Lakers 100, Spurs 96

Maybe all those agonizingly close games last season are finally paying off for the Lakers. They won their third straight by beating San Antonio on Wednesday night and all three of the games (Orlando and Miami being the other two) came down to the final minutes of regulation and overtime.

Here’s a stat: The Lakers are now 13-4 in games decided by eight points or less this season. They were 20-20 in those games last season.

Kobe Bryant put in perspective what a victory at AT&T Center means afterward. He was telling a story from the Lakers’ win here last season. In the locker room after that game, Lamar Odom told Bryant that he never had won a game in San Antonio with the Clippers or Miami Heat. Bryant couldn’t believe it, but it’s not surprising if it’s true.

The Spurs went 34-7 at home in 2005-06 and a nearly bulletproof 38-3 in 2004-05. Their home record after losing Wednesday to the Lakers is just 14-7. As Bryant said: “This is a tough place to play. For us to come in here and win, it’s big for us. I’m sure it’s not that big (a loss) for San Antonio. But it’s big for us.”

A couple of thoughts from the game:

No. 1: Even though they were outscored 21-11 after he went to the bench, the Lakers still won a game in which Bryant got in early foul trouble. He picked up two personals in the first 3:30, bringing back all the bad memories from last week’s losses at Memphis and Houston. Bryant was called for two fouls in the first quarter of both those games, disrupting the Lakers’ substitution patterns.

“We were able to survive that first quarter,” coach Phil Jackson said, “and then Kobe was able to really carry the team the second.”

No. 2: The Lakers bench players were able to give the team a boost at the start of the fourth quarter before Bryant returned. It was basically two plays – - Sasha Vujacic drawing a three-shot foul and Vladimir Radmanovic driving for that spectacular baseline dunk – - but was enough for the Lakers to lead 79-73 when Bryant came back.

They pushed that lead out to 83-73 with Bryant getting to the line and finding Brian Cook for a dunk. As it turned out, the Lakers needed every one of those points to withstand the Spurs rally. The Lakers’ bench outscored their San Antonio counterparts 37-21 in the game.

No. 3: This was the 202nd game I’ve covered on the beat and I’ve never seen a team get a technical foul for having only four players on the court. The Spurs were guilty at the start of the fourth quarter – - Bruce Bowen was the forgotten man – - and Vujacic wound up taking the technical with Bryant sitting.

No. 4: You had to love Robert Horry hitting a 3-pointer in front of the Lakers’ bench in the third quarter. They were the first points of an 11-2 run for the Spurs. Horry also chased down Radmanovic and blocked his fast-break layup from behind. He finished with three points in 11 minutes.

“He still has that uncanny ability to make key shots,” Jackson said of Horry before the game. “I know they’d like to have him back in a support role instead of in this kind of (starter minutes) role, but he’ll be fine come playoff time to have as another weapon out there.”

No. 5: It feels really strange to play one game in San Antonio this season. With 15 teams in each conference, the Lakers would wind up playing 56 conference games if they placed each team four times. They have to play each Eastern Conference team home and away, which adds up to 30 games. So you’d be looking at an 86-game schedule otherwise. So the Lakers play San Antonio and Portland only once on the road each this season.

* * *

If you’re going to watch one game this month, make tonight’s game against Dallas it. In fact, I might be able to drive you to Dallas if you live along Interstate 35 in Texas. There haven’t been a lot of flights getting in or out of here the last couple of days.

The Mavericks are going to want to avenge the loss that ended their 13-game winning streak. The Lakers are playing with house money after winning in San Antonio. You never know whether Bryant’s going to score 62 points in three quarters against the Mavs. Jackson and Mark Cuban might rekindle an old feud. It should be great.

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Streak busters

Remember when it seemed like the best cure for a team on a losing streak was facing the Lakers? The opposite has been true this season.

The Lakers ended Miami’s four-game winning streak Monday, the fourth time they have done so against a team this season. They ended Orlando’s five-game streak Friday, Dallas’ 13-game streak earlier this month and San Antonio’s four-game streak in December.

If the Mavericks win tonight against Houston, they’ll take a five-game winning streak into Thursday’s rematch against the Lakers in Dallas. First things first, we’ve got to get to Texas. There’s an ice storm making for a nightmare travel day for all of us who fly commercial.

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Lakers 124, Heat 118

You look at the final box score and Dwyane Wade’s 35 points and eight assists Monday don’t seem that far off the 40 points and 11 assists he had on Christmas against the Lakers. It just shows you how misleading numbers can be sometimes. This was a game the Lakers could have won by 10 points or more in regulation.

They led 85-76 with 3:12 left in the third quarter but gave up 11 unanswered points to the Heat. Wade checked out for the final 2:31 of the quarter. James Posey and Antoine Walker combined to hit three 3-pointers for Miami. You might remember those two as the guys who couldn’t pass Pat Riley’s conditioning test earlier this month.

The Lakers also blew a seven-point lead in the last three minutes of regulation. But they recovered to win in overtime. The stat of the game might be that the Lakers connected on 12 of 19 3-pointers through three quarters. It sustained them with their big men in foul trouble and the Heat owning a huge free-throw advantage.

“You have to make 3-pointers against Miami,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “If you don’t, you’re going to be in a vacuum because they punish you inside. They take charges. (Alonzo) Mourning can block shots. They knock people down when they come in there. We were able to hit some 3s tonight.”

The Lakers finished with 14 3-pointers for the game. Smush Parker now has hit 10 3-pointers in the last two games. They also had assists on 34 of 48 baskets, led by Kobe Bryant with 8. Every player who got in the game scored and had an assist for the Lakers.

The unsung hero might have been Andrew Bynum, who didn’t give up after being called for his fourth foul not even two minutes into the third quarter. He came back to play the entire fourth quarter and all but the last 16 seconds of overtime. He wasn’t called for a fifth foul in that 16:44 and finished with 11 points and eight rebounds in 28 minutes.

Bynum also stepped to the line with the score tied at 112-112 and 3:11 left in overtime. He swished both free throws. It’s fair to ask if Shaq would have been able to do the same thing in that situation.

Bryant said afterward he pulled his groin a little when he went down in the fourth quarter. He said he hadn’t even thought about it until that happened. He’ll get a test with the Lakers playing back-to-back games this week. Bryant also should put in a call to the league office after shooting three free throws to Wade’s 13.

Finally, a quote from Miami acting coach Ron Rothstein about Brian Cook: “He’s a huge problem. Probably for a big guy, he’s the best catch-and-shoot guy around. He’s got a real quick release and we talked about it – - and we knew – - he’ll step back. We wanted to try and run him off his 3s, but we didn’t get to him quick enough.”

