News » Kobe, Lakers well aware of target on their backs

Kobe, Lakers well aware of target on their backs

Kobe, Lakers well aware of target on their backs

It was only fitting, seeing as how Phil Jackson was only moments away from getting one for the other thumb, having already received ones for his nine other digits.

For the record, Jackson has no plans to don all 10 simultaneously and flaunt them like a much taller, but considerably less flamboyant Liberace.

No, Jackson said he intends to stick with tradition, wearing his most recent ring during the playoffs. And he sounded more than ready to put the one from the 2001-02 season back into the safety deposit box for good.

"I really hated that ring," Jackson said. And it wasn't clear whether it was simply a matter of aesthetics ("It looked like a clown's face," Jackson did admit) or that it took seven seasons — one of them spent on a forced sabbatical — before he was able to get a replacement.

Which brings us to the task currently facing Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and the rest of the 2009-10 Lakers: Not making Phil wait so long to get a new accessory.

Only three players remain from Jackson's last title defense in Los Angeles. One of them, Derek Fisher, expounded on the special demands that go with trying to defend the crown.

"The one thing that sticks out in any season, but in particular a repeat season, is that it's a very, very long season," Fisher said. "You have to remind yourself not to get too high when it's good and not to get too low when things don't go as well."

And given that the Lakers' last title defense ended with Shaq in Miami, Phil in semi-retirement and the Larry O'Brien trophy in Detroit, Fisher knows all too well that things don't always go as well when you're trying to repeat.

"There are going to be ups and downs, Fisher said. "We're going to be tested. That's just a part of what we're trying to do."

Even though it was the lowly Clippers (and really, who was the sadist in the NBA league office who thought it would be fun to torture L.A.'s other team by forcing it to watch their neighbors celebrate another title?), a handful of potential red flags were raised during the Lakers' 99-92 win Tuesday along with that banner.

Health: As the Lakers support staff took to the floor one-by-one to receive their championship rings, the Staples Center crowd let out a particularly lusty cheer for head trainer Gary Vitti.

Perhaps they realized the importance a good trainer plays in a championship run. And if they didn't, they could look at the Lakers' bench for a reminder. That's where Gasol spent the game, a sore hamstring causing him to miss as many games already this season as he did all of last year.

Part of the reason the Lakers were content to let Gasol rest that sore hammy was the continued development of Andrew Bynum, who himself is coming off back-to-back knee surgeries and has played in just 85 games the last two years.

Lack of focus: Even on a night when they received their rings — not an insignificant distraction — you still would have expected the Lakers to dispatch the Clippers with much greater ease.

Especially with No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin on the bench in street clothes, out for the next six weeks as the result of the Clippers curse ... or a broken left kneecap.

But there the Clips were, down just one point heading into the fourth quarter. There was Bryant, starting the final quarter in the game instead of in his customary spot on the Lakers' bench. There were the Lakers' starters in the game until the final buzzer.

But to hear Lamar Odom speak, that was to be expected.

"We expect every game to be tough because of what we accomplished," Odom said. "Everybody wants to beat the champion. Buster Douglas, right? 'I'm going to beat Mike Tyson. I'm going to be the one to dethrone the champ.'

"We expect and we embrace the combative spirit other teams have."

And ultimately, that may be the key for the Lakers — acknowledging the potential stumbling blocks, then avoiding them.

Just like they did Tuesday night.

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Author: Fox Sports
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Added: October 28, 2009


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