- The Washington Times - Friday, June 12, 2009

ORLANDO, Fla. | After Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant fizzled late in Tuesday night’s Game 3 loss to the Orlando Magic, much was made of the possibility of the 2008 MVP tiring out because he has played year-round three straight years for the Lakers and U.S. Olympic team.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson doesn’t consider the commitment a factor but more so the responsibilities Bryant has as the team’s top offensive threat, facilitator and defender. Meanwhile, Bryant didn’t dismiss the notion of exhaustion.

“As far as me hitting the wall, so what if I did? I didn’t, but so what if I did?” the 11-time All-Star said. “It means nothing. Because I’ll run straight through it.”

Bryant’s teammates took some of the blame for their leader’s late-game lull. They said if they had done a better job stepping up over the course of the game, Bryant wouldn’t have had to carry such a heavy load.

Small forward Trevor Ariza said he and his teammates must play with more aggression and use better shot selection. Backup forward Luke Walton, meanwhile, said the Lakers must do a better job of moving without the ball so they can get open and allow Bryant to get the ball to them. Rather than settling for perimeter shots, he said, they should drive to the basket more for higher percentage shots.

Offensive balance will go a long way to ensuring the Lakers win the series, All-Star forward Pau Gasol said.

“It kind of came up every series to be honest with you,” he said. “It came up a little bit in the Utah series, but we did well and we were winning, so it was cool. It came up in the Houston series, and when we had those big games, Games 5 and 7, we did go to the post more, and it worked out and we won well. Then it happened in the Denver series. Again it worked out. It went well.

“Hopefully it will continue. It’s just got to be a part of our offense and emphasis, a conscious effort that this works, OK, let’s make it work a little more often because it’s given us a good plus out there. I’m ready always to be there and compete and deliver, so that’s what I like to do.”

‘No explanation’

The Orlando Magic shot 29.9 percent in Game 1. In Game 2, they improved to 41.8 percent.

But in Game 3, Orlando shot 75 percent in the first half and finished with an NBA Finals-record 62.5 percent.

“Tremendous game plan on my part. That’s what it was attributed to,” Orlando coach Stan Van Gundy said jokingly. “I had nothing to do with those first four possessions. After that, it was all me.”

Van Gundy then conceded: “I don’t know. Our ball movement was good, but I don’t care how good your ball movement is and the quality of shot you get. You’re not going to put the ball in the basket at that rate very often. But it’s one of those nights thankfully that a lot of shots went down. Our ball movement was good. I thought offensively we executed well. But I’ve got no explanation for shooting 75 percent in the first half.”

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