Kobe Bryant ready for Spurs
SAN ANTONIO -- In a moment of frustration, Los Angeles Lakers guard Steve Blake booted a basketball high into the stands at the end of shootaround Tuesday afternoon, causing rookie Derrick Caracter to climb the stairs at the AT&T Center to pick it back up.
It's the same thing the Lakers will try to do against the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night.
"It's important to win every game," said Kobe Bryant, echoing remarks he made after his team's 96-80 loss to the Miami Heat on Christmas Day. "We want to continue to get better. You don't want to get worse. We've had a couple setbacks, so it's important to try to pick it back up tonight. This is a huge challenge."
On Saturday, Lakers head coach Phil Jackson said the coaching staff had been pointing to the Spurs game on the calendar for quite some time, but Bryant, the Lakers co-captain, said the players haven't done the same.
"We haven't really been pointing at anything, that's been one of the problems," Bryant said. "We don't really get too excited about anything anymore. I'm excited about this game. I'm excited about the challenge of it and hopefully the rest of the guys are too."
Bryant, who elected not to speak to the media in three availability sessions leading up to the Christmas game and another following the game after practice Monday, said he hasn't spoken explicitly to his team either.
The Lakers have been mired in mediocrity of late, going 8-7 over their last 15 games. Bryant said he would like to see "more effort" on Tuesday in "everything" the team does on the court.
When asked if his teammates understood what needs to be done to turn things around, Bryant replied, "They will."
Bryant was very complimentary of the Spurs, calling Manu Ginobili one of his favorite players and crediting Gregg Popovich as a defensive-minded coach.
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He marveled the most at this particular Spurs team's ability to shoot the 3. San Antonio is shooting a league-best 40.8 percent on 3-pointers this season.
"I can't remember a team shooting it this well this late into the season," Bryant said. "They're all shooting it lights out."
Jackson said that minding the 3-point line was only part of the Lakers' focus on stopping the Spurs.
"It's the tempo they play the game at, I think, more than anything else," Jackson said. "Their 3-point shooting has gone really well, but their tempo is high."
Bryant allowed a smile to crack through his concentrated glare when informed the Lakers had a slight edge -- 38 wins to 37 wins -- over Tim Duncan and the Spurs in the 75 games the two franchises have played since the start of the 1998-99 season.
"It's good basketball," Bryant said. "It's basketball being played the right way -- guys moving the ball unselfishly, playing defense the right way -- it's been fun to be a part of. We went through a couple down years, they were still rolling, and we got back on top and now the rivalry is here again, so, it's fun."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.