Posted Mar 29 2012 10:01AM
Go ahead. Kobe Bryant dares you.
Count the Lakers out.
Count them out because Andrew Bynum launched a foolish 3-pointer in the third quarter against Golden State and was sent to the bench by Mike Brown, the head coach. Count them out because Bryant was benched two nights earlier by Brown in the fourth quarter of a home loss to Memphis.
Count them out because Bryant is taking too many shots or playing too many minutes. Count them out because the Lakers had 37-year-old Derek Fisher at the point for the first two-thirds of the season and now because they don't have him.
Count them out because they're no longer playing the triangle offense espoused by former coach Phil Jackson.
Count them out because Brown has them too focused on performing at the defensive end of the floor and so the offense has suffered. Count them out because Fisher's replacement, Ramon Sessions, is making the big step up from the hinterlands of Milwaukee and Cleveland and has no experience under the Hollywood spotlight and the playoff pressure that lives on the shoulders of every member of the Lakers.
Count them out because Lamar Odom was traded and because Pau Gasol was traded. Then Pau wasn't. Or he should have been. Or he could have been. But he wasn't and that still distracted him.
Count them out because Magic Johnson has turned his interest to baseball.
"Anybody who counts us out is challenged," Bryant said. "They're mentally challenged. Am I happy with how we play every single night? Of course not. But I'm content with where we are overall and where I think we can go.
"Let them doubt all they want. That's the way it always is. People talk and doubt and criticize all the way up until you win a championship, then it's: 'Oh, I knew it all the time.' That's just how it is."
It is as much a part of the franchise DNA as the purple uniforms, the championship banners, Jack and Denzel sitting courtside. Panic and doubt have a front row seat at Staples Center, too. You can practically set your calendar by their arrival.
"Everybody looks at us," Bryant said. "Everybody sees us. Everybody picks and criticizes everything we do. It's easy to do so. There are a lot of things that easily are 'critique-able' and people are always taking the liberty do so.
"It reminds me of our last championship run. We were in a similar position as well. We were over the hill. We don't have Phil. We are not coming off a championship. It's a similar thing.
"It happens all the time with us, so in a way it's comfortable. It's something I've learned to live with, all the controversies over one thing or another, all the doubts. Actually, of all the championships that we won, we only really had one season where we led wire to wire. You can look it up."
So you can. And in the five championship seasons of his career, only in the first (1999-2000) with Shaquille O'Neal did the Lakers finish with the best record (67-15) in the NBA during the regular season. In fact, they entered the playoffs that year on a 33-4 tear.
The following season the Lakers went 56-26, were tied for the second-best record and went 15-7 coming down the stretch.
In the 2001-02 season, the Lakers finished second behind Phoenix in the Pacific Division, had an 11-6 closing record that is identical to their pace over the past 17 games, but still won their third straight NBA title.
Even in the 2008-09 season when the Lakers won 65 games, they still trailed Cleveland for the best record, but beat Orlando in The Finals.
When the Lakers defended that title in 2010, they finished with the second-best record in the league (57-25), but staggered into the postseason 11-10 and then had the world setting its hair on fire when they lost two games at Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs.
Currently, they are the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference. Yet these Lakers have had something to prove ever since that 4-0 bellyflop against the Mavericks last season in the playoffs led to an 0-2 face-plant to start this abbreviated season. They have never really gotten on a roll. Their longest winning streak has been five games (twice). Then there are those alarming occurrences like losing back-to-back at lowly Detroit and Washington, blowing a nine-point lead in five minutes at Houston or Bryant shooting 3-for-20 in a loss at home to Utah.
"It's stupid," he said. "People can be idiots. That's why I don't play those games. People act like (Michael) Jordan never had bad shooting nights, terrible shooting nights. Jerry West had terrible shooting nights. We all have terrible shooting nights. It's part of the game.
"The ignorance of people is somewhat annoying at times, but I'm learning to put up with it. We're right where we want to be. Despite the games that we've given away this year, we still find ourselves within striking distance of that second seed in the West, which is pretty remarkable.
The Lakers are 11-6 in the second half of the season entering tonight's game at home against the Western Conference leading Thunder. During that same time OKC is 12-5. Miami is also 11-6, San Antonio is 12-4, Chicago is 16-3.
"Look, I've seen all this before. We're been here before. So to me it's just old hat," Bryant said. "We do what we do and then we see where we end up. Doubt us. That's our challenge."
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Anderson Varejao fights for the rebound and comes down awkwardly on his left leg and would sustain a leg injury.
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