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

Even if Shaquille ONeal is sitting on the bench in a three-piece suit and Pat Riley is recovering from knee and hip surgeries at home, the Miami Heat are still the NBA champions until proven otherwise this season.

It was a fact the Lakers lost sight of when they faced the Heat on Christmas Day in Miami. They played down to the Heats sub-.500 record, in Kobe Bryants mind, instead of rising to the level of a championship team themselves.

They played 53 complete minutes Monday night, as opposed to the Christmas game they trailed from start to finish, before prevailing 124-118 in overtime at Staples Center, beating the Heat for only the second time in six games since the ONeal trade.

“I think we did a much better job understanding that theyre NBA champions and theyre not just going to come out here and roll over, Bryant said. “ Theyre champions for a reason and I feel like tonight we were able to step up to the challenge and play well.

Bryant finished with 25 points and got the upper hand after going back-and-forth with Dwyane Wade in the closing minutes. The Lakers had seven players finish in double figures and hit 14 of 25 3-pointers after making 5 of 23 on Christmas.

The Lakers blew a seven-point lead in the final three minutes of regulation, with the Heat sending the game to overtime as Smush Parker saved a ball to Miamis Jason Kapono, who fed Udonis Haslem for a tying dunk with 22.5 seconds left.

But Lakers coach Phil Jackson was pleased with the resolve his team showed in the timeout before overtime, as well as the way the Lakers went “possession by possession to beat Miami in the extra five minutes.

“They said, `Well, lets get it in overtime, and they did, Jackson said. “They went out and got that game in overtime, which was a good effort, I thought, against a team that knows how to play down the stretch pretty well.

It started with Bryant, who hit various degree of difficulty shots at the end of regulation. He drilled a jumper over James Posey after two pump fakes late in the fourth quarter and squeezed into space to push in a 16-footer with 46.5 seconds left in regulation.

But Bryant also found his teammates for 3-pointers all game, finishing with eight assists. He collapsed the defense and passed to Brian Cook for a 3-pointer with 2:33 remaining in overtime as the Lakers went ahead 117-114.

Bryant later took a pass from Luke Walton and scored on a reverse layup with 1:17 to play. The Heat closed to 119-118 with 58.6 seconds remaining on a Haslem jumper. Bryant followed with two free throws to set up the games decisive play.

With Miami looking to tie, Wade went to drive on Bryant. The Lakers devoted one side of their locker room board to screen-and-roll defense, a sore subject on Christmas Day when Wade totaled 40 points and 11 assists in the Heats 101-85 victory.

Bryant had tied up Wade for a jump ball in the fourth quarter and drawn an offensive foul. He dug in on defense again and the Lakers came up with a steal when Wade threw a wayward pass trying to find James Posey for a 3-pointer.

Parker got his hands on the ball and sank both free throws with 16.1 seconds left. It helped atone for Parkers play at the end of regulation as well as the two foul shots he missed at the end of the Fridays victory against Orlando.

“I just read it wrong, Wade said. “You know, I had a step on (Bryant). I tried to draw and kick but Parker stayed at home, so he caught me at the last second. It was a great defensive play. I should have put it up, but I didnt.

Cook finished with 25 points, three shy of his career high, and hit 10 of 16 shots, including four 3-pointers. Parker connected on five 3-pointers and went on to score 17 points. Wade scored 35 points, 16 in the first quarter, 19 the rest of the game.

“This game required a lot of different people to contribute, said Jackson, whose team improved to 18-4 at home.

It started a week in which the Lakers will play back-to-back games at San Antonio and Dallas. Jackson set a goal for his team of winning three of five games in this stretch.

The Lakers survived on a night their big men couldnt stay on the floor. Andrew Bynum started at center but played only 11 minutes through three quarters because of foul trouble. Forward Vladimir Radmanovic even played as an emergency center.

Miami arrived having won a season-best four games in a row and awaiting ONeals return any day from Nov. 19 knee surgery. ONeal was booed when he was shown on the video board in the third quarter.

Not that he was concerned. ONeal motioned to his ear as if asking to hear more from the crowd. Bryant said afterward that he didnt get the chance to speak to ONeal during the night.

Cook, meanwhile, was asked what the difference was between the game the Lakers played Monday and the one they played three weeks earlier against Miami. He laughed before answering, “A lot.

“I thought we just showed a lot more energy, Cook added. “We werent as lethargic, especially on the defensive end. We kept Dwyane Wade out of the lane, so he couldnt pick us apart. Everybody was making shots, everybody was having fun.

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Sunday report

The blog was down most of the day, but here’s the update from Sunday in Lakerworld. Kobe Bryant had left and gone home by the time we were allowed in the gym at practice. Shaquille O’Neal didn’t talk to reporters at the optional practice the Heat held at Pauley Pavilion.

Phil Jackson said he would just as soon have O’Neal playing in Monday’s game than not. O’Neal said Saturday night in Utah that there’s “zero” chance he’ll play as he continues to recover from Nov. 19 knee surgery. But when Jeanie Buss asked him how he felt about facing the Heat, Jackson said his answer was, “I’m really worried.”

“She said, `Is that because Shaq’s not back,”’ Jackson said. “I said, `I’d be less worried if Shaq was back and it was his first game than if he’s not back and the way they’re playing right now.’ Because now they can spread you out and really stick it to you with their 3-point shooters.”

The Heat hit 13 3s Friday at Golden State and Saturday at Utah. Jason Kapono connected on four 3s and Antoine Walker and Jason Williams three each against the Jazz. Miami has won a season-high four games in a row and finishes its six-game trip tonight.

* * *

A little bit of matchup talk about Monday’s game. Jackson has to consider whether to have Bryant guard Dwyane Wade or leave that for someone like Maurice Evans. One consideration is that Bryant might be a step slow as he plays his way back from a groin strain. Another is the possibility of losing him to early foul trouble.

When the teams played on Christmas in Miami, Bryant guarded Wade the bulk of the afternoon. On the other side, Miami kept Wade on Luke Walton and used Dorell Wright on Bryant. Wright has been replaced in the starting lineup; Jackson noted that Miami used Kapono on Seattle’s Ray Allen in a game last week.

Jackson might just go with that matchup (Bryant/Kapono) if the Heat are inclined to play that way. The Lakers could use Walton on Udonis Haslem (they both go about 6-8, 230) and start Evans on Wade. Brian Cook would come off the bench. We shall see at 7 p.m.

The Lakers also have to figure out how to defend the high screen-and-roll. The Heat set one after another to free Wade on Christmas. He got into the lane almost at will, found teammates for open shots and went on to total 40 points and 11 assists in the game.

