"We feel that this time," Derek Fisher said, "with the experience of last season and hopefully a healthy team for the entire season or as much as possible, we can close that gap.
"It's a big commitment to go through a 100-plus game season one year, make it to the Finals -- one team wins, one team loses -- and then carry that hunger back to do it again and be the best two teams in basketball the following year," Fisher said. "... But it's early. It's still football season, so nobody is really watching that closely."
The Lakers and Celtics are watching each other, and everyone else will take a look on Christmas Day, when they meet for the first time since Boston closed out L.A. in six games in June.
Clearly, the Celtics are still the same single-minded, supremely motivated, defensively suffocating team that raised Boston's 17th championship banner to the rafters at the Lakers' expense. Are the Lakers still the physically soft, mentally fragile, finesse-oriented team that had no answer for the Celtics' bullying? Or have they learned their lesson?
Bryant, the ultimate grudge-holder of modern-day basketball, is carrying the sting of that Finals loss with every step he takes through his 13th NBA season. I have no doubts about him. Collectively, though, the Lakers must constantly remind themselves -- every game, every possession -- that finesse and nuance do not win titles. Toughness and defense do.
"Some games we have it," center Andrew Bynum said. "Some games we don't."