Wednesday report

So much stuff came out of practice today that we had to split it into two stories for Thursday’s paper.

The Lakers will play their last game of November tomorrow night against the Jazz. If you go back to Sept. 29, you can see the month by month predictions I made for the season. They’ll be at least one game behind my pace; I had them at 11-4 heading into December and winning 48 games this season.

The games I had penciled in as losses were the first two against Phoenix and Golden State, one of the games against Detroit or Chicago and one of the games against Utah or the Clippers last week. I was wrong about the first two games but I did write that the Portland and Milwaukee games were potential traps.

We’ll see how December goes. I thought the Lakers would go 8-8 back in September. There’s a really tough week where the Lakers play host to San Antonio, then play a back-to-back at Houston and Dallas, then come home to Staples Center and play Houston again. All in six days. There’s also the long Christmas trip.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–The NBA drew a hard line for criticizing referees Wednesday as it fined Lakers coach Phil Jackson $25,000 for complaining that teenage center Andrew Bynum was not given the freedom to play Friday against Utah.

“It was one of those nights in Utah that you know youre going to get, Jackson said after Saturdays practice. “The league throws out some refereeing corps that youre dubious about to start with. The game ends up to be like that.

Utah coach Jerry Sloan “plays into that well, Jackson added. “He gets a technical and gets them intimidated. Things get a little bit rough. But these guys know thats what its going to be like there.

Bynum was called for a traveling violation with which Jackson disagreed and was “smacked around on a couple of plays. Bynum also was called for a foul late in the first half on a play in which Jackson thought he had position to draw a charge.

“The big key with Drew is that they wouldnt let him play, Jackson said.

Jackson was fined $25,000 last season for violating the leagues anti-tampering rules. He called Torontos Chris Bosh a player “everybody’s going to be interested in and we think he’s become quite a talent.

The league has cracked down on player conduct toward referees and appears to be doing the same with coaches. Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy was fined $25,000 earlier this month for complaining about how Yao Ming was treated in a game.

Zoned out: A day after watching Bynum and Kwame Brown combine to score five points and grab seven rebounds against Milwaukees zone defense, Jackson said he “berated the two at Wednesdays practice.

I really berated our big guys for not moving behind the defense, Jackson said. “Andrew and Kwame just did not take advantage of that and our interior passing because of that lacked its fiber.?

Jackson was asked if he was curious to see how the two would respond if Utah played zone in tonights game.

Im not curious because in practice we were awful, Jackson said. “We couldnt even do it in practice. I had a team of 6-footers out there against them and they still had trouble figuring out how to play a zone.

Jackson added: “Itd be devastating for us to face any zones from now on out.

Weighty issue: Miami Heat coach Pat Riley challenged center Shaquille ONeal to “almost reinvent himself physically in returning from knee surgery. That would mean coming back “a lot lighter, a lot leaner.

ONeals timetable to return is sometime between Dec. 18 and Jan. 3. Whether he will play in the Christmas Day showdown against the Lakers is uncertain.

* * *

Chris Mihm was at the practice facility Wednesday and talked to reporters for the first time since his ankle surgery. One of the hardest questions is whether he would have done anything differently now knowing that he will be out all season.

He did everything to try to come back for the playoffs after suffering the injury in March and actually played in the last regular-season game, something general manager Mitch Kupchak marveled at in talking earlier this month.

When the ankle didn’t get better this summer, he had surgery to clear out scar tissue, which he thought with therapy would get him on the court by November. He needed a second surgery, though, and will need six to eight months to recover. If he’d had the surgery in May, Mihm more than likely would have played this season.

I think I probably would have approached it the same way,” Mihm said. “I didnt want to miss the season. I knew going into it that I would have to play through a certain level of pain. We were trying to get that to a tolerable level and keep the ankle stable – – and using taping and bracing – – and I was fine with that because I wanted to be out there, I wanted to be a part of this.”

Mihm said the ankle specialist he saw in Baltimore diagnosed what was wrong “in 30 minutes.” He said a couple of times in talking Wednesday that he was glad to finally have answers.

“The short-term timeline obviously isnt great,” Mihm said, “but long-term he said its very successful and will be 100 percent. Its something that had to be done to get the ankle right and healthy.’

Mihm made one of the strongest statements I’ve heard from a Lakers player facing free agency about wanting to stay. It’s at the bottom of the second story for Thursday.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–There are games that dont get any easier to watch and questions that dont get any easier to answer for Lakers center Chris Mihm, now two weeks into his recovery from Nov. 14 surgery on his right ankle.

For the time being, Mihm must keep the ankle completely immobilized, a prognosis he can be forgiven for thinking applies to his basketball career as well. He will spend time in a walking boot after that and is not expected to play at all this season.

With a set of oversized crutches supporting his 7-foot frame, Mihm stopped by the Lakers practice facility Wednesday. His two-year run as the teams starting center has ended, his hopes for a breakthrough season have been dashed.

“I kind of feel like weve built something here over the three years that Ive been here, Mihm said. “To see the guys that we had coming in this year, I knew this year was going to be a special year.

“Its really why there was no thought in my mind that there was going to be anything that could keep me out of playing with this team and being part of the Lakers this year.

Mihm originally suffered a severe sprain of the ankle in the final minute of the Lakers March 12 game against Seattle. He underwent surgery July 26 to clean up scar tissue in the ankle in the hopes of making it back for the season opener.

But Mihms recovery stalled – – he described it as being in “limbo and said he couldnt go out to dinner without being in pain – – and he underwent a second surgery this month to repair tendon and ligament damage as well as re-align his heel.

The timetable for a full recovery is six to eight months. Mihm is holding out hope that he could play if the Lakers advanced deep in the playoffs.

“Its going to be a long shot, but its something that I definitely have in my mind and something I want to do, Mihm said. “If its realistic, if Im healthy, if this ankle is ready to do it, then certainly Id love to join this team at some point. But time will tell.

