- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- The curtains open on the Lakers 2010 playoffs in just two days and from the way coach Phil Jackson sees it, it sounds as if a lot of the players are having trouble remembering their lines.
"We're coming up to the spell where we're really supposed to know how to do everything and we're still kind of reviewing what we have to do to get to this spot," Jackson said after the team's lengthy 2 1/2-hour practice Friday, one Bryant called one of the hardest of the season.
There's a lot for the Lakers to work on after closing the regular season by losing seven of their last 11 games. They now face the chemistry challenge of trying to incorporate Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum back into the starting lineup as well.
Jackson said the main thing the team still struggles with is the recognition it needs to be able to have to activate its offense based on how the opposing team is playing defense.
"This team still has some issues," Jackson said. "It's still developing. I told them the school's still out on them in that way."
Fisher the motivator
Another day, another motivational speech from Lakers co-captain Derek Fisher. Jackson gave the team off from practice Thursday, the day after the Lakers' regular season ended, but the team still met at 5 p.m. to officially start its preparation for the Oklahoma City Thunder.
"Traditionally, the way we do things is we take that first day after the regular season is over and come in in the evening and really start to focus ourselves in on our first-round opponent and what it's going to take to get through the first round," Fisher said after Lakers practice Friday.
Bynum, expected to return to the starting lineup Sunday after missing the last 13 games because a strained left Achilles', was particularly impressed by what "Mr. Fisher" had to say.
"We had a great meeting yesterday," Bynum said. "We got another speech from Mr. Fisher and it really got everybody's mind headed in the right direction."
When asked what the gist of Fisher's message was, Bynum spoke of togetherness.
"Just put all your personal stuff down," Bynum said. "If you go out here and play basketball for the next guy alongside you, we won't make as many mistakes. We'll be able to rotate better on defense and the big, big thing is just having each other's back. Personal stuff, you pick that back up in the summer time."
Fisher was asked to recount his speech and wasn't nearly as forthcoming at first.
"We're going to have to cover the team handbook rules again," Fisher said about Bynum recapping what the 35-year-old point guard told the team. "Certain things stay in the locker room."
With a little prodding, Fisher started to open up and his message became as apparent as his new facial hair. Fisher said he made a pact with Sasha Vujacic this week to grow "playoff beards," but Vujacic has already shaved his off.
"I won't say any names, I'll just say No. 18, we made a pact that we were going to grow the beards out for the playoffs and we'd see how many guys we could recruit in, and lo and behold, two days into it, he shaved," Fisher said. "I'm left with the scruff, but I'm going to hold on and hopefully some guys will join in."
Lamar Odom said Tuesday he planned to grow a playoff beard as well.
But Fisher's motivational message came more from his words than his whiskers.
"I've learned a lot from Phil over the years in terms of really trying to give guys space to be who they are and recognizing things on their own, but at the same time, say things that need to be said at the time they need to be said," Fisher said about the timing of his speech. "Guys seem to have their ears go up, their eyes lock in and they hear it better when it's not something they hear all the time.
"I try and just make sure that guys understand that this is a special chance for us."
Bryant says he has listened to quite a few speeches by Fisher since he and Fisher joined the team together in 1996 as rookies.
"It's important for him to kind of speak and let the team know kind of what we can look forward to," Bryant said. "It's tough to call him a glue guy because he's much more than that, but he's in constant communication with the fellas."
Odom also described his own motivational ritual of leading the team's huddle on the court following player introductions on game day.
"Before the game I try to get them revved up a little bit," Odom said. "When we're in that circle, I let them know the strengths and weaknesses of this team and that we're the best team in the NBA, don't forget it. Just go out and prove it."
Odom said the team planned to get together again Friday night for a group dinner.
Backup center DJ Mbenga caught an inadvertent elbow to the head during Friday's practice and left the facility with a possible concussion, according to a team spokesman. Mbenga was sent to a neurologist for examination and no timetable was available for his return.
Mbenga's injury is the latest in a rash of bad luck for the Lakers. Sasha Vujacic received a MRI exam on his severely sprained left ankle Thursday and is expected to miss Los Angeles' first-round series against Oklahoma City.
"Injuries are part of our profession and it happens," Odom said. "It's how you bounce back from them that really matters."
The Lakers' players overlapped one another when they spoke about what they will need to do to beat the Thunder. Maybe the team meetings are paying off. Here's a sampling:
Odom: "Take good shots. Don't turn the ball over. Crash the glass. Offensive rebound. We should be alright."
Bynum: "It's going to get us having to rotate. They're going to make us play defense. If we go out there and we don't play defense, this team is going to be able to run up and down the court and get anything they want, so, it's a good test."
Pau Gasol: "You just got to make sure you contain them. They are a high-speed, high-energy team and you got to limit your mistakes, make sure you move the ball against them because they try to collapse the lane very well. So they're active defensively and they take advantage of that and then they run out and it's hard to get back defensively. So, if we play smart, play hard and do what we need to do, we should be OK."
Bryant: "You can't turn the ball over, that's one. Rebounding will be a big key for us. Obviously, just planning on getting back in transition. ... They play hard every single possession. For us, it's a challenge physically to be able to match that kind of intensity from these kids. They compete hard every time down the floor and they get after the ball. It's a huge challenge for us to try to match that energy and match their intensity on every possession."
This and that
Odom said he changed his candy-eating habits: "I had to lay off the candy a little bit. I have bad teeth. Not too much candy, a lot of milk, a lot of flossing." .... A day after Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak told 710 ESPN that a disappointing finish in the postseason won't put Jackson's job security in jeopardy, Bryant had this to say about his coach's future plans: "I don't even hear that talk, I don't even pay attention to it. If we win he might not come back, so it kind of is what it is." ... The white team (Farmar, Walton, Adam Morrison, Shannon Brown, Josh Powell) split the purple team (Bynum, Odom, Bryant, Fisher, Artest) in the two full-court games the teams played at the end of practice.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
9hMike Fish and David Purdum