Kobe under a microscope

FRANK ZICARELLI, Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 11:47 PM ET

The Los Angeles Lakers find themselves in an unfamiliar position at a moment in time that is as unique as Ron Artest’s choice in hair style.

Veiled references about Kobe Bryant’s trigger-happy habits have surfaced, a three-game losing streak and an onslaught known as the juggernaut Dallas Mavericks have turned the reigning champions into a mess, at least by L.A. standards.

Most teams would welcome the added attention, distractions and saga, which go with the territory of being the NBA’s marquee franchise.

The team that takes to the court Tuesday night against the visiting Raptors is one that has been scrutinized more times than Bryant heaved shots during the Lakers’ three-game losing streak, all setbacks on the road in rather dramatic and odd fashion.

Despite the recent tumult, the Lakers still are the team to beat in the West because of Bryant’s presence and his assassin-like personality.

They still are the champs, basketball’s measuring stick and the team no one wants to meet in the playoffs, or at least avoid until the stakes at their highest.

But the aura that usually surrounds the Lakers has been punctured.

What no one knows is whether this air of fallibility is fleeting or whether the remnants of a three-game slide will linger into the spring.

What is for certain is that the Lakers are not accustomed to losing games in succession.

In fact, the team has not posted three successive losses since Pau Gasol was fleeced from Memphis last season.

Bryant has been able to do whatever he wants from the moment Shaquille O’Neal was traded to South Beach from Hollywood.

Early in the shot clock, late in close games, well beyond the three-point arc, it cared little to Bryant or anyone with the Lakers when a heave got hoisted.

With the Lakers now out of sync and in danger of sinking below the hard-charging Mavs, winners of 11 straight heading into Monday’s road tip against Minnesota, L.A. no longer has that necessary balance of going inside.

It takes a lot to have seven-footers basically disappear, but neither Gasol nor Andrew Bynum got many touches in losses to Miami, Charlotte and Orlando.

“We haven’t been playing with a good flow out there offensively and it takes a lot of people out of their rhythm,” Gasol said following Sunday’s loss to the Magic.

“We need to figure out how to move the ball a lot more so there’s a flow out there, there’s a rhythm.”

What the Lakers run, and have run for years under Phil Jackson, is the complicated triangle offence, a triple-post look that demands movement and reading the movement of opposing defenders.

When the ball gets stuck, in other words when the ball is in Bryant’s hands too long, the offence breaks down.

Bryant doesn’t come up short very often, but when he does questions get raised, concerns are aired.

“Kobe’s a great player and he’s probably the best offensive player out there,’’ Gasol said.

“We understand that. But at the same time, we need to find that balance and we need to find balance with our interior game developing, using it a little more and moving the ball and changing sides more, because that’s the triangle, that’s what it does.

“We need to get focused on that a little more. To find that balance, to find that flow.”

Chances are the Lakers will get back to finding that balance of getting the ball in Bryant’s hands and looking inside to create outside looks.

The Lakers are too good to let things slip away, but there’s always that chance.

It was almost a given the Lakers would come out of the West and face either Orlando in a rematch of last year’s final or LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

The Mavs have made the West a frontier worth watching and the recent events have made the Lakers mere mortals.

“This year we’ve made a lot of opposing teams happy, especially on their home court,” Lamar Odom said.

“You gotta understand, it’s a big deal when we come in town.

“We’re the best rock band in the NBA. Right?”

The only bigger deal is dealing with a three-game losing streak.

frank.zicarelli@sunmedia.ca


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