No Matter How Many Elbows Thrown, the Lakers Are Still Soft

Taylor SmithAnalyst IMay 7, 2009

Kobe Bryant has been through more than his fair share of scuffles throughout his 12-year NBA career. 

Bryant has duked it out with the likes of 6'3" former point guard Chris Childs, stringy future Hall-of-Famer Reggie Miller, and one of the most finesse players of all time, Ray Allen.

Needless to say, Kobe hasn't really been hesitant to dust it up with the select few players he would be able to beat in a fight. 

Maybe last night Bryant thought he was boxing out Kyle Lowry or Aaron Brooks when he delivered his nice little cheap shot to the throat. Instead, it turned out that he had come into contact with Ron Artest. 

While the NBA rule book reads that "a non-basketball play that results in a blow to the head or neck results in an automatic ejection," Bryant was not ejected, nor was he tagged with a flagrant or even a technical foul. 

Once Artest made his way across the court to Kobe, Kobe, who had been endlessly jawing all night long, suddenly didn't want anything to do with it. 

Kobe will act like the man when he's going up against Shane Battier, who is too smart and too nice to attempt to fight back at Kobe. But once Ron Artest gets into the picture, Bryant cowers away like the child he truly is.

Derek Fisher also apparently decided it was necessary to make a dirty play, and proceeded to body check Luis Scola to the floor while Scola was approaching to set a screen for his point guard. 

While Fisher appeared quite accepting of his eventual ejection at the time he was informed, his story of the play given during his postgame press conference was hard to believe, to say the least. 

Fisher said something along the lines of he thought Scola was closer than he actually turned out to be, and that he made the move prematurely in an attempt to fight through the oncoming screen.

The actions of Fisher, Bryant, and Artest are under review by the NBA league office this afternoon. 

The Lakers should be going about this series no differently than they went about their business throughout the regular season.

They won games playing as a team, without resorting to martial arts tactics in order to do so. The Lakers' roster is not full of players assembled to play a physical style of basketball. It's just not. Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum, Lamar Odom, Sasha Vujacic, Luke Walton, and Kobe Bryant are not professional players because of their physicality. 

The Rockets, on the other hand, have built a team around Yao Ming that complements him perfectly. While Yao's toughness has always been somewhat of a question, nobody questions the grit of players like Artest, Battier, Carl Landry, Kyle Lowry, or Luis Scola. 

The Lakers had a stellar first quarter on Wednesday night, pouring in 39 points behind 15 from Bryant to build a 14-point lead going into the second. However, the Lakers' hot shooting cooled down considerably, and Houston managed to chip away at the lead, eventually taking the lead late in the first half. 

The Rockets' defense was giving Los Angeles problems on the offensive end, and it was clear that the Lakers were getting frustrated. 

Bryant was talking all night long to Shane Battier about how he couldn't be guarded. He even drew a technical foul from Joey Crawford for doing a little too much taunting. Once Artest stepped in, Kobe was uncharacteristically silent. Go figure.

Kobe Bryant is the most talented player in the league. You'd think since it's his 13th season in the NBA, he would have learned to go about his business like a professional. 

This is the same guy that quit on his team in Game Seven a few years ago against the Phoenix Suns when things weren't going well. Instead of trying to help his team and bring them back, Bryant was passive and clearly disinterested in trying to win the game.

So, Kobe, keep talking to nice people like Shane Battier and taking on super-studs like Chris Childs if it helps you sleep at night. Just know that when you wake up, everybody will still be talking about how you have as many NBA championships as I do without Shaquille O'Neal carrying you and your team. 

If Kobe, Fisher, and the Lakers want to start trying to play a physical game with the Rockets, they're digging their own grave. 

One thing the Lakers cannot do is try to be more physical than the Rockets. If they try, it's a battle they will absolutely not win.