Kobe Bryant took a moment to ponder the persistent questioning, and the words came tumbling out...

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LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant took a moment to ponder the persistent questioning, and the words came tumbling out.

“I sat back, I reminisced, I stood at the window, I saw two birds chirping … “

And then, he laughed.

Bryant just can’t take Shaq vs. Kobe too seriously.

“You all really want me to say, you know what, it’s going to be very emotional for me, I’m going to have to fight back tears, it’s going to be tough,” he said with a hint of sarcasm. “I honestly don’t have any sentiment either way. I mean, it’s just basketball.”

It was much more between Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal the past eight years, when they fussed, feuded and won three championship rings during their chaotic time as Los Angeles Lakers teammates.

O’Neal is gone, having been shipped to Miami last summer at his request — not long after coach Phil Jackson was told his services were no longer desired.

Since then, O’Neal has made it clear he’s not fond of Bryant, who is still around, having signed a seven-year, $136.4 million contract to stay with the Lakers.

The two will play against each other today for the first time since the trade in a regular-season game that’s been hyped like few others.

Two things are clear — the Bryant-led Lakers (14-11) aren’t what they used to be, and the O’Neal-led Heat (21-7) is one of the NBA’s elite teams.

Bryant and O’Neal won’t exactly be going against each other, as Bryant pointed out on Friday.

“He’s a center, I’m a guard,” Bryant said.

But it is an important game.

“We’ve got that seventh spot (in the Western Conference). We’re trying to pick up some ground,” Bryant said. “There’s a lot of hype around the game. You do what you do.”

Lakers center Chris Mihm, who will guard O’Neal, knows what he’s up against, but added: “It’s not like I’m going against him for the first time.”

“This game has been hyped for so long, you can’t help but be ready to go and be excited,” said Mihm.

When asked earlier this week what would happen when Bryant drives to the basket, O’Neal replied: “When you’ve got a Corvette that runs into a brick wall, you know what’s going to happen.”

Bryant laughed over that one, saying at one point he was a combination of a Corvette and a Hummer since he’s gained some weight since last season.

Later, he described himself as a Lamborghini.

“It’s no different from what we did in practice,” Bryant said Friday regarding O’Neal’s remark. “I spent eight years trying to dunk on him. He fouled me every time.”

Speaking after Thursday night’s 109-107 win at Sacramento — the Heat’s 10th straight victory — O’Neal elaborated on the Corvette-brick wall scenario.

“I’ve been a classy individual for 12 years,” he said, referring to the length of his NBA career. “It would be very unclassy of me to try to say what I’m going to do (to Bryant). I’m just going to play good defense. I’m not out to hurt anybody.

“I just want people to understand that I’m not going to try to flagrantly hurt him, but when a Corvette hits a brick wall, you know what happens.”

O’Neal was traded for Lamar Odom and Caron Butler, who start for the Lakers, and Brian Grant, who comes off the bench. Butler won’t play today, having been suspended for punching New Orleans guard Dan Dickau on Wednesday.

“I’m not happy with the decision,” Butler said. “It’s a big-time game, a game I wanted to play in against my former team. We’ll be a man short. (But) I’m not Carson Daly — I don’t get the last word.”

While the Lakers aren’t what they used to be, they seem united. That obviously hasn’t always been the case, as evidenced by the turmoil surrounding them in recent years.

Bryant has usually been in the middle of it. He has tangled with O’Neal, Jackson and more recently former buddy Karl Malone.

But he receives nothing but kudos from current coach Rudy Tomjanovich and his teammates.

“Kobe’s going to be Kobe,” Butler said regarding today’s game. “He’s an assassin. When he steps on the court, he’s a killer.

“He’s a great teammate, a great leader on and off the court.”

Miami players have said for weeks they’re tired of being asked about the Christmas game.

“It’s been crazy,” said Eddie Jones. “Every single day, maybe three, four times a day, it’s all about Shaq and Kobe, and what you think is going to happen.

“Everybody in America is going to be watching, and probably everybody overseas.”