The hardest part, Mihm said, is watching the games at home and “knowing what I could do. Mihm averaged 10.2 points and 6.3 rebounds in what was a career-best season before the injury.

Mihm will be a free agent next summer and the Lakers have two centers already under contract in Andrew Bynum and Kwame Brown. But Mihm made a strong statement Wednesday about wanting to stay with the team.

“Thats my goal, Mihm said. “Thats a lot of the reason that I wanted to stay and play this year was to be a part of this team, to show what I could do and be an integral part of this teams rise.

“I take the most pride of anything in my basketball career in putting on that Laker jersey and being the starting center for the Lakers for two years. That was something I worked hard for and it was a long time coming and it was something I relished every night.

“This is certainly a place, a team, an organization, a city that Ive fallen in love with. And I hope that come July that well be able to figure out a way to keep me here.

Bucks 109, Lakers 105

No matter how much the Lakers struggled to break Milwaukee’s zone on offense, you always have to point to defense first when you give up 109 points at home. The Lakers struggled to stop not just Michael Redd – – whose 45 points might be the most by an opposing player all season – – but the rest of the Bucks as well.

Milwaukee was playing without Charlie Villanueva or Bobby Simmons and put a starting lineup on the floor with four players 6-foot-6 or shorter. One thing the Bucks did with great sucess was play their big man away from the basket, which opened up the lane for easy baskets. The Lakers still can’t stop players from getting to the rim.

The Bucks totaled 56 points in the paint and shot 50.6 percent as a team. The Lakers also were called for four defensive three-second violations, which Milwaukee turned into three free points. If you take the technicals called on Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom, the Bucks margin of victory came on technical free throws.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson on defending Redd: “We really didn’t focus on him the way we wanted to focus on him with double-teams to get the ball out of his hands and make him pass the ball.”

* * *

Even on nights like Tuesday, when he makes 7 of 23 shots, Bryant’s value to the Lakers is unmistakable. The Lakers were outscored 20-6 with Bryant off the court for 6:56 in the game. They outscored the Bucks 99-89 in the 41:04 that Bryant played.

The three 3-pointers Bryant hit in the third quarter kept the Lakers in the game, although it’s worth noting that Bryant took more 3s Tuesday than he did in his 81-point game against Toronto back in January.

Jackson also has noticed a trend in how referees have treated Bryant the past couple of games. Bryant shot only seven free throws – – one of which came on a technical – – in Tuesday’s game.

It looks like the referees arent going to bail him out,” Jackson said, “give him free throws.”

* * *

Between them, Andrew Bynum and Kwame Brown combined to score five points, take two shots and grab seven rebounds in 43 minutes. Jackson said facing a zone defense should have been a “big man’s dream” but it didn’t turn out that way.

The Lakers lob a pass over the top to Bynum early but that was about the extent to which they looked inside.

Our big men just didnt react to that the way they should react,” Jackson said. “They might have gotten frustrated that we were chucking up a lot of 3s. Those rebounds bounce pretty long rather than being in the lane or around the basket.

* * *

Assistant coach Frank Hamblen, who was in charge of preparing the scouting report, stayed home from the game with flu-like symptoms.

* * *

Forward Brian Cook was back with the team after battling a respiratory infection but did not dress for the game. Cook said he thought he got sick from family members who stayed with him recently, specifically his 2-year-old nephew.

* * *

Jackson has noticed one important change in Odom this season. In the past, the coach said, Odom had trouble concentrating on things as simple as listening to instructions from the bench on the opposite end of the court.

“This year I think his focus has been better, Jackson said. “Im pleased with that.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

There are no certainties left for the Lakers, not after losing Tuesday night to the Milwaukee Bucks for the first time in more than five years, not after deciding the answer to a zone defense was to take a franchise-record 37 3-pointers.

The end result was a 109-105 loss in which Milwaukee guard Michael Redd finished with 45 points – – the most by an opposing player this season – – and delivered 18 in the fourth quarter as the Bucks built a 13-point lead that the Lakers could not overcome.

It was a staggering defeat both because the Lakers had beaten the Bucks in 10 consecutive games dating to March 2001 as well as because they had been 8-1 at Staples Center before Tuesday.

There was a chance for the Lakers in the end, as Jordan Farmar and Luke Walton connected on 3-pointers in the desperate last minute. The Lakers made 11 of 37 3-pointers Tuesday, 5 of 17 in the fourth quarter.

Redd lost the ball out of bounds after he was trapped on an inbounds pass by Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom. That gave possession back to the Lakers with 16.3 seconds remaining, trailing 108-105.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson had Odom inbound the ball to Bryant, hoping Bryant would fire a return pass to Odom, whose momentum would carry him right into a 3-pointer.

Bryant was defended by forward Ruben Patterson, the self-proclaimed “Kobe stopper from his days in Portland. Bryant backed down Patterson, then dribbled back outside the arc and missed a wild 3-pointer with six seconds remaining.

We checked off, Jackson said, “and Kobe took the challenge and tried to make the shot.

Bryant finished with 27 points on 7 of 23 shooting, 6 of 14 from 3-point range. He kept the Lakers in the game by drilling three 3-pointers in the third quarter but went 3 of 8 – – all from 3-point range – – in the fourth.

The Lakers also were unable to use Bryant against Redd in the second half, as Bryant picked up his fourth foul in the final minute of the third quarter. With Bryant on the bench to start the fourth, Redd scorched the Lakers for 13 points in three minutes.

Odom boiled over after he blocked Redd only to have the Bucks guard wrestle the ball away from him. Redd scored as part of a three-point play while Odom thought he had been fouled and slammed the ball in frustration.

That drew Odom a technical foul. Redd hit both free throws in what was a four-point swing and followed with a 3-pointer on the next possession to put Milwaukee ahead 92-82.

“That was a little frustrating, Odom said. “Ive got one guy on my back, Im fighting for the ball. I got the rebound kind of clear. I guess the whistle went his way all night. He won tonight.