That was before the Lakers lost center Kwame Brown to a severe ankle sprain, forcing Andrew Bynum into the starting lineup. Jackson acknowleged that Bynum can’t match Brown’s quickness, which will make containing Wade that much harder.

“We’re going to have to find a defense that is much more consistent,” Jackson said, “and much more capable of handling that space.”

* * *

Make your plans accordingly: Monday’s game will start a half-hour earlier than normal at 7 p.m. Of course, as the second game of a TNT doubleheader, the tip-off might not take place until 7:20.

* * *

Here’s the notes from Sunday. For the sake of clarification, Webber’s right foot injury was listed by the 76ers two ways. The first was as a sprained ankle and foot bruise. The second was as a foot bruise and a chronic foot contusion. He missed 11 games total with the injury.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–With Chris Webber possibly 36 hours away from joining a new team, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he spoke with the free-agent forward Saturday night and added, “I will say that we were both pleased with the conversation.

“Hes got some decisions to make and I respect that, Jackson said. “I just asked him how hes doing, what the nature of his health is and what hes looking for in a change of teams here.

Webber talked Saturday to both Jackson and Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak. The former five-time All-Star was released Thursday by Philadelphia, which bought out the $43 million left on his contract, and will clear waivers Tuesday.

The Lakers can offer Webber, who turns 34 on March 1, a contract for the prorated veterans minimum ($1.178 million for the full season) and would have to release a player to make room on the 15-man roster.

They also would have to fit Webber into the rotation once forward Lamar Odom returns from a knee injury later this month. There are no assurances about the role Webber, who has started all but two games in his 14-year career, would play with the Lakers.

“Thats some of the things we had to talk about – - his playing ability, the time that he wants and some of the things he would like to have, Jackson said. “He said really he just wants to feel like hes a part, feel like he has an important part in a team.

“I told him I think that he would if he came here.

Webbers agent, Aaron Goodwin, didnt return phone or e-mail messages Sunday. Webber reportedly has narrowed his list of teams to Detroit, the Lakers, Miami and Dallas.

The Lakers also have to feel comfortable with Webbers health. Jackson suggested that the condition of Webbers knees wasnt as much of a concern as the right foot injury that sidelined him earlier this season.

Even so, Webber logged more minutes on the floor last season (2,893) than ever before in his career. Jackson said Webber reminded him of that fact in their conversation.

“He looks to be moving OK, Jackson added. “He had a foot problem this year. Thats what we were curious about, obviously. But he says hes doing really well.

Webber has averaged 11 points, 8.3 rebounds and shot 38.7 percent in 18 games this season. According to the Web site 82games.com, 57 percent of Webbers shot attempts have been jumpers. His passing skills, though, would fit with the triangle offense.

Forward Luke Walton was asked if the Lakers would be well served adding a player such as Webber.

“Weve got injuries, Walton said, “but as soon as we get those guys back and if we can keep growing as a team, I think we have a legitimate shot at doing some damage in the playoffs with the guys we have right now.

Heat wave: The Lakers will have the chance tonight to avenge their 101-85 loss to the Miami Heat on Christmas Day, a game in which they were “embarrassed on national television and with their families in attendance, as Walton described it.

One issue for the Lakers will be whether Kobe Bryant is capable of guarding Dwyane Wade as he continues to recover from a groin strain.

“Weve thought about it a little bit simply because hes gotten in foul trouble in the last few games when hes played, Jackson said. “That really limits us when he creates early foul situations. It cost us a couple games.

Bryant was called for two fouls in the first quarter of the Lakers losses to Memphis and Houston last week. Wade, meanwhile, has averaged 29 points and 8.8 assists since returning from a wrist injury, with the Heat winning all four of those games.

History lesson: Jackson was asked which figure from American history Miami center Shaquille ONeal would be. It was ONeal who called Jackson “Benedict Arnold after his former coach criticized his work ethic before the Christmas game.

“Well, to me Shaq has always been Abraham Lincoln, Jackson said. “Hes a great emancipator. He frees everybody up to say the things they want to say so that he can deliver the ultimate blow.”

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Lakers 109, Magic 106

If you got up to get a beer after the first quarter Friday, you might have missed a stretch that left the imagination to run wild. It featured Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard going back and forth, showing why they could dominate the NBA for the next decade or so.

Bynum got things started by using a back cut to beat Howard and finishing an alley-oop pass with a layup. The next possession, Bynum threw a nice pass from the high post to Vladimir Radmanovic for a basket. Howard came back with a huge dunk over Bynum while being fouled.

Bynum sank two free throws at the other end, then jumped out to block a Keith Bogans shot back on defense. The Lakers pushed forward and Jordan Farmar knocked down a 3-pointer. Howard then checked out for the first time all game at the 9:33 mark.

That left Bynum matched up against Tony Battie. He had a chance to really make something out of the quarter but committed the kind of foul that reminds you he’s only 19 years old. Instead of staying on the floor, Bynum went for the block on Battie and was called for a third foul. He sat the last 8:20 of the half.

“It was disappointing for me because I had a bunch of minutes out there that I could have played and they were taken away from me,” Bynum said. “I did get going in the second quarter and I got taken out of the game with fouls. . . .I’m going to have to learn to stay out there without getting in foul trouble.”

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said: “Sometimes you just have to play body defense and nights like tonight you can’t be reaching, you can’t get your arms caught in there or your hands caught in there. Those were the situations tonight that got him in problems.”

Jackson remarked before the game that he had yet to see “the real Dwight Howard.” Kwame Brown succeeded in bodying up Howard last month in Orlando. He finished with 12 points and 8 rebounds in that game. When the Lakers played in Orlando last season, Howard was injured early in the first quarter.

“Howard proved to be pretty awesome in there for him to guard,” Jackson said.

* * *

There was a good story that got lost in all the Chris Webber saga. After the Lakers shootaround Friday, forward Ronny Turiaf met for a half-hour with 16-year-old Garylee Zuniga of Aztec, N.M. Zuniga suffers from a serious heart defect; Turiaf underwent surgery in July 2005 to repair an enlarged aortic root.

“For me, it was such a pleasure sharing my story with a kid like that because he’s looking up to us as NBA players,” Turiaf said. “For me to help him out, to just relieve some pressure and some sadness out of him, was a definite pleasure for me.”

Turiaf didn’t hesitate in giving Zuniga his phone number as well.

“When you go through something like that, you’ve got to have somebody to talk to,” Turiaf said. “It was the same thing with me and (former Minnesota guard) Fred Hoiberg. If I didn’t have him, it would have been so tough for me to go through it on a daily basis.

“Every little kid that has trouble, they can talk to me on a daily basis. I wouldn’t mind lifting them up at all.”

The NBAs Shoot for Hope program brought Zuniga and his family to Los Angeles. He attended Fridays game and met with the Lakers players in the locker room beforehand.

