The Lakers will finish the first chapter of their season Sunday, the one in which they played 15 of their first 20 games at home. Lakers coach Phil Jackson pronounced the stretch merely “OK” and said he would like to have back the home losses to Detroit, Milwaukee and New Orleans. The last of those losses he described as “bewildering.”
But there’s also definite optimism around the team. They’re 3-0 without Bryant and 13-6 overall despite having nearly as many injured players as healthy players in training camp. That doesn’t include Jackson, who didn’t coach in a single preseason game coming back from hip replacement surgery. The Lakers’ success falls somewhere between surprising and remarkable.
Jackson credits it to a second year of playing in the triangle offense and playing with one another. The Lakers also haven’t needed Kobe Bryant to average anywhere close to 35.4 points per game this season, which Jackson talked about at Saturday’s practice.
“I think thats one of the things that we wanted to make sure this year that our players understood,” Jackson said, “that even though last year Kobe was a significant factor, a most valuable type of player in this league that he had to expend himself to such a point that we became atrophied as a team.
When we had to step into that level in the playoffs and everybody had to step into their role, we werent able to finish it out. I dont want to take anything the run that we had in the playoffs, but it wasnt a success because we lost.
“Thats where everybody felt like they didnt do their part, they didnt hold up their end. So I think theyve come back this year with that information that we gave them last year to close out our meetings, theyve come back with the determination to do better.
That’s your state of the team evaluation for today.
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Why’s it good to be Kobe Bryant? Because there’s a Maybach in the players’ parking lot that belongs to you. For those of us who couldn’t make the L.A. Auto Show this month, it was nice to have the Auto Show come to us. They don’t let the commoners at the Convention Center even get close enough to see the sticker on the Maybachs.
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By Ross Siler
EL SEGUNDO–The Lakers have been building toward this ever since the calendar turned to December, a final exam tonight against San Antonio at Staples Center, before the road games start coming fast and furious.
The Spurs came into Saturday tied with Utah for the NBAs best record at 15-5 and have won four consecutive games. In their victories the past week, they led Golden State by as many as 42 points, Charlotte by 22 and the Clippers by 37.
“Theyre playing as good as anybody can play right now, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, noting that San Antonio also is 8-2 on the road.
“I think theyre the toughest test for anybody, Kobe Bryant added, “just because they play so well and theyre so organized and so steady.
Whether the Lakers will have Bryant available was in doubt Saturday. Bryant sat out all of practice and did only light walking while trying to keep his sprained right ankle elevated.
Bryant was wearing a blue compression sleeve that stretched from his thigh to his foot, designed to pump the swelling out of the ankle. He didnt play Friday and said he wouldnt play tonight if the ankle felt the same way it did Saturday.
However, Bryant was optimistic that the ankle would improve with another 24 hours rest and continued therapy Saturday night.
“Well get up tomorrow morning, Bryant said, “and it should feel better than it does today.
If Bryant cannot play, Maurice Evans would start again in his place. The Lakers will have to put forth a strong defensive effort against the Spurs, with Smush Parker staying in front of Tony Parker and Kwame Brown using his size against Tim Duncan.
The Lakers also are hoping to finish their front-loaded schedule of home games on a positive note. They played 15 of their first 20 games at home but have eight of their next 10 after Sunday on the road, including a six-game Christmas trip.
Another ankle: Vladimir Radmanovic suffered a sprained ankle going through a dry run at practice. Jackson chuckled when recounting the injury because there was no contact and only light running involved. Radmanovics status had not been determined.
Bryant on Odom: Entering his third season playing with Lamar Odom, Bryant offered his thoughts about the evolution taking place with his teammate. Although Odom has had two lackluster games this week, he still is averaging 18.4 points, 9.0 rebounds and 4.9 assists.
“Last year, what I used to have to remind him every once in awhile was, Do you want to be a great player or do you want to be a (so-so) player, Bryant said. “When you think about it, if he could step outside of himself, he could take it to another level.
“This year, I havent had to do that at all because its just clicked with him. Again, I think it was the playoffs. The series he had against Phoenix, he stepped up (and) had an incredible series. I think that showed him what hes capable of doing.
Bryant also was asked about the locker-room tribute that Odom pays to his infant son Jayden, who suffocated in his crib in June. Odom has hung an oversized T-shirt with a drawing of his sons face.
“The first time I saw it was very difficult, Bryant said. “I think for everybody that saw it, it was tough. But for Lamar, its not a moment of sadness. Its a moment of honor, for the life the child was able to live up to that point. From that point forward, its not a shocking moment. Its happy because it makes him feel good.