Redd had more points Tuesday than he scored in two games against the Lakers last season. His career scoring average against the Lakers was his lowest against any NBA team.

Farmar played ahead of Smush Parker the last 17-plus minutes and split the zone as soon as he checked in during the third quarter. But Farmar went 1 for 5 from 3-point range in the fourth quarter, with Jackson concluding the rookie “ran out of gas.

For as much as Jackson has talked about the zone as being a soft defense, the Bucks used it to great success in the first half. They fell behind 13-4 in the opening minutes, switched to a zone, and went into halftime leading 52-47.

The Lakers stalled in trying to break the zone and wound up taking 14 3-pointers, making only three of them. They might have been lured into a false sense of confidence having made a season-high 12 3-pointers in Sundays victory over New Jersey.

“Its obvious when you look at how many 3-point shots we got, Jackson said. “Thats what players like to do against a zone is attack it with the 3-point shot. . . . Penetrations always the key in basketball and this team forgot about penetration.

Monday report

Lakers coach Phil Jackson launched into a lengthy answer Monday to the question about whether the perception is reality when it comes to his displeasure at playing rookies. He was talking about guard Jordan Farmar, who is earning minutes, but was notable for the comment Jackson made about former Laker Kareem Rush.

“It’s just all lies. It’s not overblown. They’re just lies,” Jackson said. “When you have teams that have finished (with the best record) as many times as we had in Chicago – – we haven’t finished (with the best record) in L.A. since the very initial year – – you end up getting draft picks that are basically one pick above the second round.

“You don’t have those top five or 10 or 15 picks that you have the same opportunity. But even with that, I look at a guy like (Mark) Madsen as a product that we used and explored and got experience and has had a lengthy career now as an NBA player, as a person that we brought along because he was a worker and talented enough to play.

“We look at a guy like Kareem Rush as a disappointment, as a guy that we would have liked to have seen have a career and did relatively well with us here but has floundered since that time.

“I always look at that as limited information that people have. I look at guys that I’ve had that I’ve felt really happy about since I’ve been a Laker with kind of a father’s pride.”

Rush spent two seasons in Charlotte but was released April 1 with the Bobcats saying Rush was about neither hard work nor maximum effort. Rush signed with Seattle and made their 15-man roster despite suffering a groin injury in training camp. But the Sonics released him and signed center Andreas Glyniadakis.

That leaves Rush out of the NBA for the time being. He is still close to a number of Lakers, including Luke Walton and Brian Cook.

* * *

Looking forward to watching Andrew Bynum battle Andrew Bogut in Tuesday night’s game. The only three certainties in life are death, taxes and the Lakers beating the Milwaukee Bucks, something they’ve done the last 10 times they’ve played.

* * *

Kobe Bryant said after Sunday’s game that he channeled his inner Michael Jordan and Joe Dumars when locking in on defense against Vince Carter. Those players prided themselves on playing at both ends, Bryant said, in contrast to today’s NBA where each team has a defensive specialist along the lines of Bruce Bowen.

Bryant will get a chance to shut down one of the league’s leading scorers in Milwaukee’s Michael Redd, who had 57 points in a game against Utah earlier this season.

Here are the notes from Monday:

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–Upon further review, Lakers coach Phil Jackson will keep Andrew Bynum in the starting lineup. Jackson also made clear to his players in a film session Monday that he wants to see them get the ball to the 19-year-old center.

Bynum has had three straight lackluster games – – averaging 4.3 points and 4.3 rebounds while making 3 of 12 shots – – and Jackson was left considering his options after Sundays victory over New Jersey.

Jackson wondered aloud if Bynum would benefit from playing with a group of reserves more committed to team play than the starting five. He backtracked from that Monday, leaving Bynum in the starting five and Kwame Brown coming off the bench.

“Im only serious about it if that first units not going to use him, theyre not going to throw the ball in to him, Jackson said. “We took a little film session with the first unit about how we have to get the ball in there.

The Nets fronted Bynum on defense with center Nenad Krstic. Jackson thought the Lakers “didnt spend enough time looking at ways to develop that, specifically to free the backside and lob passes over the top.

Bynum didnt have an answer for why his teammates have been reluctant to throw him the ball.

“I dont know exactly what it is, Bynum said. “Kwame and myself have been told just to run down the middle of the floor and post up low. They are looking at us. The way you have to enter the ball into the post, it just takes practice.

Brown was not at practice Monday for personal reasons but is expected to play tonight against Milwaukee.

Kid games: As he turns 20 this week, Jordan Farmar can say that he ranks a little higher than whale you-know-what, Jacksons favorite description for first-year players.

Never fond of playing rookies, Jackson did not shy away from using Farmar for 16 minutes Sunday in his first game back from a sprained ankle. Farmar finished with 11 points and hit three 3-pointers.

“A coach is a pragmatist for the most part, Jackson said. “If a kids going to go out there in that unit and survives or plays well, theyre going to stick with it. They like to win.

The most any rookie has played on a Jackson-coached Lakers team was Kareem Rush, who averaged 11.5 minutes in 76 games in 2002-03. So far this season, Farmar is averaging 5.5 points in 16.1 minutes.

Jackson was especially pleased with how Farmar defended New Jerseys Marcus Williams, who had 14 points in the first half but was shut out in the second half.

“He was getting 15-foot jump shots. For an NBA player, thats a layup, Farmar said. “Just made an emphasis not to get screened and keep the pressure on the ball so he wouldnt be able to get in his rhythm.

Opening act: After nine home games, Farmar already has a tradition all his own. He settles into a courtside seat, rubbing shoulders with the fans, to watch the video highlights before player introductions.

“I know some people over there, said Farmar, who has a connection to the family of season-ticket holder Steve Jackson, “so I hang out with the fans, make them feel part of the game.

