There’s something a little more important Tuesday than the Lakers-Timberwolves game at Staples Center. Millions of Americans will head to the polls for midterm elections in which control of the House of Representatives and Senate will be at stake.
The Democrats need to pick up six seats to win back the Senate. The New York Times on Sunday projected that 40 seats are safe for the Democrats and eight are leaning in their favor. On the other side, 47 seats are safe for Republicans and another two were leaning Republican. That leaves three tossup seats to decide the majority.
One is in Virginia. One is in Missouri. One is in Montana. The Democrats would have to win them all to avoid a 50-50 split in which Vice President Dick Cheney would have the deciding vote.
Which brings us to Phil Jackson, who might have spent Monday in an alternate universe campaigning for votes in places like Billings and Missoula instead of running practice at the Lakers’ facility.
During his year off, Jackson admitted that he had a dinner in which the most preliminary talk of a Senate run was discussed. Jackson owns a house on Flathead Lake in Montana and is a friend and former teammate of Bill Bradley, the former Democratic Senator from New Jersey and presidential candidate.
Jackson said Monday that he didn’t think he would have won because he was viewed as a “native son” of North Dakota, where he played high school and college basketball, and not Montana. For the record, Jackson was born in Deer Lodge, Mont.
If he had run, Jackson might have wound up in one of the nation’s most-watched races. The Democratic candidate, Jon Tester, has a chance of unseating Sen. Conrad Burns, who has been criticized for taking more money from the clients of convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff than any other member of Congress. The Billings Gazette had the race in a dead heat over the weekend.
Jackson said he was interested in how the race would turn out. If you want to read more about his political beliefs, there was a great article in L.A. Weekly last summer.
Not having covered the Lakers during the championship years, I was blown away last season when we had the chance to talk to Jackson for a while in Philadelphia about world events. It was about the time that the housing projects in France erupted in rioting. Jackson talked not only about the economic factors that were behind the rioting but also the various modern-day problems caused by France’s colonial history.
Needless to say, I walked away thinking Jeff Van Gundy wasn’t having the same conversation with the Houston writers.
I also would like to be the first to suggest an Obama-Jackson ticket for 2008. That’ll pretty much guarantee the Democrats the 21 electoral votes in Illinois.
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Back to basketball: There were a couple of questions Monday about teenage center Andrew Bynum, who had 13 points and hit all five shots he took Sunday. Bynum, however, came out with 8:55 left in the third quarter and sat the last 21 minutes of the game.
Said Jackson: “He needs to know, like all our young players that are inexperienced, where the people are in your offense that are bail-out people for passes and then to be able to read defensively as kind of our patrol guy in the lane.
Jackson said he sat Bynum because he knew the Lakers would have to overplay the Sonics’ pick-and-roll trying to come from behind in the second half. That would leave Seattle free to pick on Bynum, which was part of its game plan. Still, the Lakers gave up 48 points in the paint and could have used Bynum’s size.
Does Jackson envision Bynum as being a player he can leave on the court to finish games?
“Hes a real good foul shooter,” Jackson said, “and I think hell do some things down the stretch that’ll be good for us when he gets that chance.
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Although Kobe Bryant was called for a technical in the fourth quarter Sunday, Jackson said he was in favor of the new league rules that crack down on player conduct. Bryant drew the technical when he tossed the ball off the basket standard after the Lakers fouled Ray Allen.
The NBA has cited that as a point of emphasis this season. Any player who throws the ball against the standard, regardless of intent, will receive an automatic technical. Jackson said he thought the crackdown was a good idea but he questioned the situations that weren’t provoked by anger or frustration.
“The NBA doesnt want people to make judgments,” Jackson said. “They just want them to be patrolmen. When you violate Rule 169-32, they dont have to use their heads, they just make a call.”
By Ross Siler
EL SEGUNDO–Having taken only three shots in the first half of Sundays game, Kobe Bryant came out for the third quarter determined to change things.
The Lakers were trailing Seattle 57-49 when Bryant posted up Ray Allen and caught the ball in one of his favorite spots on the floor. He scored hundreds of points last season on identical turnaround jumpers, but this time Bryants shot rimmed out from 11 feet.
Although he did knock down two other jumpers in the first two minutes of the second half, Bryant is far from being able to take over games as he plays his way back from knee surgery.
“Ive still got to get my legs underneath me to be able to get the balance that I need to get the ball up pretty quickly, Bryant said. “Im still having to kind of measure up my shot instead of coming off and catching and shooting.
The 15 points Bryant finished with Sunday were half as many as he scored in one quarter against the Dallas Mavericks last season. He took only 10 shots in Sundays game, and Lakers coach Phil Jackson has no illusions that Bryant can fully assert himself.
“I dont think so, Jackson said. “Hes tried to do some things that have been very effective, but I dont think for a sustained period of time he can do it. His turnaround jump shot is a little bit flat. I think his 3-point shootings a little bit iffy.
“Wed just as soon not have to get ourselves in that position right now because were playing such good team ball that we dont want to have to get in position where we start deferring and then our offense starts jamming up.
As long as he is on the floor, Bryant will command the attention of defenses. He had five assists in the first quarter Sunday, dropping passes to center Andrew Bynum for dunks and finding the likes of Lamar Odom and Smush Parker for open 3-pointers.
Jackson said he wasnt going to describe Bryant as “a shadow of himself, but he still has quite a ways to go until hes the ballplayer that were used to seeing at both ends of the court.
For the time being, Bryant will continue to play a game based more on passing than scoring.
“Thatll come just as my legs better and my rhythm gets better, Bryant said. “Then Ill start attacking a little bit more, being able to catch and shoot and things like that. But picking apart defenses is something that we pride ourselves on doing.
Young gun: Jackson never has been fond about playing rookies, let alone those who have yet to celebrate their 20th birthday. But Jackson said guard Jordan Farmar, who had 14 points in 18 minutes Sunday, deserves to play more.
“If he wasnt a rookie, Jackson said, “I would say hes playing better than some of our starters and guys that are playing ahead of him.
What gives Jackson pause is watching some of the mistakes Farmar cant help but make because of inexperience. Jackson also watched Farmar twice lose out on calls made by referees, which he attributed to being a rookie.
“You know youve got to pay the price a little bit for that, Jackson said. “But hes going to stay out there and if he continues to improve, hes going to threaten some peoples minutes.
Strong-armed: Center Kwame Brown practiced Monday and said he remains hopeful of playing Friday against Detroit. In fact, Brown persuaded the Lakers doctors to let him test his injured right shoulder before he was officially cleared.
Im a little bit ahead of schedule, Brown said. “I told the doctor I felt good. He let me practice without seeing me. So hes going to see me at the game (today) before he lets me play on Friday.