Monday report

I’m hoping tonight there aren’t a lot of parents who decided to buy their kids a new NBA game ball for Christmas instead of a PlayStation 3. For those of us who spent six hours traveling today, David Stern decided to scrap the microfiber composite ball and bring back the leather ball effective Jan. 1.

The Lakers will play the second-to-last game of the synthetic ball era on Dec. 31 against an A.I.-less Philadelphia 76ers team at Staples Center. If you were looking for any reason to go to that New Year’s Eve game, I guess you have it now.

Back when they made the switch, the Lakers’ equipment manager, Rudy Garciduenas, said all the leather balls were snapped up by coaches and players who wanted them as collector’s items. Are they all going to have to return them now?

Spalding also claimed that 90 percent of NBA players exclusively played with a composite ball at all levels of the game before they made it to the pros. The college game uses synthetic balls as does the international game. Does it make sense for the NBA to be the one league that doesn’t?

It seems absurd to make the switch midseason. Those first few games with the leather ball are going to be adventures for sure. I’m certain Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson will have something to say about things Tuesday. I’m also wondering if Bryant will be so happy to see the change – - he’s shooting a career-best 49.5 percent.

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According to the Houston Chronicle, Tracy McGrady is out for Tuesday’s game as he continues to suffer from back spasms. McGrady injured his back Saturday in the Rockets’ game against Washington. You have to wonder if McGrady will be healthy enough to play the second game of a back-to-back set against the Lakers on Friday.

I assume Luther Head will start in McGrady’s place. Lakers coach Phil Jackson talked at practice Monday about being committed to playing Yao Ming straight-up, as opposed to double-teaming, out of respect for the Rockets’ 3-point shooters. Head and Rafer Alston both can knock down 3-pointers.

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Andrew Bynum didn’t play in any of the Lakers’ three games against Houston last season. He would be getting his first taste of playing Yao on Tuesday. Nothing like learning on the job against Tim Duncan and Yao Ming two nights apart.

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If they beat Houston, the Lakers would improve to 15-6, which would put them nine games above .500 for the first time since the Shaquille O’Neal trade. The Lakers finished last season 45-37.

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By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–The philosophical side of coach Phil Jackson came out at practice Monday, with the Lakers heading to Texas for two games and Jackson hoping to see not only a “sense of determination but a “oneness of thought or mind.

It is the first multi-game trip of the Lakers season and comes after they have played a quarter of their regular-season schedule. The Lakers played 15 of their first 20 games at home, a schedule unlike any other in franchise history.

That the Lakers are 14-6, having beaten San Antonio on Sunday at Staples Center, has led to questions about whether they are one of the Western Conferences elite teams or if their success largely has been a product of the schedule.

The Lakers will face Houston tonight and Dallas on Wednesday, starting a stretch in which they will play eight of 10 games on the road and 22 of 34 away from home through the All-Star break.

“If you play good basketball, you can win anywhere you go, Jackson said, adding that walking into an arena with 15,000 opposing fans “does take some collective thought and resiliency as a team.

“Thats one of the issues that we have to face as a team, he added, “and know that brings the best out in ballclubs.

The Lakers were able to come together on the road last December, going 5-1 on a six-game trip. They are 2-3 on the road this season, but Kobe Bryant said this team is capable of putting together a similar run.

“On the road is where you really come together, thats when you really bond as a unit, Bryant said. “Its us against everybody else. Thats where you really have a chance to gel.

Tracy McGradys status, meanwhile, is in question after he left Saturdays game against Washington with back spasms. McGrady missed 35 games with a back injury last season and was reported to be “very stiff and very sore Sunday.

The Lakers will have to contend with Yao Ming, the Western Conference Player of the Month for November. Yao is averaging 25.5 points and 9.5 rebounds this season and finished with 38 points, 11 rebounds and six blocks in Saturdays victory.

Kwame Brown will spend the most minutes on him, trying to use his size and strength to turn Yao outside when he catches the ball in the post. Andrew Bynum and Ronny Turiaf also will see time and expend fouls trying to match up against Yao.

“We dont want to end up having to double-team Yao any more than (necessary), Jackson said, “because this team does rely on the 3-point shot.

The Lakers came into Monday leading the Pacific Division, even with the Phoenix Suns having won 10 consecutive games. The Lakers opened 12-3 at home and beat three of the Western Conferences elite (Phoenix, Utah, San Antonio) at Staples Center.

Jackson on Saturday cited “a year of playing together, a year of being in the system together as the biggest reason for his teams success, as well as the depth brought by the additions of Maurice Evans and Jordan Farmar.

Ankle update: Bryant was not concerned about the prospect of playing a back-to-back set of games on his sprained right ankle.

“The ankle feels fine, Bryant said. “I actually went out today and practiced and moved around. It felt really good. It actually feels better today than it did yesterday.

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