Posted May 11 2012 10:06AM
DENVER -- All that worry about a stomach for nothing. That's the least of Kobe Bryant's problems. The Lakers, it seems, have some serious heart issues.
Bryant's look of disgust and sound of frustration with his teammates after the Nuggets pounded them Thursday night said it all. Physically drained after a bout with gastroenteritis, emotionally worn after watching some teammates fail to match the energy of a sick man in his 16th season, Bryant was in no mood to cover for anybody.
"Do you think your teammates matched your heart tonight?" came the question in the postgame news conference
Bryant did not hesitate.
"No. Of course they didn't."
There would be no coddling from Bryant when the Nuggets took away the Lakers' lead -- and their dignity -- in the first-round series. The 113-96 defeat at Pepsi Center in Game 6 of the first-round series Thursday night was that bad for Los Angeles, especially when it was coupled with Bryant and coach Mike Brown openly calling out Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
There should not have been any coddling after that stinker. The starting bigs played their way into the criticism. The team leader was right to jump them publicly. Nothing else seems to work. One more listless showing -- Game 7 is Saturday back in L.A. -- means the end of the Lakers' season
Bryant played his guts out, or without his guts to begin with, given his description that he had turned his hotel room into a scene from "The Exorcist" (think split-pea soup). Yet his teammates couldn't back him enough to close out the series. This was one ugly day.
"Kobe being dehydrated and all that," Brown began, "sick as a dog, coming out trying to will us to a win, it's disappointing to watch him give that type of effort, trying on both ends of the floor, getting on the floor after loose balls and stuff like that, and we don't get it from everybody. Our second- and third-best players are 'Drew and Pau, and the reality of it is both of those guys have got to play a better in order for us to win.
"It has to matter for us. We're going to have to work harder and we're going to have to want to get the job done to protect your teammates. If we get the same type of effort with our game-plan execution and our energy and all that, it's going to be a long night for us on Saturday."
On the other hand, the Lakers will have all summer to rest up if that happens.
Bryant was, by all indications, fine when the Lakers flew from Los Angeles on Wednesday. Trouble struck Thursday morning, when he woke up, felt the effects of the intestinal disorder and called trainer Gary Vitti. Medication didn't help at first because it wouldn't stay down.
This was after the Lakers lost Game 5 at home, unable to match the intensity and heart of the Nuggets. Their emotional leader and best player was losing his lunch (and every other meal), but no one went into freak-out mode. Brown wasn't even told about the illness that could have changed the series -- and season -- until he left the hotel for the short bus ride to Pepsi Center for the 11 a.m. shootaround. The reason was clear.
Bryant was always going to play, they believed. His passion for the game has always been one of the few parts of his game beyond question, so he would be on the court for a possible close out with no stomach lining at all, if that's what it took.
"If I were a betting guy -- which I'm not, commish -- I would probably bet that he would play before he wouldn't," Brown said after the shootaround. "But I don't know how serious it is."
"I don't know how sick he is or what the whole situation is," reserve guard Steve Blake added around the same time, "but I would expect him to be out there."
The drama was coming from everyone outside the team. As if on cue, Bryant began improving as the afternoon went on, kept down his lunch, walked into the arena and slowly through the hallway to the locker room, then got a dose of intravenous fluids. He even went through warm-ups rather than sit on the bench to conserve energy.
He was fine. It was a lot of his teammates who were doubled over.
The Lakers got, as Bryant later called it, blitzkrieged at the door by the Nuggets. Denver took a 13-0 lead, got threatened late in the second quarter, then ditched L.A. for good in the third. Bryant had another IV during halftime and finally came out for good with 7:52 remaining with the Nuggets up 28 and the raucous capacity crowd partying.
His teammates had let him down.
"Yeah," Bryant agreed. "We let each other down. For sure. We didn't step up and meet their energy. They know that. I expect them to come out in Game 7 and play with a sense of urgency and a sense of desperation that wasn't there the last two games."
It's a 3-3 series now. Kobe has had his blitzkrieg. This is no time for coddling.
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