand the Los Angeles Lakers a decisive loss, and if you think the defending champions are beginning to worry, well, you might not want to tell them that.
“I never panic,” Kobe Bryant(notes) said, sounding exasperated at the suggestion. “It’s just fuel to get better. Would we like to win these games? Absolutely. But the point is to continue to get better.”
“These games” that Bryant speaks of are the ones against the rest of the NBA’s elite. So far this season, the Lakers are 0-4 against the Celtics, San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks and Miami Heat – and those four losses have come by an average of 13.2 points.
“We’re not playing very well against the top teams. So we need to elevate our level and we need to get better if we’re to defend the throne,” Bryant said.
Much like Bryant, Lakers coach Phil Jackson didn’t sound too worried.
“It’s not the playoffs yet,” Jackson said. “We’re still playing regular season games. We’ll get there in time.”
The Celtics beat the Lakers 109-96, and it said something that more than a few Boston players thought the verdict could’ve been even greater.
The Lakers’ struggles are more evident when comparing them to their two previous title teams. Their latest loss dropped them to 33-15, four games off last season’s pace and six games off their 39-9 record two seasons ago. This season’s team, which didn’t lose any key members from their championship roster of a year ago, also has already lost seven home games.
“You can’t allow yourself to hit the panic button,” Odom said. “It doesn’t matter how much time is left. It’s time for us to get better as a team and get this thing down pat consistently so we can play the same way all the time offensively and defensively.”
As much as the Lakers say they aren’t worrying, they also aren’t lacking in problems to fix. Ron Artest(notes) is averaging less than 10 points for the first time in his career and scored just three against the Celtics while missing all but one of his 10 shots. Paul Pierce(notes), who Artest tried to help guard, scored 32. Center Andrew Bynum(notes) is still working his way back into form after offseason knee surgery. The Lakers’ bench looked promising early in the season, but Matt Barnes(notes) and Theo Ratliff(notes) have been sidelined by injuries and Steve Blake(notes) hasn’t offered much offensively.
And one Boston player even said the Celtics had no problem with Bryant's 41-point, no-assist performance because it means fewer Lakers were involved in the offense.
“It’s going to be measured down the road if this team is going to be better or worse,” Pau Gasol(notes) said. “But I like our team. I like our chances. Obviously, Matt is out and that hurts us a little bit because it shortens our rotation. But we pretty much have everybody we need back.”
The Lakers will be tested again soon. They face the Spurs on Thursday and have road games against the New Orleans Hornets, Celtics and Orlando Magic upcoming. Fisher, like seemingly everyone else wearing a Lakers uniform these days, isn’t worrying.
“There really isn’t a magic pill or snap of the finger that’s going to change things,” he said. “I’ve just played in too many seasons and played on too many successful teams to get bunkered down on ups and downs during the course of a season.”
- the Lakers