Kobe Bryant defends Kevin Garnett
"This is a great environment," Bryant said. "This is one of the best in the league."
A half dozen hours before the Lakers would return to the arena for their game against the East-leading Celtics, Bryant reflected on how the rivalry has changed.
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Bill Russell vs. Wilt Chamberlain gave way to Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson who gave way to Bryant vs. Kevin Garnett.
Garnett, whose sportsmanship has been called into question this season after an off-color remark he made about cancer to Detroit's Charlie Villanueva and a below-the-belt hit he had on Phoenix's Channing Frye, was defended by Bryant.
"He's a great guy," said Bryant, who entered the NBA right out of high school one year after Garnett ushered in a new era of preps to pros players to the league.
After playing on nine Western Conference All-Star games together from 1998-2007 and facing off in the playoffs only twice in that span when the Lakers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round in 2003 and the conference finals in 2004, Bryant has changed how he explains Garnett's actions.
"He's a Celtic," Bryant said with a smile. "That's what Celtics do."
What do the Celtics do exactly?
"It's Danny Ainge and Kurt [Rambis] getting clotheslined," Bryant said.
And what about the Lakers?
"We're the good guys," Bryant said.
Bryant and Garnett have faced each other in the Finals two out of the last three seasons with the teams splitting; the Celtics won in six games in 2008 and the Lakers won in seven games last June.
Bryant enjoys the chirping that goes on when the two teams meet.
"Trash talking is fine," Bryant said. "I love to talk. Paul [Pierce] likes to talk, KG likes to talk. I'm probably the only one on my team that likes to talk so I'll probably be jawing with all of them [Thursday night] ... It's fun."
Not only is it fun for Bryant, but it's a character trait of Garnett's that Bryant respects.
"He's always been intense," Bryant said. "He's not an [expletive] by any stretch of the imagination. He's just a good dude. He plays his heart out."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.
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