The Los Angeles Lakers are returning to the NBA Playoffs after a seven-year drought but in a tumultuous season that has challenged them in ways they could not have imagined. Be it the tragic death of Kobe Bryant or a global pandemic that led to the league’s suspension, adversity has accompanied the team since Day 1, but they persevered and became a tight-knit group on a mission.
On the eve of facing the Portland Trail Blazers in Game 1 of the first round, Alex Caruso revealed the coaching staff tapped into that forceful sense of persistence — which Bryant’s fabled Mamba Mentality was an embodiment of — to fire the Lakers up.
In a film session with assistant coach Lionel Hollins, who supports the team remotely due to being deemed at a higher risk for the coronavirus (COVID-19), the players watched a “powerful” two-minute video that included a tribute the late Lakers legend.
“It was a video that was brought to me by Rob Pelinka and Lionel Hollins,” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said. “The message was strong, it was about our opportunity here and what Kobe stood for. We’ve said that since we lost Kobe, that we want to embody what he stood for. I thought it was an appropriate time to do it.”
The last time the Lakers entered the playoffs as the Western Conference’s No. 1 seed, they claimed their 16th title defeating the Boston Celtics in the memorable seven-game 2010 NBA Finals. Bryant led the team with 28.6 points and eight rebounds, earning Finals MVP.
And Vogel seems to think ingraining the Mamba Mentality into his team could help the Lakers achieve their ultimate goal this season and leave the Orlando bubble with the Larry O’Brien trophy.
“I just think it’s important to carry [Bryant’s] memory with us through this journey, especially getting into the time of the playoffs,” Vogel said.
In another tribute to Bryant, the Lakers are reportedly planning to wear the City Edition Black Mamba jersey at some point in the playoffs.
James: This year’s championship the toughest of my career
LeBron James is ever determined to bring the title back to L.A. this season, in the eyes of Lakers vice president of basketball operations Rob Pelinka.
The three-time NBA champion’s form and commitment both on and off the court since the season started certainly confirms that. But James does not hide this year’s title challenge is a herculean task.
“This is the toughest championship run for me personally,” he said. “From the circumstances of just being in here.”
James’ feelings are certainly valid. Apart from everything that has befallen the Lakers this season, their route to success is extraordinarily hard too. To triumph in the bubble, they’ll potentially have to defeat the Trail Blazers, Houston Rockets, L.A. Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks, facing the majority of the league’s best players on their way.
All the while being isolated from their families for weeks.
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