Saturday report

I’m sad to report that nobody at Lakers practice Saturday was planning to watch the Clippers-Timberwolves game at 5 p.m. It’s just the Clippers’ luck that they play directly opposite (and one channel down from) the USC-Notre Dame game.

Andrew Bynum has a big game Sunday against his home-state New Jersey Nets, which also brings a matchup against another promising young center in Nenad Krstic. Bynum’s night against Utah on Friday was one of the topics of interest at practice.

The Lakers worked on exactly what you would expect after playing the Jazz – – transition defense, defending interior passes and rebounding position. The Lakers also can look forward to a desperate Nets team coming to town after losing their first three games on this road trip.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–There are the ups and downs to be expected from Andrew Bynum, starting at center for the Lakers only days after his 19th birthday. Then there was the sight of Kobe Bryant having to calm down Bynum on Friday as he barked at the referees.

Bynum played only 14 minutes in the Lakers loss to Utah, with coach Phil Jackson saying afterward that his big man wasnt given enough of a chance to play in what he described as a “roughhouse game.

A traveling call cost Bynum a basket in the second quarter. The play that really set him off, though, came with 1:35 left before halftime. Bynum thought he had position to draw a charge against Matt Harpring only to be whistled for a foul instead.

Bynums frustration nearly got the best of him before Bryant intervened and walked the teenager away from the referees.

“Hes starting to feel like hes a contributor and when he gets calls that go against him, he should get calls that go for him once in a while out there, too, Jackson said. “I dont want him to get a technical, but its OK that hes starting to have a voice.

Bynum had a tough matchup against Utahs Carlos Boozer. He finished with four points and two rebounds and went to the bench three minutes into the third quarter after getting blocked by Andrei Kirilenko. That was where he stayed the rest of the game.

Back at practice Saturday, Jackson wanted to get Bynum – – who has sat in favor of Kwame Brown the last two games – – the chance to run five-on-five and get his confidence back.

“Today was a day we wanted Drew to get back and be aggressive out here because we need him to play for us, Jackson said. “We need those 25 minutes or 20 minutes, whatever he can give us, to be productive minutes.

Well known: The one thing forward Luke Walton wont need for tonights game against New Jersey is a scouting report on Richard Jefferson, his close friend and roommate for two years at Arizona.

“Ive been playing against him for eight years, Walton said, “so its like playing against the guys in practice where you know their moves, you know what they like to do.

Walton and Jefferson lived together this summer in San Diego and trained at a nearby gym along with Antoine Wright, Brian Cook, Kareem Rush and Danny Granger. Charlotte assistant coach J.B. Bickerstaff worked out the group regularly.

“Its one of those things where we all feed off each other, said Walton, who had to listen to a summers worth of trash talk about the Nets two victories over the Lakers last season.

The biggest difference tonight is that Walton will be in the starting lineup and will match up from the get-go against Jefferson, who is playing his way back from a sprained ankle on New Jerseys road trip.

Locked in: Kobe Bryant played the entire fourth quarter Friday and scored only two points. Jackson described Bryant as looking “leg-weary after the game, though Bryant said Saturday it was more a matter of picking his spots.

“My legs felt OK, Bryant said. “Kwame was rolling, Lamar (Odom) was rolling. I was facilitating the offense and going from there, just waiting for my moment to take it over. It never got to that point because they stretched it out to a four-point lead, five-point lead.

“So my moment never came. But I was champing at the bit, waiting for a three-point deficit, two-point deficit. You better believe my legs would have looked fresher than anything.

Also: The Lakers will play their next eight games at Staples Center, including a Dec. 2 road game against the Clippers. . . .Cook is suffering from strep throat, with Jackson saying, “I probably should have left him in the locker room (Friday).

Jazz 114, Lakers 108

That’s as good a game as you’ll see in November in the NBA. The Lakers played the Jazz as if beating the Western Conference’s best team with 70 games to go meant everything. The teams will play again Thursday at Staples Center in a TNT game the basketball public will be able to see.

Lamar Odom came all the way from a tough start to have a strong game. Odom couldn’t get going in the first quarter against Andrei Kirilenko and sat the last 3 1-2 minutes. He also picked up three offensive fouls for the night. But Odom got to his favored left block for three baskets against rookie Paul Milsaps early in the second quarter and was on his way. The end wasn’t what he hoped for, though.

“Whats important is that this team doesnt lose or get discouraged because of a loss,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “Thats not the key. The key is about how you play.

Jackson also talked before the game about Bryant volunteering to bring the ball up and direct the triangle offense after the Lakers struggled to break the Pistons’ zone defense. You have to wonder if that responsibility didn’t take a toll on Bryant in Friday’s game. He wasn’t able to take over like normal.

“Were going to have to have different people do that for us as we go through the season,” Jackson said. “Lamar did a lot of it last year. Kobe volunteered when we got a little bit stuck there to move out. I was happy to have him do that. I thought it was important.

The Lakers played zone defense down the stretch because Jackson wanted to counter the Jazz’s pick-and-roll plays. They wore their home gold uniforms because the NBA wanted the Jazz to wear their powder blue alternate road uniforms.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

SALT LAKE CITY–As the streamers fell from the ceiling and the celebration started here Friday night, Lakers forward Lamar Odom took off his wristbands and tossed them aside in separate directions as he walked off the court.

Odom was the picture of dejection after the Lakers 114-108 loss to the Utah Jazz, a game in which coach Phil Jackson told his players afterward they had nothing to be ashamed about, even if one of them didnt agree.

The Lakers played as competitive a game as November has to offer, taking a Jazz team with the NBAs best record into the dying minutes of the fourth quarter before coming up short by a missed shot here and an offensive rebound there.

“It was a hell of a game, Jackson said. “We just didnt finish it out.

With Kobe Bryant missing all three shots he took in the fourth quarter and scoring just two points, Odom found himself with the ball in his hands three times in the last two minutes. The Lakers four-game winning streak hung in the balance.