* * *

A couple of quotes from the Orlando side of things:

Grant Hill on Kobe Bryant: “He kind of reminds me of playing how he played when Shaq was here to a degree. He’s a facilitator of the ball and he’s a closer. He maybe got away from that a little bit a couple of years ago, but now he’s back doing that and he’s got a nice tempo to his game.”

You might remember Magic coach Brian Hill’s comment about the “Smush Parkers of the league” from when the Lakers played in Orlando on Dec. 27. Well, Parker had a career-high 26 points Friday and Hill was asked afterward about what he said.

“We still can’t let him beat us,” Hill said. “What I’m saying is . . . I’m not demeaning him as a player. We have to do a better job on players like that. That’s what I mean by that statement. We have to work harder to shut down players like that and not let them have big games when they’re playing alongside a star player like Kobe Bryant.”

* * *

Bryant said his strained groin felt 98 percent in the game and he barely thought about it at all. Bryant undoubtedly was limited by the injury, but he clearly had a game plan for how he wanted to play.

“We had the floor spaced because everybody had shot the ball so well for the first 3 1-2 quarters,” Bryant said. “So in the fourth quarter, when I caught the ball in isolation situations, no double (team) was coming.

“If I’d started doing that the first quarter, you’d see doubles coming and zones shifting and all the other stuff. The fourth quarter, that didn’t happen because everybody was a threat.

“So then, I could operate. I could size Grant up, I could raise up, shoot my jump shots or pull-ups.”

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

For all the attention paid to Andrew Bynum and Dwight Howard, the NBAs next-generation centers sharing the floor Friday night at Staples Center, Kobe Bryant offered a reminder that the present unmistakably belongs to him.

So does the fourth quarter, for that matter.

Playing on a strained left groin, Bryant scored 16 of his game-high 28 points in the final quarter as the Lakers avoided their first three-game losing streak of the season with a 109-106 victory over the Orlando Magic.

“We need Kobe to step up big for us like that late in the game, guard Smush Parker said. “He has the ability to do that any time he wants. He did it. He put on his cape tonight and he carried us for another victory.

Bryant paced and measured the game for three quarters, in coach Phil Jacksons estimation, and shifted gears in the fourth. He made all five shots he took, went 6 of 6 from the foul line and scored the Lakers last 10 points.

“I just wanted to make sure we got back to ball movement and spacing the floor, so I kind of took the lead in making sure we executed properly, Bryant said. “Then in the fourth quarter, I was able to space things out and get some pretty good looks.

Parker finished with a career-high 26 points and hit 5 of 8 3-pointers while Bynum totaled just eight points and five rebounds while battling foul trouble. Howard led the Magic with 25 points and 10 rebounds but made just 7 of 16 free throws.

With the game tied in the last two minutes, Orlando went inside to Darko Milicic and Howard for two baskets. Bryant answered by drilling jumpers from 21 feet and 12 feet against Grant Hill, the second of which put the Lakers in front for good 107-105.

Bryant also secured the games biggest rebound after Howard missed two free throws with 41.0 seconds left. Parker came up with a steal with 9.8 seconds left but left the door open by missing two free throws.

“Smush has an issue about free throws and I have an issue with him about his free throws, Jackson said of Parker, shooting 64.4 percent at the line. “It just goes back about using his legs. He has yet to find his rhythm on the free throw line this season.

Those misses would not cost the Lakers the game. Jameer Nelson couldnt get a tying 3-pointer at the buzzer to fall and the Lakers improved to 17-4 at home, bouncing back after road losses at Memphis and Houston.

It was Parkers second big game against the Magic this season, coming after Orlando coach Brian Hill said, “We cant be giving the Smush Parkers of the league quarters like that on Dec. 27. Parker scored 18 of his 20 points in the third quarter that night.

“I was told the next day what he said, Parker said. “I just used that as motivation to come in tonight and play well.

There are few players in the NBA, meanwhile, that the 19-year-old Bynum can relate to at such a young age. Howard is one of them, having been a No. 1 overall pick out of high school in 2004. The two plan to work out together this summer, according to Bynum.

They met last season and have developed a friendship. Bynum said last month that he admires everything Howard has done by his 21st birthday, including his selection as Eastern Conference Player of the Month for November.

The matchup Friday was not meant to be. Bynum picked up two fouls early in the second quarter and his fourth foul 3:36 into the third. He came back for the fourth quarter and made a spectacular block as Keyon Dooling went up for a baseline dunk.

But Bynum was called for his fifth foul – - an illegal screen on Carlos Arroyo – - with 9:22 remaining. Ronny Turiaf wound up playing 30 minutes and had five blocks at the defensive end.

“It was a great learning experience for me out there, Bynum said. “Hes really big and hes pretty strong. Ive got to get a stronger base when I go up against him.

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Latest from Webber

Chris Webber was just interviewed at halftime of the Bulls-Nets game on TNT. He said he wanted to go to a team that could compete for a championship as well as a team that looked at him as a starter. Webber also denied reports that he’s heading to Detroit as premature.

“Really, I just want to go somewhere I can win. So I’m looking at all the obvious teams,” Webber said. “I think the Lakers are great. They play with the ball and the triangle offense is probably the greatest offense. They have a great coach and probably the best player in the league in Kobe.

“Then Miami has great players there and a winning tradition and a great coach. Dallas, San Antonio, even a team like Orlando intrigues me to play with a guy like (Dwight) Howard and Grant Hill. So right now I’m really just trying to weigh my options and hopefully see what happens.”

More from Webber:

“Somebody has to look at you the way that you look at yourself.”

That was part of Webber’s answer to a question from Charles Barkley about whether he would be willing to come off the bench. Webber has started 777 out of 779 games in his career.

“I just someone to know that last year I had a really good season when my knee hurt, and now that it doesn’t, being in a situation where I’ll be used in any which way they want me to be used, that they’ll let me play my game.”

“I think I can be versatile and switch and play forward or center. I really wouldn’t mind starting at center on a team. I think that would give me an advantage. Many people haven’t thought about being smaller but being able to check them on the post but having to have them come out and check me on the pick-and-roll or something like that.”

Webber had a couple of good lines, telling Charles Barkley that the two of them should go play for the L.A. Galaxy. Webber also said he would have to flee to Africa “like Wesley Snipes” if he revealed how much he got in his buyout from the 76ers.

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Thursday report

Welcome to Los Angeles, David Beckham. You certainly made heads turn at Lakers practice Thursday. Heres what Phil Jackson had to say about that reported five-year, $250 million contract that delivered Beckham to the Galaxy and Posh Spice to L.A.:

“Is that all? Jackson said to laughs. “I thought she (wife Victoria Beckham) was going to get all the money and he was just coming for the pleasure of living in California. Well, good for him. Good for us.

