The Lakers love going to Fresno so much that they’re flying up the day of the game instead of the night before as they normally would. They’re going straight from the airport to the Save Mart Center for shootaround and will fly home as usual immediately after the game.
They played an exhibition game in Fresno two Octobers ago and had a miserable experience staying in a hotel not even fit for a high school team. One Lakers staffer found empty beer bottles littering her room, another staffer had no clean towels in his.
The first exhibition game is sloppy and interesting at the same time. I’m looking forward to seeing how Andrew Bynum plays. He was more up-and-down in summer league than I expected after a full NBA season. But he is clearly in better shape and is a more refined player than he was as a rookie.
Here’s what Kobe Bryant had to say Monday about Bynum: “He looks stronger. I was just telling (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) that today. He just looks so much stronger with being able to control the ball on the inside, rebound the ball, being able to go back up with it and finish plays with contact. He looks like a stronger player.
This also will be the Lakers debut for first-round draft pick Jordan Farmar and free-agent acquisition Vladimir Radmanovic. We didn’t see much of practice Monday – - or any of Phil Jackson – - but Farmar made a nice play faking a shot, driving baseline and flipping a pass to Devin Green coming down the lane for a dunk.
It brought Bryant out of his seat cheering.
Assistant coach Kurt Rambis said he hasn’t decided on a starting lineup or rotation. The Lakers had a lineup on the floor scrimmaging Monday with Sasha Vujacic, Maurice Evans, Lamar Odom, Radmanovic and Kwame Brown. I have NO idea if that will be the five tonight. But it was the first time I’d seen Radmanovic and Odom playing together.
As for Odom, he probably will log heavier than normal minutes as he tries to get into shape after spending much of his summer away from the game. Odom said Monday, “I wish training camp was four or five more days longer.
The Lakers have ruled Bryant out of Thursday’s exhibition game in Anaheim against Seattle. The team said it is too early to tell about Sunday and next Tuesday’s games in Las Vegas.
By Ross Siler
EL SEGUNDO–Only six days after undergoing hip-replacement surgery, Lakers coach Phil Jackson wasted no time in asserting himself as he sat through practice Monday.
While assistant coach Kurt Rambis wondered if the Lakers were ready to take on learning a new element of the triangle offense, Jackson “ shoved it right down their throats, as Rambis put it.
Jackson stopped by the Lakers scrimmage Sunday night and returned for more than three-quarters of Mondays practice. He is still walking with a cane and has to regain his stamina before returning to the job full-time.
“Even from last night to this morning, he was spryer today and barking out commands to the guys, Rambis said. “ You can tell the itch is there with him. Hes eager to get back.
Jackson left Mondays practice before reporters were allowed into the gym.
Neither Jackson nor Kobe Bryant will be making the trip to Fresno as the Lakers play their first exhibition game tonight against Utah. The race might as well be on between the two to see who gets back first before the season opener in three weeks.
Bryant will stay behind to continue strengthening his right knee. He has yet to practice but said he is on schedule to return before the Oct. 31 opener.
With Bryant and Jackson not in attendance, the featured attraction might be teenage center Andrew Bynum. The Lakers have stressed the need for Bynum to get game experience and the exhibition season affords him that opportunity.
Bynum will be the primary backup to Kwame Brown with Chris Mihm sidelined as he recovers from ankle surgery. Bynum wont turn 19 until Oct. 27 but wants to prove he deserves a role as he enters his second season.
“We would love for him to go out there and play great and get as much time as possible, Rambis said. “That would be good for him and good for us. But realistically, hes going to probably fail more than hes going to succeed when he gets playing time out there.
The most Bynum has played in any NBA game – - exhibition or regular-season – - is 21 minutes. Rambis said he would wait to decide on a starting five and rotation until todays flight.
Bynum had a breakthrough of sorts on the court Monday. He spun to his right on a move and converted a shot with his left hand. Rambis described it as “something that weve all been begging him to do.
“He used his left hand for the first time in practice and hes been here for a year already, Rambis added, “so that lets you know how slow the process is.
The Lakers also hope that Bryants absence will let his teammates better learn how to run the offense without him. Too often last season, Rambis said, the Lakers would give the ball to Bryant and stop making cuts as they waited for him to shoot.
“We want to see the offense, Rambis said, “and we want to see the team work together and then Kobe just plug himself in so he can sustain himself for an entire season and be extremely fresh for the playoffs.
Raising cane: Lakers spokesman John Black was dismayed to see Jackson using a hospital-issued aluminum cane with a rubber handle on his visit.
“A man of Phils stature deserves a better cane, Black said, suggesting a wooden model preferably whittled somewhere in Montana.