- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- With each passing game the Lakers play this postseason there is an opportunity to not only assess where the team stands on the microscale of the series they are part of, but on the macro-measuring stick of how they're performing compared to last year's championship squad.
There were mixed reviews from the team on the subject Monday.
"I'm concerned," Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson said. "I'm a little concerned that we're not filling in the gaps as quickly as we are. I think Pau [Gasol] mentioned it at halftime [of Game 1] that we get a 10-point lead and we get kind of content to stay in a 10-, 12-point lead instead of really pushing it on to the next level. That's been something that's come back and hurt us in the course of this year. That little instinct to break games open and keep putting them down, we saw that exhibited in Game 5 here against Oklahoma in the last playoff [series], but we didn't do it [Sunday] in times when we had the opportunity."
The Lakers have won three games in a row and five out of seven in the playoffs thus far after stumbling down the stretch in the regular season, losing seven of their last 11, but still haven't maintained a high level of play from one game to the next even if they've been winning.
"We've been a little bit inconsistent," Gasol said Monday. "We've been a little bit up and down. There's been a little questioning here and there and doubt, so we need to reaffirm ourselves and regain momentum and confidence and get stronger as we go along and try to reach your best game and your top potential once you get closer to the end of the playoffs. That's what we got to do."
Gasol has been incredibly consistent in the postseason, however, upping his regular season averages from 18.3 points and 11.3 rebounds on 53.6 percent shooting to 19.0 and 12.1 on 54.3 percent.
Despite Gasol's scoring success, Kobe Bryant said that the Lakers have regressed on the offensive end since last season but have made up for it on defense.
"It's a different team," Bryant said. "I think we were much better offensively last year for whatever reason but defensively we're solid. We're better defensively this year so, to win championships, that's what you have to do. Defend and rebound and I think we're much more of a defensive team this year than we were last year.
"Mentally we understand what our defense can do. We're confident and we're comfortable."
The biggest gripe after Game 1 of the conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz on Sunday was how the Lakers bench relinquished an eight-point lead in the first couple minutes of the fourth quarter. Jackson said the team worked on getting the bench to share the ball on offense more at Monday's practice.
"Our bench has to come to play," Jackson said. "They have to be a little bit more responsible with how they're going to play, more dedicated to creating shots for others and the team aspect of it."
Bryant 'feels great'
After missing four of the final five games of the regular season to rest a sore right knee, left ankle and arthritic knuckle in his right index finger, Bryant seemed a step slow in the Lakers opening round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder. He shot just 40.8 percent in six games and underwent lengthy postgame treatment sessions that caused him to leave the bench in the fourth quarter of the Lakers' Game 4 loss to get a head start on the rehab.
"The two games up there [Games 3 and 4], I played on one leg basically," Bryant said Monday.
Bryant finished the series against the Thunder off strong, scoring 32 points on 12-for-25 shooting in the closeout Game 6 and followed that up with a highly efficient 31 points on 12-for-19 shooting in Game 1 against the Jazz, including several strong drives to the hoop.
Bryant scored 13 points in the fourth quarter, including 11 of the Lakers final 15 points when Los Angeles finished the game with a 15-6 run to close out the contest.
"We liked his game," Jackson said. "I don't know from one game to the next whether you just rule out any question about [him] getting it back. Kobe met that challenge at the end of the game and I think it was terrific."
Said Bryant: "I was pleasantly surprised that I could move around as much as I did. It feels great."
Bryant's health, which was once a major storyline surrounding the team just a week ago, appears to be a moot point moving forward.
"That's not a big issue right now for us," Jackson said. "I thought it was more the last series than it is now."
Gasol faces Anthony, Nash and Wade
Gasol and the three other NBA All-Stars are participating in the first-ever NBA Cares Charity Challenge. Gasol is supporting the United Natitions Children's Fund, UNICEF, whose slogan is to work for the survival, protection, and development of all children worldwide through education, advocacy, and fundraising.
The player that receives the most fan support on his video supporting his charity posted on the NBA's Facebook fan page (www.facebook.com/nba) will win $10,000 for his selected charity, while the other three charities will receive a $5,000 donation.
Fans can view the videos beginning today and continuing through 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday, May 9.
"NBA players have always eagerly embraced the challenge of improving the quality of life in communities around the world," said Kathy Behrens, NBA executive vice president of social responsibility and player programs. "This challenge provides another way for our fans to connect with their favorite players and is a great example of the commitment the entire NBA family has to bringing attention to important issues on a global scale."
Another zenith for the Zen Master
Lost in the shuffle after the Lakers fourth-quarter letdown in Game 1 was the fact that Jackson registered his 103rd playoff victory as head coach of the purple and gold, passing Pat Riley's franchise record.
Jackson, who won two titles as a player with the New York Knicks, six titles as coach of the Chicago Bulls and four rings in Los Angeles said that it's hard to split his identity three ways after experiencing so much success with three different franchises.
"When I was given a jacket when [the NBA] had that 50th [anniversary celebration in 1996] and they [honored] 10 coaches, they gave me a jacket that had the Knicks on the inside and the Bulls on the outside," Jackson said. " I'd like to have one that has three things on it, but I don't know how you do that ... Maybe the sleeves ... The reality is, you love the one you're with and right now the Lakers is where I'm at home."
Jackson passed Riley as the Lakers all-time leader in regular season victories with 534 wins back in February, but seemed to take more satisfaction in setting the postseason mark.
"I always say playoffs are double whatever anything else is," Jackson said. "You're going against the best teams in the league. The games are so much harder."
The White (Wardrobe) Mamba
Bryant posed for a photo shoot wearing a variety of all-white outfits that appeared in L.A. Times Magazine over the weekend. The photos have become an overnight Internet sensation both for some of the peculiar clothing items (Bryant wears a white headband and a white top hat in one photo) and for the facial expressions Bryant displays.
"They're a little doctored up," Bryant said. "They were a little too artsy for me.
"The baby face kind of look thing that they gave to me, I'm not feeling that [photograph] in particular but it was fun, I had a good time."
One local television reporter had the photos on his iPhone and passed the phone around to some of the Lakers players to get their thoughts on Bryant's new look.
Here are some of their reviews:
Ron Artest: "He's a star, that's Kobe Bryant. Kobe can do what he wants."
Lamar Odom: "It's different, it's a different Kobe."
Derek Fisher: "Are these real photos? What is the purpose of the photos? Alrighty. I'm sure he took the photos, but they look a little bit altered. Kobe's a guy who's always willing to be a little fashion forward."
Bryant was asked whose photos were better, his ones or New York Yankee Alex Rodriguez's infamous images from Details magazine that showed the slugger pressed up against a mirror.
"The one that has four rings because I can tell everybody to kiss my [butt]," Bryant said.
This and that
Bryant on finishing third behind LeBron James and Kevin Durant in the voting for the NBA's MVP: "I think they got it right. LeBron had an incredible year, Kevin did as well." ... Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko, who missed Game 1 and all of the first round with a left calf strain practiced Monday and said he has a 50-50 chance of playing in Game 2. He's so versatile. "A great off the ball defender, a great on the ball defender," Odom said. "Any team at this point misses a player like Andrei Kirilenko." Added Bryant: "He brings a lot of energy to the team. He's a very versatile defender. He's an excellent passer. He's all over the place. You have to account for him when he's on the floor."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
The Lakers said at practice Monday they are looking to build the same consistency they had last year.