In the playoffs, Bryant relies on his teammates to keep the ball moving, to set screens and picks. When that didn’t happen in the fourth quarter, it was Bryant against the world, and the world won. “You’ve got to get some stops (on defense), get out in transition and get some easy opportunities,” Bryant said. “Getting to the free-throw line helps a lot as well. You have to spread the floor, you have to execute properly, you have to set strong screens and look for a lot of action off the ball. “It’s all execution. Particularly when you go into the playoffs, you’re going to face experienced teams, and what they’re going to try to do is take away your strengths. We have to learn, collectively, how to counter-punch. As a unit, we have to be able to make adjustments to what they’re doing defensively.” Bryant didn’t get help in another way. When he did pass the ball, his teammates couldn’t make shots. While Bryant’s fourth-quarter flameout drew headlines, Lamar Odom missed three of four shots, Maurice Evans went 0 for 3, and Farmar and Sasha Vujacic missed 3-pointers on their only attempts in the period. “So (Bryant) was 1 for 10 and they were 3 for 11?” Jackson said to reporters. “They pretty much all were cold, so I don’t know if anybody can put any blame on anyone in that situation.” Bryant didn’t necessarily put blame on his teammates for the missed shots, but admitted that their inability to hit shots in the fourth quarter added to his frustration level. “Yeah, it’s frustrating,” Bryant said. “But you know, there’s nothing you can do except stick with it. You just have to go with it. It’s tough to beat three or four guys off the dribble. That’s crazy. When we get opportunities we have to capitalize on the shots.” If Bryant and the Lakers can take solace from anything in Game 1, it’s the success Bryant had in the first half despite pressure from Bell, his longtime nemesis, with some help from Shawn Marion. Marion’s length can cause problems when he shifts over to put pressure on Bryant, but most of the defense comes from Bell, with whom he has developed a spirited rivalry. Bryant said a military-based book was given to him last year by Jackson, one that “talked about warriors respecting other warriors,” and he found relevance to his personal showdown with Bell. “It gave me a new perspective on things,” Bryant said. “I have a tremendous amount of respect for Raja and what he does, and I enjoy matching up against him because I know he’s going to play hard every possession, which makes it fun for me.” In Game 1, however, the fun ended after three quarters. [email protected] (818) 713-3611160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! The Lakers will have to find the answer quickly if they are to avoid falling into a 2-0 series hole tonight against the Suns, and Bryant’s consistency likely will depend on his teammates’ consistency. “We made it tough on him as a team,” Lakers point guard Jordan Farmar said before Monday’s practice at USAirways Center. “We got away from what was working, which was getting easy shots, running our offense, making them play defense, coming off screens and moving without the ball. “We just made him work too hard. We need to stick with what got us there, keep running our offense and make it easy on him, because that makes it easy on the rest of the team.” It’s no stretch to say the Lakers played their best half of the season Sunday. Bryant carried the way, particularly late in the first half when he scored 15 consecutive points, but he got open looks – even with lockdown defender Raja Bell in his face – because he was usually within the flow of a functioning offense. The isolation plays Bryant thrives on during the regular season disappear in the playoffs. As Bryant noted, when he looked up Sunday, he often saw four defenders between him and the basket. PHOENIX – As often as it might seem otherwise, the Lakers are not a one-man team. Even when Kobe Bryant is brilliant, as he was through three quarters of Game 1 of their first-round playoff series when he torched Phoenix for 35 points and seemed to hold the game in his palm, his teammates remain relevant. That became evident in the fourth quarter, when the Lakers’ supporting cast failed to move the ball and Bryant’s shots finally stopped falling. The offense bogged down, Bryant fired up shots in the face of double-teams and missed nine of his 10attempts as the Lakers lost 95-87. In the aftermath, questions became Bryant-centric. Did he tire, as Phil Jackson suggested? Did he try to do too much, a criticism that often follows Bryant? Or did the Lakers themselves do the most damage?
4 There is also the possibility Arsenal themselves, inadvertently, have halted his development.In the summer of 2013, it was revealed the Gunners had to pay Southampton £10,000 for every time Oxlade-Chamberlain played over 20 minutes for the club, and this complex financial clause will no doubt have been relayed to Wenger, consequently impacting his team selection.The damage has been done, but it’s not irreparable.It might hurt the Gunners’ reputation as they look to move away from their recent status as a ‘selling club’, a label enhanced by the departures of former fan favourites Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie, but, for the sake of the Ox himself, it’s time he looked to flourish elsewhere. He has to step out of his comfort zone; the sad reality is he will never fulfil his potential at the Emirates. 4 A move would not be about the club cashing in; Oxlade-Chamberlain is clearly a player Wenger values having around his camp. And for the Ox himself, it wouldn’t be about bettering his wages, a desire to play with ‘bigger’ names or to move to a team better equipped to lift the Premier League title. It may be painful for him to leave the Emirates Stadium, but there would be few supporters begrudging him if he feels the need to walk away from the club he has grown to adore.Once Sanchez returns to fitness, he’ll fade further into the background and he must not allow this to go on much longer.Oxlade-Chamberlain’s love affair with Arsenal has run its course. It’s time Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain left Arsenal.Ray Wikins recently told talkSPORT Oxlade-Chamberlain has to leave the Emirates or risk missing out on a place at the 2016 European Championship finals – but this is about much more than his international career. Wearing the England shirt should be the least of his concerns right now.He is in danger of wasting the best years of his career if he remains in N5. Having made the move from Southampton in August 2011, he’s had four and a half years to make an impression on the senior squad, but Arsene Wenger hasn’t been convinced.What may be most devastating of all to Oxlade-Chamberlain himself, though, is the emergence of Joel Campbell this season. Injuries to Alexis Sanchez, and, earlier in the campaign, Theo Walcott should have seen the Ox leap from his role as a benchwarmer to a regular starter. But Campbell, who has been out on loan four times since his arrival in the same year as Oxlade-Chamberlain, has jumped ahead of his team-mate in the pecking order. And this surely means game over for the England international in north London. Arsenal midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain 4 Speaking in the latest edition of Sport Magazine, the Southampton academy graduate was asked, ‘any new year’s resolutions?’, and his response was simple, ‘to score more goals’.How can his target be to increase his goal tally when averaging an uninspiring 40 minutes per game in the Premier League so far this season? He should be aiming much higher than this.Of his 19 Premier League appearances, 12 have come from the substitutes’ bench, and on only four occasions has he completed the full 90 minutes. In all, he’s played a worrying 759 minutes in England’s top-flight over the past five months.Yes, he enjoyed a rare start against Stoke on Sunday, but we all know that was only because Mesut Ozil was sidelined through injury. Had the German been fit, Oxlade-Chamberlain would once more have been warming his backside on the bench.At 22, the midfielder is still in the early days of his career – recent research found a players’ peak to be around the age of 26-27 – but, with almost five years of first team experience at the highest level in the country, he should have much more to show for it.And I’m not talking trophies. 4