Kobe still strutting


    By Drew Packham

    Kobe Bryant still had his swagger.

    The rest of the Lakers had already left the locker room in their size-60 pinstripe suits and leather coats.

    Kobe casually strolled out of the shower in his Adidas sweatsuit, a bead of water running off his nappy ‘fro, ready to face the media.

    He had just played in one of the most intense games of the season, a 105-101 double-overtime loss to the Utah Jazz in the Delta Center, but Bryant’s smile was intact.

    “Great game,” Kobe said, shaking his head as if in disbelief. “It was a great game. They just pulled it out in the end.”

    It didn’t come easy for the Jazz, though. They got veteran performances out of John Stockton — who nearly had his first career triple-double with 18 points, 15 assists and nine rebounds — and Karl Malone, who added 31.

    Throw in 14 Greg Ostertag rebounds and some rookie hustle out of Quincy Lewis and you get a Jazz victory.

    But from looking at the Lakers, it was obvious they weren’t defeated.

    The strut in 21-year-old Bryant’s walk was a perfect example of the Lakers’ resiliency.

    He may only be a 21-year-old basketball star, but Kobe, along with his teammates, is learning to deal with the ups and downs of an NBA season.

    Not two minutes earlier, teammate Shaquille O’Neal — who scored 36 points and played 55 minutes — tried to divert attention from the Lakers’ recent skid.

    “We just have to get past this stage of the season,” O’Neal said. “There’s a lot of peaks and valleys in the NBA season.”

    If Monday night was a valley for the Lakers, then it was a Mt. McKinley-esque peak for the Jazz. The Jazz have won three in a row and eight of their last 10 games.

    But ask the Lakers, and you’ll see it’s just another challenge standing in the way of an NBA title.

    “We have a feel of what’s going on,” point guard Derek Fisher said after the game. “We’ll be OK, though. We’re not panicking. We feel good about ourselves.”

    Glen Rice, who dropped 20 points on the Jazz but missed a 12-foot bank shot at the end of regulation, knows the Lakers need these games to bring them together for the playoff run.

    “That’s experience for you,” Rice said. “A lot of times experience can beat you, regardless of how much talent you have. They’re one of the most experienced teams in the league and they find ways to win. We’ll be OK, though.”

    For Kobe it was the same sentiment, with a little more strut.

    Despite shooting 37 percent on 9-of-24 shooting and throwing up several ill-advised shots, Bryant was all smiles as he drank his bottled water and signed autographs for the teens waiting outside the locker room.

    Call it confidence.

    Kobe knows Monday’s game was big for the Jazz, who are planted atop the Midwest Division and third in the Western Conference, but didn’t want to get too worried.

    “We really have nothing to hang our heads about,” he said. “We just have to respond. We’re not playing for right now. We’re playing for … championship time.”

    And with that bold statement Kobe took his bottled water and strutted onto the Lakers bus, ready for Friday’s battle with Milwaukee.

    Another game, another lesson for the championship.

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