Sasha Vujacic: "Kobe made an effort to send a message to the Jazz"
by Nebojsa Petrovacki / April 26, 2009
You seemed in the zone and even a little angry at the pre-game shooting session here in the EnergySolutions Arena before Game 4 against Utah Jazz. Did the talk of you producing less than last year finally got to you?
Sasha Vujacic: No, no. I was just angry that we are not in the position to finish this series and go 4-0, rather than fighting to go up 3-1. I think we are a much better team than Utah. Some stupid mistakes are costing us to not have more time off in between the series.
How important is it for your team to end the series in Game 5 on Monday?
SV: We have to do it. There’s no way we’re coming back to Salt Lake City for Game 6.
It was the first time in this series, and in a long while in the whole season that the Lakers bench played as it is supposed to. What was the difference tonight in Game 4?
SV: I think tonight was the first time in I don’t know how many games that I played eight minutes in the first quarter of a game. Not only me, but Luke Walton, and Shannon Brown. It is much easier like that to get into the rhythm. Otherwise, you have to force the issue and push the envelope for the rhythm to get to you. However, my playing time is a sole discretion of our coaching staff, and I never discuss it with them.
Not that it matters much anymore, but you’re all good with Adam Morrison after your altercation at Friday’s practice here in Salt Lake City?
SV: Yes, everything’s cool between us. He’s a little frustrated that he doesn’t get any playing time, and I guess this is how he shows it.
You were very close to Vladimir Radmanovic before the trade. What do you think about it now?
SV: I was OK with it, especially when I heard that Vladi asked to be traded. He wanted to go somewhere where he would have more playing time. We got two players for him, and one of them, Shannon Brown, is playing very well for us right now. The Lakers got what they wanted in this trade.
Do you think that Brown is the better part of this trade for the Lakers?
SV: It looks like that right now. He has shown that he can play and that he can make his teammates better.
Do you think that any of your playing minutes are in jeopardy now that he is in the regular rotation?
SV: No, no, I don’t think so. Even if he does, I stand by my words from the beginning of this season: I am not really interested about my playing time or individual statistics this year. All that matters is getting a championship ring. Winning a ring is much more important than if I will play 30 minutes in one game and five minutes in the next.
Does Kobe have to play this good in every playoff game for the Lakers to win a championship?
SV: I think we have a terrific team. We have 12 players that can each play for 30 minutes. I think that tonight he just wanted to show how dominant he is, especially after his subpar performance in Game 3. He was right to do what he did tonight. I know he made an effort to send a message to the Jazz, but he played it very smart. He didn’t push for every shot, and he still kept his teammates involved. We still played as a team and when that’s the case, not too many teams can play against us.
The whole season long, including this series with Utah, you guys were blowing big leads and losing games that, realistically, you should have won. Do you think that you underestimate your opponents more often than not?
SV: Yes, that worries me somewhat. For me, that started with blowing the 26-point lead in a home game against Boston in last year’s NBA Finals. So of course I’m concerned about it. However, I think that we are a better team this year that gelled together and we know what we need to do in the critical games like the Finals and such. I hope we will gain the momentum in these playoffs that will take us all the way to the end.
It seems like LeBron James and his Cleveland Cavaliers don’t have the issues of underestimating their opponents, at least judging by their commanding lead in the first round series against Detroit. Do you think they are your main competition for the title this year and do you follow their games closely?
SV: That is too far ahead. We need to take care of Utah first, and than see if we’re going to get Houston or Portland in the second round. As far as Cleveland is concerned, they are playing really good basketball right now. They play basketball the right way, they play as a team. They will be very tough to play against, if we meet in the Finals.
Would you prefer to play Houston in the second round, considering the issues you have playing the Trail Blazers on the road?
SV: We need to show how we have grown as a team. We need to show a different face from the one we had during the regular season. We need to show that we are ready to win the championships, even though we lost the home-court advantage to Cleveland.
Great players of the past, who won championships, like Magic Johnson for example, said that the teams with the champion mentality don’t care and don’t think whether they have home court advantage in the playoffs or not. Do you think your team has that winning mentality and what makes you an optimist that you’re going to win it all this season comparing to the last one?
SV: I think last year nobody really expected that we would go much further than, say, Western Conference Finals. It was a surprise for the most people that we went as far as we did. As I mentioned, I think this year for the first time I was with the Lakers, I feel that we have grown as a team, and that we are a team that can and should win it all this season. I think we’re ready.
When are we going to see the next Machine-like dunk as you had late in the season at Sacramento?
SV: (laughs) The next one? Well, I don’t know. I wanted to hit it tonight, but I got pushed on my way to the rim. I didn’t want to risk anything. The next time, perhaps in the Staples Center on Monday, who knows? I just play a different role here in the Lakers, which doesn’t exactly allow me to penetrate the basket too often. So there are many things in my game that people have no clue I can do. I haven’t surprised myself at all. I just saw the opportunity, which may or may not come in the next game, five or twelve games from now, perhaps in the Finals.
That dunk caused the riot on the Lakers bench. Was there much teasing after it from your teammates?
SV: Yeah, they didn’t expect that I would take it to the hole. Even though they know I can do it, they gave me a lot of crap about it afterwards in the locker room.
Nebojsa Petrovački is a pro basketball editor for Sportska Centrala, Serbian sports news agency
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