Odom took a 3-pointer with 1:45 left that “crawled back out in Jacksons words after nearly falling in. The Jazz went ahead 107-104 at the other end as second-year guard Deron Williams knocked down a jumper after having his initial attempt blocked.

The Lakers went into a timeout and Odom attacked the basket coming out of it. He scored against Matt Harpring as part of a three-point play to tie the game. But the highs turned into lows in a matter of moments.

After Williams used a screen to bury a 3-pointer, Odom had his 2-footer roll around and out. Carlos Boozer grabbed the rebound for the Jazz, who never looked back. Jackson was left saying afterward of Odom: “He cant hold himself responsible for that.

The words rang hollow for Odom, who totaled 26 points and six rebounds on 7 of 14 shooting.

“Basketballs a humbling game, a humbling experience, Odom said. “Those are plays I have to make.

Boozer led the Jazz with 31 points – – 10 in the fourth quarter – – and 16 rebounds. Williams had 15 points and 10 assists. Back from a sprained ankle, Andrei Kirilenko scored only four points but had five blocks and guarded Bryant in the fourth quarter.

Williams drilled the nights biggest shot, a 3-pointer with 1 minute left that put Utah in front for good 110-107. Williams used a Mehmet Okur screen to knock down the 3; Lakers guard Smush Parker went under the screen and paid the price.

The Jazz also came up with two critical offensive rebounds on a wild possession with three minutes left, which ended in an Okur jumper. The Lakers were outrebounded 45-27 Friday, and gave up 15 offensive rebounds, seven to Boozer.

“I told them they had nothing to be ashamed of, Jackson said, “except that rebound total when they look at it.

The Lakers (8-4) led by as many as seven points early in the fourth quarter but were outscored 32-20 over the last 12 minutes. Bryant finished with 27 points but stepped back in the quarter as Jackson thought he became “leg-weary.

The proof was in the two free throws Bryant left short in the quarter. He scored 14 points in the first quarter but deferred to Odom and center Kwame Brown late. Bryant once again played in the backcourt and directed the Lakers offense.

“Its nights like tonight, games like tonight, Bryant said, “where they get that experience learning how to close out games, not having to lean on me for it.

The Lakers went to Brown four consecutive times in the fourth quarter and Brown delivered eight points. Okur became so frustrated that he tossed the ball against the basket standard to draw a technical foul.

There has been no greater surprise in the NBA this season than Utah, which improved to a league-best 12-1 and is averaging 108.3 points per game. The Lakers were playing their first road game in more than two weeks.

“I think that Utah is a legitimate team; I dont think theyre going to win the West as far as the best record, Jackson said. “But I do think theyre going to be a good team out here. For us, its the depth of this team and the veteran experience they have.

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Wednesday report

Not exactly the greatest showing by Vladimir Radmanovic or Tim Thomas in Tuesday night’s game. The two forwards combined to go 3 for 13 and 1 for 6 from 3-point range. If there’s one thing they share in common, it’s being able to shoot the ball.

Radmanovic opted to sign with the Lakers instead of returning to the Clippers back in July. The Clippers responded by signing Thomas away from Phoenix and making it known that they got better even in losing Radmanovic. Both forwards signed contracts starting with the $5.2 million midlevel exception.

There was a sequence in the fourth quarter where Thomas was called for an offensive foul at one end. Radmanovic then tried to drive on Thomas at the other end and tossed up a wild left-handed shot that missed. Thomas came back and missed a jumper. Ugly, ugly, ugly.

Radmanovic also wore a headband for the first time this season. You could barely see it, though, under his mess of hair. He missed all five shots he took and finished with one point, five rebounds, three assists and a block in 17 minutes.

* * *

Smush Parker had a season-high 15 points and said after the game: “It’s funny that I come out a little slow the first couple games – – and people write me up like I can’t play. But I just go out and play hard every night. The first 10 games I just forgot to have fun. And tonight I just went out and had fun.”

* * *

Tough time for Sasha Vujacic to go into a deep slump. There’s a special airing this week on FSN West about his life before he came to the Lakers. If you watch it, you learn that Vujacic earned the nickname “The Giant Killer” on his Italian team for how he rose to the occasion whenever big-name teams came to town.

* * *

Three things you won’t see very often that happened in Tuesday’s Lakers-Clippers game:

No. 1: Kwame Brown grabbing a rebound in the fourth quarter and passing the ball to Parker to bring upcourt. The problem was, Parker had lost his headband on the play and stopped to pick it up. He had to dribble with his left hand across midcourt to avoid an eight-second violation with the headband in his right hand.

No. 2: Parker getting whistled for a technical foul in the third quarter while Kobe Bryant was at the line shooting a pair of free throws. Bryant made the first one but had to wait to take the second while Sam Cassell went to the other end for the technical free throw. Lakers coach Phil Jackson said after the game he didn’t know what Parker did to draw the technical.

No. 3: Brown somehow volleying a tip-in over the rim entirely. Brown missed several tip-ins Tuesday but still managed to total 10 points and 14 rebounds. He also shot a 14-foot free throw in the third quarter. Even if Brown were to average the 15 points and 10 rebounds the Lakers set forth as a goal this season, nobody said it would be pretty.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

If it seemed like the Lakers kept bumping into a glass ceiling as they tried to climb above .500 last season, maybe thats because thats exactly what was happening.

The first five times last season the Lakers had a chance to win and pull five games away from the .500 mark all turned out the same. The Lakers lost each of them, part of the reason they found themselves with a 34-34 record in mid-March.

They finally broke through on their sixth try, beating Houston on April 2 to improve to 40-35. It came as the Lakers won 11 of their last 14 games to make the playoffs as the Western Conferences No. 7 seed.

That was what made Tuesdays 105-101 victory over the Clippers so significant. The Lakers improved to 8-3, perched atop the Pacific Division, and won their fourth consecutive game.

“Its important for us to continue this momentum, Kobe Bryant said. Its so early in the season. The key for us, with the system that we operate out of, is to continue to get better.’

