(Reuters) - Kobe Bryant said the Los Angeles Lakers are suffering from old age, but still believed he and his team mates can right the ship in time for a playoffs run.
"The problem is we've dug ourselves such a deep hole we got to do a lot of fighting just to catch up and get in that conversation," Bryant told ESPN Radio on Wednesday following the Lakers' 103-99 loss to Philadelphia (15-17) on New Year's Day.
"We firmly believe it's going to happen but we have to do a lot of fighting just to get there."
After losing to a young 76ers team, the Lakers (15-16) stood 9.5 games behind the 25-7 Los Angeles Clippers in the Pacific Division and 10th in the Western Conference where only the top eight teams advance to the playoffs.
"You just saw an old damn team. I don't know how else to put it to you," Bryant told reporters after the Lakers' latest loss.
Philadelphia got high-spirited contributions from 22-year-old Jrue Holiday (26 points, 10 assists) and 24-year-old Evan Turner (22 points, 13 rebounds).
"We're just slow," bemoaned Bryant. "You saw a team over there that was just younger and just had fresher legs and just played with more energy, and we were just stuck in the mud."
Bryant has not appeared to be slowing down as the 34-year-old guard, in his 17th season with the Lakers after joining them straight from high school, is leading the league in scoring at a rate of more than 30 points a game.
A slow start to the season led to the firing of coach Mike Brown after five games and the hiring of Mike D'Antoni, who favors running a fast-paced offense.
Besides such key veterans as Pau Gasol, 32, Mette World Peace, 33, and point guard Steve Nash, 38, center Dwight Howard, 27, has been struggling to get up to speed after back surgery abruptly ended his season last year.
"That's a big thing when you're starting to age, is figuring out how to get yourself ready game in and game out," he said. "It's tough. It takes a lot, a lot of commitment."
Having an older roster has not hampered the New York Knicks, who have started the season with a 21-10 record, second-best in the Eastern Conference behind the reigning champion Miami Heat despite an average age over 32.
(Reporting by Larry Fine in New York, Editing by Steve Keating in Toronto.)