El Segundo, Calif. Along the same lines as that 2:30-in-the-morning Kobe-to-Shaq phone call before the Lakers won Game 6 of the Western Conference finals against Sacramento last season, Kobe Bryant decided Saturday it was again time for a private conference with Shaquille O'Neal -- just to make sure the Lakers' All-Stars have united states of mind.
"We talked about the serious nature of these playoffs and how challenging these playoffs are going to be and what we need to do to help us advance," Bryant said. "We have to take this team and lead this team."
The Lakers, in the alien position of trailing a first-round playoff series, face what coach Phil Jackson termed a must-win game "psychologically" today with Minnesota ahead, 2-1.
Bryant and O'Neal, coming off a loss in which they combined to shoot 20 for 54 with seven assists against seven turnovers, have reason for pause. Minnesota's Troy Hudson and Kevin Garnett have formed the better duo so far.
The tricky part is that this isn't as straightforward as Bryant and O'Neal trying harder. Because of the way Minnesota is double-teaming both players on their catches, Jackson said the best thing Bryant and O'Neal can do for the team is pass the ball better to teammates Rick Fox, Derek Fisher and Robert Horry.
"We really think we have to make Minnesota pay for double-teaming Shaquille and Kobe," Jackson said. "And those players most often have to be Rick, Fish and Robert Horry, the other three players in the lineup with them."
Assuming Fox and Horry can start hitting shots again -- Fisher is already 72.2 percent from three-point range this series --more space will open up for Bryant and O'Neal.
Bryant said part of his chat with O'Neal, which came on the practice court while both were shooting baskets, included "how to get these other guys involved."
However, Fox and Horry are no locks to produce. Bryant and O'Neal are supposed to be locks every day, which led them to discuss some adjustments to aid their individual production.
Expect to see O'Neal refrain from automatically chasing the ball on offense so much today and instead being more patient about lining up on the weak side of the offense.