With Bryant missing all preseason recovering from knee surgery, the Lakers fast start has been a surprise to some degree. They have started 19-year-old Andrew Bynum at center and already played him nearly as many minutes as his entire rookie season.

Center Kwame Brown is only four games back from a shoulder injury and forward Vladimir Radmanovic, the Lakers main free-agent acquisition, has been limited by a hand injury and went 0 for 5 Tuesday against his old team.

They are winning despite averaging 18.7 turnovers per game, second-most in the league, and shooting 71.6 percent from the foul line.

What the Lakers have done is find a way to win the close games that eluded them last season. They were tied in the fourth quarter of each of their last three victories. That has enabled them to take advantage of a schedule loaded with home games.

“It says a lot about our team when we can win with half the guys not knowing the offense,” Brown said. “Sometimes we dont share the ball as much as we should and the coaches like, but we still find a way to win. Once we put it all together and guys learn the offense, we should be a pretty good team.

The Lakers also know that Bryant will be a different player come December or January as he plays his way back from surgery.

“He didnt really have that practice time to get back, forward Luke Walton said. “Hes been using games to get back into it because he missed the whole preseason. I think as the season goes on and the more he plays, hes just going to get stronger and stronger.

Within a couple weeks, hell be back to full strength.

Firing away: Lakers coach Phil Jackson was not happy with the 3-pointers his team launched at the start of the fourth quarter. Sasha Vujacic, Maurice Evans and Lamar Odom combined to miss four 3-pointers and the Clippers scored 11 straight points.

“Instead of looking for penetration, Jackson said, “and doing things that were inside the philosophy of our offense, the guys were just looking for killers, looking to pound that ball in there and get a lucky shot.

Slumping: Vujacic went 0 for 4 and missed three 3-pointers Tuesday. The third-year guard has made just 5 of 25 shots this season and 2 of 14 3-pointers after a strong showing in the preseason.

Monday report

If you were the Lakers, how would you match up against the Clippers on Tuesday night?

It would seem like the best way to go might be swapping Luke Walton out of the starting five in favor of Kwame Brown. That would leave Andrew Bynum on Chris Kaman, Brown on Elton Brand, Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant on Quinton Ross and Cuttino Mobley (take your pick there), and Smush Parker on Sam Cassell.

This is the debate Lakers coach Phil Jackson seems to be having and which I wrote about for Tuesday’s paper. For what it’s worth, Brown came out from the locker room to speak with reporters and put assistant coach Brian Shaw in the mother of all bearhugs. That seemed to answer a lot of the questions about Brown’s shoulder.

Brown, as usual, said more in three minutes than most players do in 30. He called a matchup against Brand “a physical test of your will.” He said that right now his main focus is on bringing energy when he gets on the court. He still is not comfortable on offense but was happy with the charges he took on defense Sunday.

Brown also was asked about the Lakers’ 7-3 start. Granted, he only played in three of those games, but his answer was telling.

It says a lot about our team when we can win with half the guys not knowing the offense,” Brown said. “Sometimes we dont share the ball as much as we should and the coaches like, but we still find a way to win. Once we put it all together and guys learn the offense, we should be a pretty good team.

Kobe Bryant , meanwhile, was asked about how Sunday’s game measured up in his return from knee surgery.

“I felt like it was a big step because defensively I felt like I played extremely well,” Bryant said. Having to chase (Kirk) Hinrich and (Ben) Gordon around, thats a lot of movement for anybody, let alone me because Im still trying to get into game condition. I felt like I did a great job of staying with those guys.”

* * *

If Jordan Farmar is unable to play tonight, Sasha Vujacic could get the opportunity to be the first guard off the bench, a role Farmar basically took from him this season. It’s especially important with the Clippers bringing Shaun Livingston off their bench. Vujacic is averaging 2.0 points, playing 9.1 minutes and shooting 24 percent.

* * *

Here are the notes for Tuesday:

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–For all the talk about first place in the Pacific Division being at stake, as well as early-season bragging rights, Lakers coach Phil Jackson faces a big decision as his team plays host to the Clippers tonight.

Does Jackson opt to start centers Andrew Bynum and Kwame Brown in the same lineup and match up against the Clippers Elton Brand and Chris Kaman with his best combination of size and strength?

Bynum and Brown have not played in the same starting five together and both are best suited to play center. Jacksons answer Monday to a question about starting the two together was, “Right now, I would say no but theres a chance.

Yet Brown spent Mondays practice getting reacquainted with playing on the wing in the triangle offense. It was the position the Lakers hoped Brown would play opposite center Chris Mihm when he first arrived last season.

“I havent ran that position in a while, so I was trying to brush up on it a little bit today, Brown said. “I still remember some of it, but I didnt have it down that great when I was there. I dont know. Well see.

The Lakers started Brown all four times they played the Clippers last season and matched him up against Brand in three of the games. With Mihm out at the end of the season, Brown played center and Lamar Odom took Brand.

Jackson might have telegraphed his intentions when he said of tonights game, “I think the biggest step is Kwame Brown having to guard their All-Star. That would be Brand, who had a season-high 33 points and 12 rebounds Saturday against Philadelphia.

With another game at Utah on Friday, Brown likely will match up against forward Carlos Boozer. Jackson said of this weeks games, “Were going to have to show we can play inside with these teams.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Lakers is how to develop Bynum and Brown at the same time. After Brown was lost to a shoulder injury in the preseason, Bynum stepped into the starting lineup and has averaged 10.3 points and 7.0 rebounds.

Brown has come off the bench in three games since returning and had three points, nine rebounds and one monster dunk in Sundays victory over Chicago. He made his case for more minutes in a practice last week.

“We played pivots with the big guys last week and Kwame definitely showed his dominance in the post with the other big guys, Jackson said. “Were still waiting to see him flesh out the rest of his game in a live-court situation.

