- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 7, 2009

— LOS ANGELES | The scowl, teeth-gritting and other expressions of anguish have been seemingly ever present for Kobe Bryant in his sixth NBA Finals appearance.

At each interview session, he slumps in front of the microphone, tense and terse, smoke seemingly billowing from his nostrils. And his demeanor at home provoked his daughter to start calling him Grumpy from “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

But regardless of appearances, Bryant insists he is having fun as he pursues his fourth ring.

“It’s always fun,” Bryant said after Saturday’s practice, still stone-faced. “It’s always fun. As a kid you grow up wanting to play in the finals, and to be in six finals, I’m extremely fortunate. Even though we lost the last two, I’ve still been very lucky. It’s fun. I still enjoy it.”

Bryant has passed off his stoic demeanor as an intense focus, and it apparently is effective considering he torched Orlando for 40 points, eight rebounds and eight assists in Game 1. But it seemed as if Bryant was so consumed with maintaining his focus that he lost sight of enjoying the moment.

“No, I mean, that’s part of the fun. Just because you’re focused on something doesn’t mean you don’t enjoy something,” he said. “That’s part of the fun, just figuring out how to focus and how to get ready to play game after game. You can still do your job and still have a good time.

“I’m always happy,” Bryant added, grinning. “I’m always happy. I was just happy my kid didn’t call me Dopey.”

Magic stick with Alston

Although Lakers players and coaches suspect there could be a change at point guard for Orlando as soon as Sunday, Magic coach Stan Van Gundy said he likely will stick with his current lineup for now, meaning Rafer Alston would remain ahead of All-Star Jameer Nelson in the rotation.

Alston had started the last 27 games of the regular season and all 13 playoff games leading up to the finals because Nelson was sidelined with a dislocated shoulder. But he had his minutes significantly slashed in Game 1 as Nelson made his playoff debut. Alston watched from the bench the entire second quarter and was ineffective when he returned in the third.

“I thought it was a mistake to play - in his first game back - to play Jameer 12 straight minutes,” Van Gundy said. “I thought he played extremely well and that’s what kept him out there, but I think we should have kept him at six or seven minutes in that first stint regardless of how well he played - not only for the fact that it kept Rafer on the bench for a long time, but also I think that was hard on him staminawise, and I think we sort of ran the tank empty.

“And even when he came back in the second half, he didn’t have as good as energy. So we’ll try to watch that tomorrow.”

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