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.

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