Kobe Bryant heard the quarter-of-a-billion-dollar figure and said, “Its a hell of a situation. Told that apparently theres no salary cap for foreign stars in Major League Soccer, Bryant had the line of the day: “Ive got to get my (butt) to China.

“I think its exciting for everybody who enjoys soccer, me being one of them, Bryant added. “Hes obviously an elite player. It could be good for the game because soccer has some catching up to do here in the States and Im sure itll help boost that popularity.

Bryant traded cell phone numbers with Brazilian star Ronaldinho when FC Barcelona came to Los Angeles last summer. Jackson flashed a little soccer knowledge from his days playing for the New York Knicks in the 1970s.

Asked if he remembered the Pele-led New York Cosmos, Jackson reminded us that Franz Beckenbauer – - one of the greatest midfielders in history – - also played on that team. “Sometimes people just look at it as one star, Jackson said, “but they had a multitude of stars.

Will the Beckham signing take soccer into the major leagues in America?

“As a soccer fan, I can only hope it does have that effect, Jackson said. “I dont know if our mainstream American sports fan has enough room in his life to incorporate soccer too with all the other sports in America.

“But it certainly is a great game to watch and a great game to participate in. Im anticipating that its going to give a real big boost to it.

* * *

Looks like Shaquille ONeal might play Monday against the Lakers at Staples Center. ONeal practiced Thursday in San Francisco for the first time since undergoing knee surgery on Nov. 19.

The Heat play Friday at Golden State and Saturday at Utah before finishing the trip against the Lakers. Thats not a lot of practice time for ONeal, although its hard to imagine why he met up with the team if he wasnt going to play.

A matchup between ONeal and Andrew Bynum alone would be worth watching at Staples Center.

* * *

Notes from Thursday

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–Back at their practice facility after 48 forgettable hours on the road, the Lakers focused their attention on the happenings in the film room and the trainers room, neither one of which was a fun place to be.

They went frame-by-frame through a second quarter gone awry in Houston and checked on the condition of Kobe Bryants strained left groin. The Lakers listed Bryant as probable for tonights game against Orlando.

Bryant, who suffered the injury in the second quarter Wednesday, will be limited if he does play. He underwent treatment and said his groin was no worse from the night before, though Lakers coach Phil Jackson was cautious.

“I dont think we can call it right now, Jackson said. “I expect hes going to play, but I dont know what we can expect out of him.

“(Wednesday) night, I just didnt think he could run. He just couldnt run full-out. He couldnt do the things that he normally does. He couldnt get elevation on his shot. He was shooting an arm shot.

Bryant made just 6 of 18 shots against the Rockets and was hindered by the injury in the 17:40 he played in the second half.

“It hurts to accelerate, to get to the basket, trying to shift gears and change direction, things like that, Bryant said. “You kind of have to pick your spots a little bit and feel it out.

The Lakers need a victory tonight to avoid their first three-game losing streak of the season.

Webber update: Jackson had a question of his own when asked about reports that free-agent forward Chris Webber has a wish list of five teams for which he would like to play, the Lakers being one of them.

“Did he give it to Santa? Jackson quipped. “Its a little bit late for that.

After reaching agreement on a buyout, Webber was waived Thursday by the Philadelphia 76ers. The Lakers could offer Webber a prorated contract for the veterans minimum of $1.117 million, of which $433,797 would be covered by the NBA.

“Weve always respected Chris Webbers game and hes a great player, Jackson said. “Well have to sit down and discuss that as an organization. . . . Well probably be able to talk about it in the next two days.

Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said he had seen the Lakers included on Webbers wish list. The other four teams were Detroit, Miami, Dallas and San Antonio.

“Well discuss the possibility internally for the next day or two and see if it makes any sense, Kupchak said. “It sounds to me like he has other options hes considering as well.

Horror film: Even though the Lakers won the second quarter 24-23 against Houston, Jackson wanted his players to relive it on tape Thursday. It was the little things in that quarter, Jackson believed, that led to the Lakers downfall in the third quarter.

He went over the spacing on offense, the lack of ball movement, even the final play of the half when Bryant couldnt get off a shot in the last 22.6 seconds. That cost the Lakers a chance at going into halftime with a lead.

“You have to be a unit, center Andrew Bynum said, “and we didnt display that we were a unit (Wednesday) night.

Quick fouls: If there was one constant in the Lakers losses to Memphis and Houston, it was that Bryant slipped into foul trouble in the first quarter of both games.

Bryant was called for two fouls in the first 4:23 Wednesday, bringing Maurice Evans off the bench. Although Bryant played the entire second quarter, the Lakers again were left to improvise early.

“It changes our rotation. It changes how players play. It changes our game a lot, Jackson said. “Were going to have to live with it occasionally. But we wouldnt expect to live with it back-to-back nights.

Brown update: Center Kwame Brown did some light shooting Thursday but wont have his severely sprained left ankle re-evaluated for another two weeks. The ankle recently swelled up again on Brown, who suffered the injury Dec. 31.

“Its so boring, Brown said. “I miss you guys. Im bored all day, every day. Anything beats laying on the training table.

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Rockets 102, Lakers 77

The Lakers certainly traveled a lot of miles to lose two games to Memphis and Houston like that. If you’re looking for the constants from both nights, they start with Kobe Bryant getting in foul trouble early and the Lakers’ struggling to shoot the ball. They went 64 for 166 (38.6 percent) from the field in the two games.

Kobe Bryant made an interesting comment after the game. Namely that Andrew Bynum should call Dikembe Mutombo and ask for some pointers. If nothing else, Bynum should ask Mutombo his secrets for being able to play into his 40s.

“For Drew to get to that level, he has to watch and learn and study Dikembe and how he’s able to do that,” Bryant said. “If I was in his position, I might lob a call to Dikembe and talk to him. That’s what I did. I came up, I talked to M.J., I talked to Scottie, I talked to those guys because I wanted to learn from them. He’ll find that most of the guys will be very helpful in teaching him that and passing off that knowledge to the next generation.”

Bynum on the matchup: “He got a couple nice blocks. Not much to say about that. I had a couple, too. I just didn’t wave my finger. That’s his thing. I’m not going to steal it.”

* * *

I tried to keep the Chris Webber particulars as basic as possible because I’m never sure quite how many readers understand the salary-cap details or really care. Here’s a little bit more of a breakdown: Because the Lakers are over the cap, they have to use league-wide exceptions to be able to sign players. And they’ve already spent the two biggest for this season.