The Lakers concluded last season that Brown was best served playing center instead of wing. Brown said Monday that he knew he would be used for “defensive purposes if he started against the Clippers.

With 72 games left in the season, Brown will have ample opportunity to return to the starting lineup if he can get healthy and prove himself. The Lakers came into the season hoping Brown could average 15 points and 10 rebounds and have a breakout year.

“He should be striving to be the starter, Jackson said, “and thats a challenge that I think he wants and weve been talking about that.

Brown said: “Andrews doing a great job. I wouldnt change it up until something goes different. But Im going to be ready, just like I was last year, and when I get my time, Ill be ready.

Battle for L.A.: The Lakers tried to downplay tonights game, with Kobe Bryant saying he thought it would take a playoff meeting for the Lakers and Clippers to become a true rivalry. But Jackson did take one jab at Clippers owner Donald Sterling.

I know the owners like each other, Jackson said. “I know that Don Sterlings been eating off Dr. Buss plate for years.

The two teams have split the last two season series and would have met in the second round of the playoffs had the Lakers advanced back in May. The Lakers have opened this season 7-3 while the Clippers are 6-2.

Did they dethrone us last year as the favorite team in town? Jackson said. “I mean, that was what they said in the process. That was all the hype. I guess were the underdogs, trying to come back and find a way to get into this scrap that theyre going to have and go forward with it.

Injury update: Guard Jordan Farmar didnt practice after spraining his ankle Sunday and likely wont play tonight. Forward Ronny Turiaf figures to be activated for the game and offers an extra big man to use against the Clippers.

The next generation

There were three young players of note on the court in Friday’s Lakers/Raptors game at Staples Center. The first was Andrew Bynum, starting at center for the Lakers only days after his 19th birthday. Then there was rookie guard Jordan Farmar, who played 14 minutes off the bench and sparked the Lakers in the fourth quarter.

The third player was Toronto’s Andrea Bargnani, the No. 1 overall pick in the June draft out of Italy. And Bargnani finished with an awful line: He missed all three shots he took and wound up with two points, picking up five fouls in only 6:25 of action. To be fair, Bargnani turned 21 last month and big men do develop slower than guards.

It nevertheless was striking to see how much more polished Farmar looked. They play different positions, of course, but Farmar was taken with the No. 26 pick and will be a teenager until his 20th birthday on Nov. 30.

“Jordan has a real feel for the game,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “I think one of the things, by his own admission he would tell you, he went to UCLA because he knew the program would elevate his game and he would have a quicker ability to enter the NBA if things went well for him.

“Thats the way I think his thought process was as a very young man. Not presumptuous but he felt that strongly about his own game.

“That preparatory experience he had – – good coach, good system, play hard, learn to do things on the court – – acclimated him to our game probably faster than a guy like Bargnani, whos probably not ready for the physicality and the intensity level that goes on in this game all the time.

Farmar hit a big 3-pointer and attacked for a layup in the fourth quarter when the offense stalled. He also led the Lakers’ second team in the second quarter, driving the lane and delivering passes to Kwame Brown and Maurice Evans for baskets. Farmar had seven points and four assists in the game.

“Ive been getting a lot of shots up and try to make some things happen when its my turn and when its my time,” Farmar said. “Just knowing when to do things and when not to.

Another interesting thing to consider: The Lakers drafted Bynum in 2005 while saying that he would have been a top three pick had he played a season at Connecticut instead of entering the draft out of high school. Would you take Bynum over either Bargnani, LaMarcus Aldridge or Adam Morrison?

* * *

Jackson sat both Lamar Odom and Kobe Bryant for a two-minute stretch of the second quarter and watched his second team score 12 points and push the Lakers out in front 42-34. The lineup on the floor was Farmar, Evans, Brown, Sasha Vujacic and Vladimir Radmanovic.

“A lot of times its good to have them both off the floor because the defense doesnt have a key,” Jackson said. “They dont know where the ball is going to go. As a consequence, the players can run the offense and do the right things on the court. They got that done. They gave us the needed advantage we had to have in that game, that eight-point separation or whatever it was.

* * *

Something to remember in watching the triangle offense: Jackson said it operates off a two-count once a player gets the ball. If he can’t make the pass he wants, he automatically has to move the ball to the next open man. There’s a rhythm that’s important. Jackson stressed to his players at practice Saturday that they have to go away from Odom and Bryant sometimes no matter what.

* * *

Here’s the notes from Saturday. The Lakers play the Chicago Bulls on Sunday in a game that will go a long way in determining just how big a month they can have playing so many games at Staples Center.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–If there was a topic that particularly engaged Lakers coach Phil Jackson on Saturday, it was Kobe Bryants complaint about being called for carrying and traveling on moves he has made throughout his 10-year career.

The NBA has included both calls in its points of emphasis for the season. Jackson said the league referees are still not consistent enough in making the calls but offered his full support for the change in officiating.

“They are things that should be called, Jackson said. “I know the players arent happy with it at this time and they have to be patient.

As part of a four-minute answer to a question, Jackson referred back to his days as Chicago Bulls coach, when the leagues director of officials asked him if he would want Michael Jordan to be called for the same violations as every other player.

“I always said, `Call everything on Jordan. Call everything on everybody, Jackson said. “No one should have any excuses to get away with anything in this game. The rules are more important than your (stars), whatever this leagues about.

“Those players that have the true talent will figure out what is important within the game. Theyll remedy the situation. The players that have to cheat or have to use illegal moves to get ahead, those are the ones that shouldnt get ahead by bending the rules of the game.

“Unfortunately, the league is late on this, about 10 years late on this. Allen Iverson exploited the discontinued dribble and the hop step on the spin move for (10 years). Weve been bitching about this thing for over 10 years now and we finally got to it.

Bryant, who is averaging 4.9 turnovers per game this season, was called for traveling Friday when he tried to use a hop step as part of a drive. It was a move he claimed after the game that Jerry West almost had patented in his career.

