HOUSTON — Kobe Bryant and the Lakers turned their attention Monday from bad basketball and trade talk to more somber matters.
The death of Jerry Buss, their longtime owner, was a blow for a franchise that won 10 championships under his leadership. The current club seems to have little shot of adding to that.
The Lakers are 25-29, currently in 10th place in the Western Conference, miles behind the Clippers in their division and their own building, and out of the playoff race. Pau Gasol is hurt and Dwight Howard has been unhappy, leading to speculation he could be dealt before Thursday's trade deadline even though the Lakers have said otherwise.
Yet Bryant spoke confidently of a turnaround Sunday after the All-Star Game.
"I think we've been playing pretty well coming into the break," Bryant said. "We laid a couple of eggs there against the Celtics and the Clippers, but all in all we've been playing pretty well, much better than we have been. We just have to continue to improve and we'll do much better in the second half."
It starts today, with the Lakers looking to get on track, the Heat in command in the East and LeBron James in command of everyone.
Bryant blocked James' shots twice in the final minutes of the West's 143-138 victory over the East in Sunday's All-Star Game. It was a rare failure for James, whose Heat ran off seven straight victories going into the break.
"We just want to play our game," James said. "We want to continue to get better each and every game. Not waste an opportunity when we get on the floor. Play as a team and if we do that, we'll be fine."
ROSE UPDATE: Bulls point guard Derrick Rose participated in five-on-five drills, the latest step in his recovery from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee.