LOS ANGELES (AP) The Lakers were abject failures in their Western Conference semifinal opener against the Houston Rockets. It was hard to tell, though, by Kobe Bryant's downright cheerful attitude Tuesday.
"We played really bad,'' he said of the 100-92 loss in which the Lakers shot 44 percent from the floor, were 2-of-18 from 3-point range, and 12-of-19 from the line.
Sensing panic in the streets among Laker fans, Bryant offered up some calming words.
"It's not like it's the end of the world,'' he said. "We're not the first team ever to lose a Game 1 at home, it's just here in Los Angeles, people get pretty nervous.''
Bryant isn't among them.
"Last year we kind of had a cakewalk to the NBA finals, it feels good to be tested a little bit,'' he said. "To be champions, you got to go through some stuff. You got to have the resolve to be able to fight through a little adversity and respond, so here it is.''
The Lakers fell behind in the first quarter Monday night and never got into a rhythm. They had been off for six days after dispatching Utah in the first round.
Game 2 against the Rockets is Wednesday night at Staples Center.
"The next game is extremely critical,'' Bryant said. "Everybody is a little edgy, pretty energetic and excited about it.''
Andrew Bynum returned to the starting lineup after coming off the bench in the last two games against Utah. But he picked up two quick fouls, and finished with 10 points and just three rebounds in 15 minutes.
"It is hurting the team,'' he said, adding that he's no more than 90 percent physically as he continues recovering from a torn MCL in his right knee.
Bynum's ability to pivot and jump explosively is missing, and he needs those skills to defend Houston's Yao Ming, who had 28 points and 10 rebounds in Game 1.
"He's got to be much more active as a defender, not letting Yao catch the ball where he wants to,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.
"Yao will catch it and throw it back out and reposition in a better position. Drew has a tendency to just stand behind and play defense because of his size. That doesn't work against Yao. Defense and rebounding are the focus we really want to have.''
The Rockets appeared relaxed and energetic at their practice, knowing they've suddenly got the Lakers' full attention.
"Tomorrow is going to be probably the most difficult game,'' coach Rick Adelman said. "They're going to really come after us.''
Yao showed no ill effects from his knee-to-knee collision with Bryant on Monday, when he limped off the court before returning. Yao went through a full practice Tuesday, then sat with an ice pack around his right knee.
"It's a little bit sore. It's fine. I could move around well,'' he said. "We are a physical team, particularly defensively. If the rest of the games stay like Game 1, we're happy.''
The Rockets shot 48 percent from the floor, with speedy second-year guard Aaron Brooks scoring 19 points.
"You almost got to treat him like Tony Parker in terms of his speed and quickness in getting to the rim,'' Bryant said.
Houston's Shane Battier got into a minor shoving match with Bryant while chasing a loose ball. Battier later took an inadvertent elbow from Sasha Vujacic, drawing blood that streamed down the left side of Battier's face.
Even though Bryant had an off-night shooting (14-of-31 for 32 points), Battier expects the guy he describes as "the best player on the planet'' to do more damage.
"We've just got to make him take a lot of shots, make him work and try to limit the offense of the other guys,'' Battier said. "He's so great, you've got to give him different looks.''
Bryant's confidence and upbeat attitude stemmed from knowing the Lakers can't play any worse than they did.
"I feel fantastic,'' he said, grinning. "We know we can perform better. I'm anxious to see how we respond.''
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