Phil Jackson and Bryant have been forced recently by reporters to relive the past feuds with O’Neal in advance of another meeting with him Thursday night in Phoenix. The experience served Jackson and Bryant well, because they were totally cool in dealing with Ariza and Vujacic.
The discord arose after Ariza had the ball under the basket and passed it out to Vujacic on the wing. Rather than move it back to Ariza or another teammate, Vujacic just held it for a beat and then launched a 3-pointer out of the flow.
The shot missed badly, and Vujacic was soon called for a foul, leading to an automatic timeout with 8:37 left in the second quarter.
That’s when Ariza got in Vujacic’s face and stayed there as the players walked from the far corner of the court back toward the Lakers’ bench. Bryant shepherded Ariza toward the end of the bench and stood in his way while Ariza, who has a temper that his furtive demeanor belies, remained so keyed up that he just kept pacing.
Jackson benched both Ariza and Vujacic. As play was resuming, Jackson did something he never does: He left his usual area and walked to the end of the bench to address the matter directly with Ariza.