Kobe Bryant silent on eve of matchup
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Kobe Bryant declined to speak to the media Tuesday as he made his way out of the arena after two fourth-quarter technical fouls earned him a trip to the showers before the end of the Los Angeles Lakers' loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
Bryant never emerged from the training room to answer questions about the impending matchup with the Miami Heat at Thursday's practice after the team had the day off Wednesday.
He again avoided the media pack Friday, offering up a brusque "Merry Christmas" as he passed by a few reporters lingering in the lobby of the team's practice facility after most of his teammates had already left.
So we'll have to wait until after the game is over Saturday to hear what Bryant thinks about playing against LeBron James again.
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Bryant's team offered up plenty of sound bites about the Christmas game for him Friday, not because it will be against the glitzy Big Three and Miami, but because the Heat at 21-9 are simply a good team.
And the Lakers have not done too well against good teams so far this season, racking up a 2-3 record versus teams above .500 as of Dec. 24: They lost to Denver and Utah, split two games with Chicago and beat Portland.
Miami marks a starting point in the Lakers' schedule of three straight games against stronger opponents.
"We've really pointed to the games next week as a challenge of conference games -- San Antonio and New Orleans," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, pointing to the back-to-back against the Spurs and Hornets the Lakers look ahead to after Miami.
"We look forward to that," Pau Gasol said. "We're aware of the schedule that we had and how we've done so far and how much harder it's going to get from now on, which I think is exciting for all of us."
Said Andrew Bynum: "We haven't been challenged too much this season. ... It's a big game for us, it's a statement game for us and we want to go and win it."
As much as Miami can be viewed as just another strong opponent, their personnel, starting with James, offers a unique challenge.
"You don't do anything but try to contain him, is what you try to do," Jackson said of James. "Not let him run out on defensive rebounds and get breaks on solo run-outs. You try to not let him take the whole team to the basket and dunk it on them. It's mostly containment and making him shoot shots on the outside."
Ron Artest will draw the defensive assignment on James, but his strategy for guarding the back-to-back MVP seemed to stray from what his coach has in mind.
"I like to get him mad," Artest said. "He plays better and he entertains more when he's upset. ... It's best to get people's A-game."
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The Lakers will try to lean on their superior size and length inside. Bynum, averaging seven points and 4.6 rebounds in 16.6 minutes since returning from right knee surgery five games ago, will team with Gasol and Lamar Odom to try to take advantage of Chris Bosh, Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Joel Anthony and Erick Dampier down low.
"I think our big lineup could [be an advantage]," Jackson said. "Of course, I don't think Andrew is ready to start yet or play those kind of minutes, but hopefully he will be in another week or two."
Jackson on Coach of the Year, "The Decision"
When things were going rough in Miami and the team was barely above .500, Jackson said what everyone else around the league was thinking: Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's job could be in jeopardy of Pat Riley making the trip down from the front office to the sidelines again.
What does Jackson think about Spoelstra now that the Heat has won 13 out of their past 14 games?
"I think he's going to be the Coach of the Year," Jackson said with a wry smile. "It took a real kind of 'Come to Jesus' moment, I think, for their team to kind of come to terms with who they were and 'This is who we're going to be, we're going to have to play within this framework' and they really got the spark back."
Jackson also was asked if he tuned into James' free agency special on ESPN while he was at his summer home in Flathead Lake, Mont.
"I did not watch LeBron's decision and my thoughts echo that of Michael Jordan and some of the other guys who say they would never have done something like that," Jackson said. "They would have anticipated their team would have built up the talent so they could get back to the championship. I think that's kind of what everybody expected. Not too many players that have gone to the Finals like Cleveland did [in 2007] would lose a player that has been there. They would want to redeem that opportunity. But that's his choice and we'll all live with it."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.