LOS ANGELES – Kobe Bryant(notes) walked into the locker room after LeBron James(notes) and the Miami Heat had finished their Christmas humiliation of the defending champs, and it was clear he didn’t have much of a pep talk for his teammates.
“We’re playing like [bleep],” Bryant shouted.
It’s only 30 games into the season, but Bryant and his big-headed Los Angeles Lakers didn’t have much reason to smile after the Heat blasted them 96-80 at Staples Center in what promised to be one of the season’s most-watched games. And this came just four days after the Lakers lost by 19 points at home to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Lakers are a respectable 21-9, but just 2-4 against teams with winning records. Bryant doesn’t have to search long for the reason why.
“Complacency,” Bryant told Yahoo! Sports. “We play too straight.
“We got to nip that [bleep] in the bud now.”
The Lakers have run into this problem before. A year ago, James brought his Cleveland Cavaliers into Staples Center on Christmas and crushed the Lakers. “We always suck on Christmas,” Bryant said in his news conference after Saturday’s loss. “They should just take us off today.”
In each of the past three seasons, the Lakers still finished with the Western Conference’s best record. Yet after winning back-to-back championships, the Lakers admit they’ve entered this season with an overconfidence that’s unusually high even for them.
“Part of our problem is we’re cocky and we feel like we shouldn’t lose, we can’t lose,” Lamar Odom(notes) said. “That’s been our problem, I think, this season, especially early on in this season. We were overconfident. …That’s the way we came in. It started in training camp.”
Said Bryant: “We know what we’re capable of doing. That’s the problem.”
The Lakers believed they had a good practice Thursday. But come Friday, the coaches still didn’t feel their players had the right focus. Bryant refused to speak to the media for the second straight day after Friday’s practice. Pau Gasol(notes) even called the Heat game a “must win.”
“I felt after the loss we had by Milwaukee, losing by  points, this was a game we should have done anything and everything in our power to win,” Gasol said.
The Lakers also knew how much attention this game was receiving with James, Dwyane Wade(notes) and Chris Bosh(notes) making their first trip to Staples Center since joining together. Scalpers were offering tickets for more than $15,000 each. Sylvester Stallone, Snoop Dogg, Kanye West and Cameron Diaz were among the celebrities who showed up. The only people who didn’t seem excited were the Lakers.
They scored just 14 points in the opening quarter and never really had an answer for Bosh, Wade or James, who finished with a triple-double. The only heart the Lakers seemed to show came when Bryant and James engaged in a heated trash-talking duel in the fourth quarter.
“It’s no fun to go out there and have a game like we had today,” Jackson said. “You have to go out there and sit three or four hours for a televised game. You get hemorrhoids sitting there long enough.”
The Lakers should get another tough test on Tuesday when they face the San Antonio Spurs. Los Angeles is now tied with the Utah Jazz for third place in the West, a half-game ahead of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Said Bryant: “We could be playing Minnesota – yeah I said it – and still be concerned.”
Bryant appeared offended when asked if his team was bored with the process of playing an 82-game season. But he also said the Lakers need to toughen up in practice before they take the court again.
“I’m going to kick some ass in practice…” Bryant said. “It’s going to get through. You beat it into their heads until it gets through.”