by Marcel Mutoni / @marcel_mutoni

In order to avoid giving anyone a psychological edge, Kobe Bryant hates nothing more than conceding that an opponent bothers (or even kind of worries) him. But, after the Cavs’ convincing season sweep of the Lakers last night, Bryant could not hide his frustrations.

And it all comes back to an issue this team had supposedly solved on its way to the championship last year.

Everyone now considers L.A. to be “soft” again, a label that drives Bryant up the wall. Following the game last night (during which Cleveland out-muscled them, especially on the inside), Kobe made it clear that this cannot remain the case if a title repeat is to be seriously considered.

From the Orange County Register:

For everyone who simply assumes the Lakers blasted that characterization of being soft to smithereens by beating an unready Orlando team last June, it’s not that simple. There are not just steps forward in life; there are steps back. Including the Christmas loss after which Jackson noted how Gasol withdrew after being floored early by Shaquille O’Neal, the Lakers have looked in two losses against Cleveland’s physicality more like the team that got bounced around in the 2008 NBA Finals by Boston.

That’s why Kobe Bryant is already putting out the Jan. 31 game against Boston near the end of this long trip as a challenge to his team. “We’ll see how we respond to a physical team in Boston,” Bryant said. Bryant knows the truth: Gasol, Andrew Bynum and Lamar Odom are a wonderfully skilled crew in the front, but they don’t have innate nastiness. “That’s not part of our DNA,” Bryant said. “We have to step up and match that (physicality) and still play skillful basketball.”

Artest, brought in because the Lakers knew in-house that they needed more physical presence, played more like an unstable figure skater than a hockey goon Thursday night. LeBron James breezed his way to 37 points – including 12 points in the 6:22 he played in the fourth quarter.

Though only half joking (I think), Bryant added that he might choke his teammates at practice today. So, yeah, life in Laker-land won’t be pleasant for a while.

The old adage that championships are won in the trenches (or something to that effect) still holds true. And so far this season, even though they’re still the League’s best team, Pau Gasol and company don’t appear prepared to get down and dirty.