Jackson, meanwhile, blamed the NBA for ignoring palming of the ball and changing the way players dribble at all levels of basketball.

“Now theyve created the bad habits all the way down into junior high school and up, Jackson said. “So now to try to correct the game at this level is going to be difficult. Its going to take some consistency.

“Unfortunately, the fans are going to have to stick with it and guys like Kobe are going to end up having the excess turnovers in a period of time until they adjust their game to whats called.

Desperate times: The Lakers have been warned to expect a desperate Chicago Bulls team in this evenings game at Staples Center. The Bulls opened a seven-game road trip with losses to Dallas, Houston and San Antonio as part of the dreaded Texas Triangle.

The Bulls beat the defending champion Heat by 42 points on opening night in Miami. Jackson previously warned the Lakers about playing a desperate Seattle team on the road Nov. 5 but was chagrined when his team didnt heed the warning and lost 117-101.

Jackson said he liked the moves the Bulls made in the off-season – – signing Ben Wallace, trading for P.J. Brown and drafting Tyrus Thomas – – but wasnt ready to anoint them the heir apparent to Miami in the Eastern Conference.

“Youre really pushing it forward awfully fast when theyre still a young team, Jackson said. “They still have to go through some things. Their coach does a good job with them as far as getting them to play hard. The next step is how they put it all together.

Toughest division

The Pacific Division standings certainly were interesting to look at Friday with four teams above .500 and the Phoenix Suns – – a preseason NBA Finals pick by some – – bringing up the rear at 2-5.

Even Golden State, which hasn’t made the playoffs in forever, has recovered from an ugly season-opening loss to the Lakers and is now 6-3. Baron Davis had 36 points and 18 assists Thursday night as the Warriors beat Sacramento at home.

It’s only mid-November but the question can be asked of whether the Pacific will be the NBA’s toughest division this season. Lakers coach Phil Jackson seemed to cast his vote for the Southwest, where San Antonio, Houston, New Orleans/Oklahoma City and Dallas all could be powerhouses.

Said Jackson: “Itll be a challenge to make the playoffs this year in this conference.

Thursday report

The good news Thursday in Lakerland was that Phil Jackson successfully brought up Chris Bosh’s name WITHOUT saying anything that could result in a $25,000 fine for violating the league’s tampering rules. Great success, as Borat might say.

If you don’t remember, Jackson got in trouble last December for praising Bosh to Toronto reporters when he was asked about potential free-agent targets for the Lakers. It wound up being a moot point because Bosh signed a contract extension with the Raptors in July.

“Well … the players that were franchise-changing players you know re-signed up or re-upped with their organizations,” Jackson said. “There are some that will be available in the year following that you obviously have to take a look at, and this kid here is one of them. Chris Bosh, obviously everybody’s going to be interested in and we think he’s become quite a talent.”

Jackson said later that he hadn’t even seen Bosh play and was trying to be complimentary. The NBA slapped the Lakers with a $25,000 fine for Jackson’s comments. He sarcastically said he was a “humbled man, sad, bereaved” when he stood before reporters the first time after the fine was announced.

“I’m going to take my penalty and punishment and go to the closet, cry a little bit and come out,” Jackson added.

What did he say Thursday about Bosh?

“Theyve got a terrific 6-10 player thats a potential All-Star for a number of years in Bosh,” Jackson said, “and Lamars a perfect matchup for him.”

* * *

Bryant said he had benefited from the four days between games the Lakers had this week.

“Its been great,” Bryant said. “Weve been able to come in here and play hard against each other, compete, get healthy. I feel much better now than I did coming into these four days, have a much better rhythm.

* * *

Jackson revealed that forward Ronny Turiaf was unable to participate in a couple of practices as he continues to battle hip problems.

* * *

After setting Thanksgiving as the target date to evaluate the Lakers last season, Jackson said he probably would wait until December to draw conclusions about this season’s team. The Lakers have missed Shammond Williams, Aaron McKie and Kwame Brown for extended periods due to injuries.

“Theres some rotation guys right there that you think of how do they get back in with the team,” Jackson said. “Its going to take a little while. Id say that a couple weeks, hopefully six, seven more games, well look at it and see the best features of our team out there on the floor.

* * *

Kobe Bryant took some time this week to talk about his 81-point game for a story that’ll appear in Friday’s paper. I’d love to hear the memories from anyone who was in the building that night or watched the game on TV.

It always will be one of the highlights of my career to have covered that game. A couple of weeks before the season, I sat down and finally watched the game over on tape.

A couple of things stood out. The first was how bad the rest of the Lakers played. When Bryant went out for six minutes at the start of the second quarter, the Lakers made 1 of 11 shots and fell behind by 14 points. You had Sasha Vujacic hitting the side of the backboard on a 3-pointer and Kwame Brown getting whistled twice for three seconds.

Lamar Odom was 0 for 6 with three turnovers before he hit a 3-pointer in the fourth quarter. Bryant gave up the ball to Odom for that shot, which pushed the Lakers in front 100-93. It was the game’s biggest pass, if not its biggest play. Earlier in the game, Odom somehow committed a turnover by catching a pass with both feet out of bounds.

The second thing that stood out was the fact that Bryant did not play the perfect game. He willed the Lakers to victory in a game that will define his greatness. But he missed a couple of shots in the lane as well as a couple of open 3-pointers. There was a play early in the fourth quarter where he got hit in the head inside with no foul called.

It’s not crazy at all to say that Bryant might have had 85 to 90 points in the game. I’m not sure what that would have been like; 81 was stunning enough.

It will be interesting to see how 81 is remembered in 20 years. The unfortunate tendency is for people to forget that the Lakers were 18 points down in the third quarter or that they played pressure defense as a team to get back in the game.

The bottom line is that it took 81 points from Bryant to save the Lakers from a miserable loss. It would be a shame to think of his 81 as coming at the expense of the team in any way.