Trying times for Kobe

BILL HARRIS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:04 AM ET

This is what Kobe Bryant wanted.

Centre Shaquille O'Neal is gone. Coach Phil Jackson is gone.

But last season, when Bryant dreamed of being The Man with the Los Angeles Lakers, those dreams probably did not include frustrating losses to teams like the Raptors on Sunday afternoons in cold climates.

"Yeah, it has been a tough stretch," Bryant said yesterday after the Lakers' 108-102 loss to the Raptors at the Air Canada Centre. "But you know, my job here is to make sure the ship keeps moving."

That will remind Raptors historians of another nautical quote. During a particularly dismal stretch for the club, ex-Raptor Tracy McGrady analyzed the situation thusly: "The ship be sinking."

It remains to be seen if the Lakers' ship "be sinking" or not. They still are hanging on to the final playoff position in the cut-throat NBA Western Conference, albeit just barely.

But these Lakers aren't your father's Lakers, or even your older sister's Lakers. And you can see it in Bryant's defiantly confident but also weary eyes that deep down, he knows it.

Kobe Bryant is tired, folks.

Physically. Mentally. He's beat.

Bryant was seen taking the odd play off yesterday, particularly in the third quarter, as he hid in the corner and caught his breath. It's hard work carrying this mediocre Lakers crew.

Bryant still had a stellar game statistically, scoring 31 points and treading into triple-double territory by adding eight assists and eight rebounds. But he also hit on only one of six three-point attempts and turned the ball over four times.

ENERGY LEVEL

The Lakers lost to the Detroit Pistons in Los Angeles on Friday and flew to Toronto on Saturday. To Bryant's credit, he did not use jetlag as an excuse. "No, I was straight," Bryant said, referring to his energy level and nothing else.

But Lakers coach Frank Hamblen stated his players' "biological clocks" probably still were on the West Coast.

That meant one of two things: Either the Lakers aren't likely to get anyone pregnant on this trip, or we actually heard the coach of one of the most successful teams in NBA history complaining that his team may have been too tired to play the, uh, Raptors.

Strange times indeed.

Bryant scored 21 points in the first half, but only 10 in the second half.

"No, I had guys who were open," Bryant said when asked if the Raptors' defence -- which has been greatly improved in the past three games -- took anything away from him in the final two quarters. "I'm not going to force this issue if they're zoning it up. If guys around the perimeter are open and have good looks, it's my job to move the ball on.

"You know what, they (the Raptors) are a gutsy team. They went on the road and got two big wins (in New Jersey and Milwaukee), then came here and got a big win. They played well defensively, made plays when they needed to, and as a consequence they got the win."

Everyone knows what Bryant has been through in the past two years: Namely, a rape charge in Eagle Country, Colo., that was dropped, although the civil suit is proceeding. Bryant got a mixed reaction from the Toronto crowd yesterday when he was introduced before the opening tip -- three-quarters cheers, one-quarter boos, by our unscientific calculation.

"I love coming to Toronto," Bryant said. "It always has been a fun place for me to come and play. I felt at home out there. There were a lot of No. 8 jerseys in the crowd and it felt good to see that."

But losing did not feel good. Each loss for the Lakers this season has a little bit of Bryant's pride wrapped up in it.

He drove Shaq away. He drove Jackson away.

This is what Kobe Bryant wanted, right?

Right?


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