Kobe Bryant left no doubt about the state of the defending champs after a second straight blowout loss Saturday, a second consecutive Christmas Day no-show that has thrown the Lakers into their annual episode of soul-searching chaos.
“We always suck on Christmas,” Bryant said in an epic postgame news conference after the Lakers offered little resistance and barely a hint of interest in a 96-80 thrashing at the hands of the Miami Heat. “They should just take us off this day.”
Not a creature was stirring at Staples Center, at least no creatures wearing white jerseys. But it had less to do with the date on the calendar and more to do with the Lakers and their reinforced competition. This time, for a variety of internal and external reasons, their annual crisis of overconfidence will be much harder to fix. And Bryant knows it.
“We’re playing like we have two rings,” Bryant said.
His jersey removed and a leather jacket in its place, Bryant then walked briskly toward the loading ramp, stopping to explain the source of his concern about this Lakers team.
“It’s everybody,” Bryant said before venturing into the crisp Southern California night, his only companion the realization that this championship journey will be harder than perhaps any he’s experienced in the past. “We’re not playing with any focus or the right focus because we have two championships, because we know what it takes to get it done. So if you know what it takes to get it done, it’s like studying for a test. You know the test is on Tuesday, you’ve got a week to prepare and you don’t prepare the whole week in advance. You want to prepare the night before.”
Essentially, the Lakers have become lazy. In the interview room, Bryant had talked about lack of focus, lack of work in practice, the absence of preparation. Worst of all, the absence of competitive instinct — a.k.a. caring — which is something Bryant will never tolerate.
“I think these games mean more to our opponents than they do to us,” Bryant said, a damning admission of just how complacent the champs have become even in the face of heightened competition from teams like the one that toyed with them on their home floor Saturday. “And I think we need to get that straight. We need to play with more focus and put more importance on these games. I don’t like it.”