They spent the $5.215 million mid-level exception on Vladimir Radmanovic and the $1.75 million bi-annual exception on Shammond Williams. The Lakers only option for signing Webber is to offer him a minimum contract for $1.178 million. They wouldn’t even have to make that much of an investment in Webber because the Lakers would be on the hook for only $744,551; the NBA would pay the $433,000 difference.

Money shouldn’t be much of an issue to Webber: He’s owed more than $40 million from the Sixers. The Lakers also would face a question about releasing a player. Chris Mihm is out for the season with ankle surgery but has trade value with an expiring contract worth more than $4 million. Aaron McKie is making $2.5 million but is on the active roster right now with all the Lakers’ injuries.

If you read Marc Stein’s article on ESPN.com tonight, Webber has the Lakers on his wish list of five teams. The three biggest questions are whether Webber is anything close to healthy, how much of an obstacle it would be picking up the triangle offense and whether the Lakers need him if Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown both can make it back by the end of the month.

I’m sure Lakers fans have some strong feelings about the possibility of seeing Webber in purple and gold after so many years with the Kings.

* * *

You don’t see Phil Jackson get ejected from many games. In fact, Bryant wasn’t sure if it had ever happened. The last time Jackson got tossed came in Game 2 of the 2001 Western Conference Finals against San Antonio. Before that, the last regular-season game was Nov. 12, 1999 against Houston.

The way Jackson reacted to the technical foul referee Tony Brothers gave Brian Cook earlier in the third quarter had me convinced that he was getting tossed as soon he got out of his seat to argue for a foul call on Luke Walton’s behalf.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

HOUSTON–In case they needed a reminder of why it was so important to win 12 of those 15 home games to start the season, the Lakers got it Wednesday night against the Houston Rockets when nearly everything that could go wrong did.

They suffered a 102-77 loss in a game that ended with both Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson in the locker room early. Jackson was ejected in the third quarter while Bryant left the bench with 3:33 remaining after suffering a groin strain in the second quarter.

It was a night in which 40-year-old Dikembe Mutombo turned back the clock with one finger-wagging block after another. The Lakers shot a season-worst 34.8 percent and came apart in the third quarter for the second time in as many games.

So went the good feelings from Sunday nights victory over the Dallas in only 72 hours. Now 7-9 on the road, the Lakers can fall back on the 16-4 home record built in November and December at Staples Center.

“Were not playing the same basketball we were just three days ago when we were at home, Luke Walton said. “Weve got to sit down, figure out what were doing differently and get back on track.

Bryant finished with 20 points on 6 of 18 shooting and was hindered by the groin injury. He pulled it when he took an outlet pass in the second quarter and went to accelerate. As for his availability Friday against Orlando, Bryant was optimistic after the game.

“I should be fine to play, Bryant said. “Itll just take some adjusting. Well just treat it around the clock like we normally do. Hopefully, itll be closer to 100 percent than it is now.

Already playing without injured starters Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown, the Lakers can ill afford to lose Bryant. Although it was described as a minor strain, Jackson called it “a difficult injury to overcome

There was plenty of time for Jackson to think about all that went wrong. He was ejected by referee Tony Brothers with 15.3 seconds left in the third quarter after arguing a foul should have been called when Walton was hammered on a drive by Mutombo.

“It just was one of those kind of situations where our guy went to the basket again, got knocked in the stands and there was no call, Jackson said. “That was the second guy in a row. (Maurice Evans) went before him and got knocked into the seats.

It wasnt the first flare-up between Jackson and Brothers in the quarter. After he was called for his fourth foul with 9:35 left in the third, Brian Cook voiced his displeasure to referee Greg Willard as he headed to the bench.

Without a word said in his direction, Brothers whistled Cook for a technical, leaving Jackson bellowing, “Whats your problem? Cook was animated in yelling, “Im not talking to you, before taking his seat.

“I dont want to talk about it, Jackson said afterward. “Hes not worth talking about anyway.

The third quarter again was the Lakers undoing. One night after giving up 46 points to Memphis in the third, the Lakers made just 4 of 22 shots and lost the quarter 25-12 to the Rockets. They scored only 31 points in the second half.

“Were just not executing well or coming out with the kind of energy that we need to, Bryant said. “Teams are really busting us in the third quarter. If we can kind of solve that mystery and play at least half the quarter decently, well be OK.

With Yao Ming out a minimum of six weeks with a fractured bone in his right leg, the Rockets started Mutombo at center, leaving an intriguing matchup against Andrew Bynum between the NBAs oldest and youngest players.

Mutombo made history at Bynums expense in the third quarter. He blocked Bynum twice around the basket to tie and pass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar – - Bynums mentor, no less – - for second on the NBAs all-time list.

In signature fashion, Mutombo wagged his finger on both plays. He finished with seven points, 19 rebounds and a season-high five blocks and sits second to Hakeem Olajuwon with 3,191 career blocks.

Bryant described Mutombo as “masterful at what he does. Jackson was upset that the Lakers went at Mutombo instead of working around him as the game plan dictated.

The Rockets won even with Tracy McGradys streak of 30-point games coming to an end at six. McGrady made just 4 of 16 shots but finished with eight points and 12 assists. Shane Battier hit five 3-pointers as Houston went 12 of 36 from long range.

Jackson said he was concerned about his young players staying positive after the back-to-back losses. The Lakers still have to play 11 of their next 16 games on the road.

“This is just one of those times in the year, Jackson said, “when youre not playing well, the teams you run against are, and you have to get back and do the things that got you to where you were.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

HOUSTON–Will the Lakers enter the Chris Webber derby if and when the Philadelphia 76ers agree to a buyout of the former All-Star forwards contract? That was the question for Lakers coach Phil Jackson before Wednesdays game.

“I think thats been speculated for a month and a half now, Jackson said. “Chris is a great player. We have to leave that in (general manager Mitch Kupchaks) department and just allow him to suggest that or to deal with that as that comes along.

Webber told ESPN.com that he hopes to sign with one of five teams, a list that includes the Lakers along with Miami, Dallas, San Antonio and Detroit.

Jackson mentioned feeling “short-handed playing recent games without injured starters Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown. The Lakers expect to get Odom back before the end of the month and hope Brown can follow soon after.

Webber hopes to finalize the buyout today and sign with a team Monday. The Lakers would have to release a player to make room for Webber on the 15-man roster and have already used their mid-level and bi-annual salary cap exceptions.

There also are questions about Webbers diminished ability. He will turn 34 on March 1 and has averaged 11.0 points, 8.3 rebounds and shot 38.7 percent in 18 games for Philadelphia this season.

“In a hypothetical case like this, Jackson said, “Ill tell you that we would have to do research on a player, look at the games that he had played in, analyze the tapes to see what it looks like physically, all that type of stuff before wed even consider a player.

