Following the Lakers’ 103-99 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on New Year’s Day, Kobe Bryant had a simple answer for what has been plaguing 15-16 L.A. this season: age.
“Cause we’re old as s—,” said the 34-year-old Bryant when asked why a lack of energy has been a problem for the Lakers all season. “What do you want? We just got to figure out how to play when we don’t have that energy. We got to change things up a little bit defensively. We got to figure out what we want to do offensively, figure out what we want to do on nights when we don’t have those legs or have that energy.”
The 76ers beat the Lakers primarily with the contributions of 22-year-old Jrue Holiday (26 points, 10 assists) and 24-year-old Evan Turner (22 points, 13 rebounds).
“You just saw an old damn team,” Bryant continued. “I don’t know how else to put it to you. We’re just slow. You saw a team over there that was just younger and just had fresher legs and just played with more energy, and we were just stuck in the mud. I think individually we all have to figure out how to get ourselves ready each and every game to have a high level of energy. That’s all that is.”
While saddled by such circumstances, Bryant’s belief that the Lakers can make the playoffs and compete for a championship remains unshaken.
“I don’t think there’s a doubt about that,” he told ESPN Radio host Colin Cowherd on Wednesday when asked if the team is built for the playoffs. “The problem is we’ve dug ourselves such a deep hole we got to do a lot of fighting just to catch up and get in that conversation. We firmly believe it’s going to happen but we have to do a lot of fighting just to get there.”
The Lakers are 9½ games behind the 25-7 Clippers in the Pacific Division and are 10th in the Western Conference, 1½ games behind the Portland Trail Blazers for the eighth and final playoff spot. The Lakers can cut into that deficit Friday night when they play the Clippers at Staples Center.
“It’s very deep, we’re very concerned but we’ve been playing well lately,” Bryant told Cowherd in explaining his level of concern for the Lakers. “The last eight games we’ve been playing pretty well but the hole we dug ourselves at the start is very deep, so every loss now cuts a little deeper than it should. So we have to keep focused on how we’ve been playing lately and just continuing to get better from that.”
Following Tuesday’s loss, Bryant, who has managed to lead the league in scoring in this, his 17th season, said every player has to learn to create energy individually.
“It’s figuring it out,” Bryant said. “That’s a big thing when you’re starting to age, is figuring out how to get yourself ready game in and game out. It’s tough. It takes a lot, a lot of commitment.”
Added Bryant: “We didn’t seem to have any energy. You watch the game, we were kind of sluggish, kind of stuck in the mud. When we have games like that, everything is an uphill battle for us. When we play fresh, when we play energized, we’re a completely, completely different team. You saw a lot of those shots tonight falling short, for whatever reason. We got to get the proper rest and get ready for Friday.”
Pau Gasol, 32, agreed with Bryant’s assessment.
“We’re not the most athletic team in the league; we know that,” Gasol said. “But we are experienced and we should create some energy for ourselves out there, and I think it starts by us talking to each other, by communicating, by letting our team really know that we’re there [on defense], and that will create some energy that we need on that end of the floor.”
Bryant sang a similar tune after the Lakers’ previous loss, to the Denver Nuggets on Dec. 26, pinning the 12-point road blowout on how his team looked slow on the court.
“It seemed like we were a little stuck in the mud,” Bryant said in Denver. “We played old, and they played with a lot of energy, a lot of youth, got up and down, and it just seemed like we were in a lower gear all night.”
Not helping things was Dwight Howard, the lone young star in the Lakers’ lineup. Howard, who turned 27 last month, finished Tuesday with just seven points on 1-for-7 shooting to go with 14 rebounds and five blocks as he appeared to labor up and down the court.
“It’s really been frustrating for him because dealing with the injury and trying to come back and expectations that we all have for him,” Bryant said of Howard. “It’s tough to deal with that when you’re not physically the same player that you were a few years ago. It’s been frustrating for him, but to his credit, he’s been battling through it and he’s been finding ways to be effective. I mean, he had five blocks tonight.”
Howard rebutted several inquiries about the state of his back injury, for which he underwent surgery in April, saying he has not suffered any setbacks in his rehabilitation and that his mobility has not been limited by it.
“I thought he got a little tired, probably,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said of Howard’s game Tuesday. “Maybe frustrated; you would have to ask him.”
D’Antoni shrugged off the game as an aberration for the former three-time defensive player of the year.
“That may be one game,” D’Antoni said. “We’ll see if it continues. I don’t think it will, hopefully. We had two days, three days off. So this should not have been a game where we were tired at all. Everybody should have had their legs.”
Howard sat on a chair staring silently into his locker for several minutes after speaking to the media, before leaving the arena for the night.
Metta World Peace, 33, refused to accept the age of the Lakers’ roster as an excuse for their play, pointing out what the New York Knicks have accomplished so far this season.
“That’s no excuse, the Knicks are playing great, so that’s no excuse,” World Peace said. “You can’t use it as an excuse for us. Thank you. Thanks for trying.”
Having an older roster hasn’t stopped the Knicks from starting the season with a 21-10 record, good enough for the second-best mark in the Eastern Conference. The Knicks started the season with an average player age of 32 years and 240 days, the oldest in NBA history, according to STATS, LLC.