"Bipolar" Lakers stabilize crazy year with win over Celtics

By Mark Lamport-Stokes

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Just over two years ago, Kobe Bryant described the topsy-turvy form of the Los Angeles Lakers during the playoffs as "bipolar", a term that is probably even more accurate for their wild play this season.

The twice defending NBA champions have thrilled and frustrated their loyal fans in equal measure over the last four months, losing games they should have won and winning a few just when it seemed they had no chance.

Many have argued that the 2010-11 Lakers team is aging and can no longer sustain the defensive effort required for four quarters.

However, when their 'big men' collectively come to the party, as they did against the Boston Celtics in hostile TD Garden on Thursday, the Lakers look every inch champions-elect for yet another season.

Master closer Kobe Bryant finished with 23 points, Spaniard Pau Gasol recorded 20 points and 10 rebounds and Andrew Bynum had 16 points as Los Angeles beat the Celtics 92-86 just 11 days after losing to the same team on their home court.

"I thought those big guys carried us for a large stretch of the game," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said after his team claimed their third successive road victory.

Odom added: "It was important to compete on a high level and play tough. Be in the game to win it, not come in here and lose by 10 or 15, just to let people know we can still compete."

Before Thursday's game, the Lakers were a dismal 0-5 against teams with better records, prompting Jackson to bring in a sports psychologist to talk to his team.

Jackson's longtime friend George Mumford spoke to the players about avoiding outside distractions and his advice certainly had a positive effect.

PSYCHOLOGICAL INSPIRATION

"He really inspired me to play a little bit better, to be a little bit more mindful," said seven-foot center Bynum after the Lakers outscored the injury-hit Celtics 50-32 in the paint and outrebounded them 47-36.

"He talked a lot about mindfulness and not allowing outside things to distract you. Train your mind to keep coming back to the center.

"We came to play, the guys inside, and it made a difference."

Among a myriad of distractions swirling around the Lakers in recent weeks has been talk of a four-player deal involving the departure of the injury-prone Bynum and the acquisition of All-Star Carmelo Anthony from the Denver Nuggets.

Jackson, however, has chuckled whenever trade rumors have been raised by reporters and has steadfastly praised the winning potential of his big men while underlining the importance of rock-solid defense.

"We have to do a lot of things right to be able to play defense the way we want to, and most of it is about controlling the tempo of the game," he said.

"That's what a good team does -- they learn how to lock a team down and come out in the fourth quarter and play defense.

"We're not the fastest team on the board in the NBA but we do it if we control things the right way. I still think when they (the Lakers) are playing their best, they're the best team in the league."

The (37-16) Lakers are in second place in the Western Conference, 7.5 games behind the pacesetting San Antonio Spurs, and have four more games left on their current road trip.

"We're playing well on the road as a basketball team and we know it but we just have to keep playing that way," said Jackson who memorably described the Lakers as "Jekyll and Hyde" two years ago.

(Editing by Steve Ginsburg; To comment on this story email sportsfeedback@thomsonreuters.com)