Numbers game: All it took was a change to No. 24 for Kobe Bryants jersey to return to No. 1 in popularity, according to sales figures released by the league Wednesday.

The NBA reported sales from its online store and retail store in New York from the start of the season through Dec. 31. A league spokeswoman said there was no breakdown for sales of Bryants old No. 8 jersey versus new No. 24.

“It just shows that I have a lot of support out there, Bryant said, “and my fans have come to terms with embracing 24.

Miamis Dwayne Wade and Clevelands LeBron James ranked second and third, respectively, in jersey sales. Wades jersey had been the NBAs most popular since May 2005; Bryants was the most popular for the 2002-03 season.

Bryant made the switch to the number he first wore in high school to mark what he described in May as the start of the “second leg of my career.

For the fifth consecutive season, the Lakers ranked first in sales of team merchandise.

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Grizzlies 128, Lakers 118

Needless to say, the 365th loss of Phil Jackson’s coaching career is not going to be remembered as fondly as his 900th victory. The Lakers resolved after losing to Charlotte in triple-overtime last month not to give away any more games against meager teams. Of course, the Lakers not only lost to the NBA’s worst team, they gave up more points in regulation than any other game this season.

The big picture of that loss dominated the postgame talk. But there are still moments when games are decided and you can see how they added up against the Lakers. Start with the two fouls Kobe Bryant picked up in the first 5:45, sending him to the bench for the rest of the quarter. Maurice Evans has to check in and everything is off-kilter early.

Move ahead to the second quarter and the Lakers are part of a four-point swing with 9:31 left. Sasha Vujacic has a pass stolen by Pau Gasol. The Grizzlies head the other way and Mike Miller scores on the fastbreak while being fouled by Jordan Farmar. Vujacic tosses the ball against the basket standard in frustration and is called for a techncial foul. Miller hits two free throws and Memphis is down 30-29.

Even though the third quarter was a disaster, the Lakers actually led 62-56 with 9:39 left. The Grizzlies were playing a zone defense and the Lakers had gotten a dunk by Andrew Bynum and a Bryant 3-pointer against it. That was before Bynum somehow threw the ball over Bryant’s head and into the backcourt on one play. Miller took it the other way for a dunk and everything snowballed from there.

As for the fourth quarter, the Lakers tried desperately to get back in the game and closed to 116-103 with 5:43 remaining. If they could have gotten the game within 10 points, Jackson would have brought Bryant off the bench. He didn’t want to do it otherwise with the Lakers playing their fourth game in six nights. But Walton misses a layup with the chance to make it an 11-point game. The Lakers never got the Grizzlies’ lead down to single digits.

Of course, the Lakers aren’t going to win on the road when they give up 46-point third quarters, when they get outrebounded 50-39, when they let Memphis shoot 49 free throws and give up fastbreak points and points in the paint galore. But it’s important to remember those plays as potential turning points.

“We not holding it against this team because of who they lose to,” Jackson said. “We’re holding it against them because they didn’t play the kind of game we wanted to play, regardless of who our opponent was.”

* * *

One of the differences between good and great teams comes in being able to stop a losing streak before it starts. The Lakers have dropped consecutive games only twice all season but need a victory Wednesday against Houston to avoid making it three times. They also have a chance to win the season series against the Rockets, which could be important come playoff time.

* * *

There was an amusing sequence in the first quarter when Bynum was called for basketball interference on a follow-up dunk. Jackson was all over referee Bill Kennedy in thinking the ball had bounced outside the cylinder. Kennedy stopped at midcourt, stared at the replay on the arena video board and flashed both thumbs up when he saw his call was correct.

* * *

Sasha Vujacic finished with 18 points and made four 3-pointers. It was his second career-high in as many games. Vujacic again played the entire fourth quarter, this time as the Lakers tried to come back.

Vladimir Radmanovic made just 1 of 6 shots, scored six points and fouled out in 17 minutes. Radmanovic rifled the ball off the backboard on a shot around the basket in the second quarter.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn.–Only the Lakers could take the prosperity that came with ending the Dallas Mavericks 13-game winning streak and turn it into charity two nights later against the Memphis Grizzlies.

There was no explanation for what happened Tuesday and none that would have sufficed. In a mere 48 hours, the Lakers went from inspiring to embarrassing, good enough to beat the NBAs best team and bad enough to lose to its worst.

The Grizzlies ripped the Lakers for 46 points in the third quarter, built a 24-point lead in the second half and pocketed a 128-118 victory. This even after Lakers coach Phil Jackson implored his players not to overlook an 8-27 team.

“Hes been telling us for the last two days, Luke Walton said. “This is the type of game that hes talking about we need to win. Personally, I thought we were ready, but obviously weve got some more learning to do because we werent ready.’

Kobe Bryant finished with 25 points but didnt play in the fourth quarter with the game out of reach. Among the starters, Andrew Bynum made just 5 of 13 shots, Brian Cook 4 of 13, Smush Parker 3 of 9 and Walton 1 of 8.

As impressive as their victories over Dallas, Phoenix, Utah and San Antonio have been, the Lakers in effect have canceled them out with losses to Portland, New Orleans, Charlotte and Memphis. The combined record of those four teams is 44-94.

“Its got to be mental, Walton said. “Weve shown that we have the talent and the ability to play as an elite team. If you have that capability and you have that talent, then its got to be something else.

No wonder Jackson said before the game, “Were a team that doesnt understand its own identity.

With former coach Mike Fratello in charge, 46 points would have been a good half of work for the Grizzlies. Instead, they totaled that many points Tuesday in a train wreck of a third quarter for the Lakers.

It was only three points shy of the most ever allowed by the Lakers in a single quarter, coming in a March 19, 1993 game against Boston. From a 57-52 lead at halftime, the Lakers found themselves trailing 98-79 entering the fourth quarter.

“Sometimes when things go wrong, its just infectious, Jackson said. “One bad pass begets another, we say, and one bad play begets another. But we had a sequence of them that just kept multiplying in that third quarter.

It was the only quarter the Lakers lost all night but was enough to cost them the game. The Lakers committed six turnovers in the third, took 11 3-pointers trying to break a zone defense and gave up 24 fastbreak points to Memphis.

Bynum threw the ball over Bryants head, leading to a Mike Miller dunk. Walton looked for Parker on the fastbreak and lobbed a pass that skipped out of bounds. Cook threw a pass that Bynum couldnt hang onto.

The Grizzlies came back and took a 69-64 lead on back-to-back 3-pointers by Miller, who scored 14 of his 25 points in the quarter. It got worse from there, the Lakers going down by 13 points and Jackson substituting everybody but Bryant.

In his postgame comments, Bryant used the word “execute five times to describe what was lacking.

“When youre in these type of situations, you just have to button up and sharpen up, Bryant said. “You cant be loose with the basketball, you cant be lackadaisical, you just have to tighten the structure up and go out there and punch the clock.

The Grizzlies outscored the Lakers 46-22 in the third quarter. They scored only 30 points the entire first half of their Nov. 12 loss to the Lakers at Staples Center.

“You have to recognize the fact that were probably a younger team than Memphis is, Jackson said, “and they talk about them being in a youth movement.

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Lakers 101, Mavericks 98

I’m not sure when it happened last season, but Lakers coach Phil Jackson described Sasha Vujacic in a way that none of us who cover the team have forgotten. Jackson dubbed Vujacic an “11 o’clock shooter” as opposed to a “7:30 shooter.” Translation: Vujacic was great at practice but disappeared in games.

When he was reminded of those words after Sunday’s game, Jackson couldn’t help but snicker about a “6:30 game.” It was an early start Sunday, but Vujacic finally was a big-game shooter for the Lakers, hitting 6 of 7 shots, including the go-ahead 3-pointer with 28.5 seconds left, and scoring a career-high 16 points.

“Sasha’s starting to settle in,” Jackson said. “I think he was anxious (early in the season). He started the first game obviously of the year with Kobe sitting on the bench and got off to a tough start. But he’s been playing much better as of late.

“I know he had some open shots the other night that didn’t go down for him, but we expect them to go in because he’s really a good shooter and works hard at it.”

If you watch the FSN West special on Vujacic’s path to the Lakers, you learn that his nickname in Italy was “The Giant Killer,” for the big shots he hit so often against top teams. Vujacic definitely lived up to that nickname Sunday against the Mavericks.

Vujacic raised his shooting percentage for the season from 37.4 percent to 40.6 percent after Sunday’s game. He’s still so young that he won’t turn 23 until March 8.

* * *

Jackson became the fastest coach ever to 900 victories in his career. He ranks ninth on the all-time list, trailing Dick Motta in eighth with 935 victories. Red Auerbach ranks seventh with 938.

“They’re a lot of guys in the game that are coaching right now that have 1,000 wins, 900,” Jackson said. “I don’t know what I am down on the list – - probably 10th or so all-time. But I can remember when Red Auerbach stood up there all by (himself) when I was a player.

“You looked at the wins that coaches had and no one else was even close. Over the past 20 years, all these coaches that I’ve grown up with, watched coach, played ball against – - Jerry Sloan, Pat Riley, Lenny Wilkens, Don Nelson, Larry Brown – - have all reached that milestone.

“It’s become a game in which us elderly guys are now coaching, which was an age that coaches really didn’t extend themselves into (these) ranks when I was a player. So it says something about the longevity of coaches now.

“And it’s a compliment to all the players that I’ve had, the great players, the great teams and the great runs that we’ve had to be able to accept this kind of as gratitude to them.”

* * *

The Lakers shot 61.1 percent in the fourth quarter and had eight assists against no turnovers. The last time the Mavericks gave up 100 points was to he Lakers back on Dec. 13 in the victory that started the 13-game streak.

* * *

You get the feeling that the last team the Mavericks want to see is the Lakers in the playoffs. The Lakers are now 12-2 against Dallas at Staples Center in their history. They were on the wrong end as Kobe Bryant outscored them 62-61 through three quarters of a game last December. Then they lose Sunday for the first time in nearly a month to a Lakers team playing without two injured starters. The two teams meet again in Dallas on Jan. 18.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

Long after the game ball from Sunday nights 101-98 triumph over the Dallas Mavericks has gone into storage, Lakers coach Phil Jackson will be left with the memories from the 900th victory of his career.

They will be stirring to say the least, with the Lakers ending the Mavericks 13-game winning streak, Sasha Vujacic hitting the biggest 3-pointer of his career and Jacksons team taking its place among the NBA elite.

When he walked into the locker room afterward, Jackson was greeted by a standing ovation from his players, including teenage center Andrew Bynum, who was all of 2 years old when Jackson won his first game.

“It was awesome, Kobe Bryant said. “I know Phils not going to beat his chest about it or anything like it. But it was important for everybody here to take notice of what we just saw tonight. Its special, man.

The Mavericks streak started with a 110-101 victory over the Lakers on Dec. 13 in Dallas and ended 25 days later at Staples Center. That the Lakers did so without injured starters Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown made it all the more remarkable.

“I think right now were one of those teams that were good enough to beat anyone in the NBA, Luke Walton said. “When we play the teams like the Mavericks or the Spurs we really get up and step our games up.

“Weve got to learn how to play like that all the time, though. Thats how you get one of the high seeds in the playoffs and get the home-court advantage.

The Lakers trailed by as many as nine points in the fourth quarter and 96-92 with 1:29 remaining. Bryant scored 14 points in the quarter and started the final push by driving the lane and scoring while being fouled by Dirk Nowitzki.

They led briefly, then trailed 98-97 after a Nowitzki layup with 41.9 seconds left. With Dallas committed to stopping Bryant, though, Walton drove the lane and fired a pass back outside to Vujacic for an open 3-pointer with 28.5 seconds remaining.

“What we had to do, Vujacic said, “and what I could see at that time was just be open on the side and they will find me.

After making just 1 of 7 shots and missing all five 3-pointers Friday against Denver, Vujacic bounced back two nights later to connect on 6 of 7 shots and finish with a career-high 16 points.

It was the highlight of Vujacics young career and he stayed in the locker room long after the game to enjoy it. Vujacic hit three 3-pointers in the fourth quarter and helped force a key Jason Terry turnover in the backcourt.

“Im proud of him because hes taken his lumps here, Bryant said. “The fans have been pretty hard on him. But what people dont understand about him, hes a tough kid.

“Hes not going to back down. Hes not going to stop being aggressive. Hes not going to stop working hard. When you have that combination of things, then fans will turn around because theyll see it.

The Lakers shot 54.9 percent, totaled 26 assists as a team and won the fourth quarter 33-21. Their fourth-quarter lineup primarily was Bryant, Vujacic, Walton, Maurice Evans and Ronny Turiaf.

Smush Parker came up with a spectacular block of a Terry dunk with 16.9 seconds left to preserve the win. Former Lakers forward Devean George missed a tying 3-pointer for Dallas with 3 seconds to play.

Bryant finished with 26 points, eight rebounds and six assists. He played all but 1:07 in the second half and asked to guard Nowitzki in the fourth quarter after the Lakers previous options of Brian Cook and Vladimir Radmanovic had failed.

“Just looking at the matchups out there, I felt like I wanted to take my crack at guarding him, Bryant said. “Ive never guarded him before. Never. I was a little bit curious to see about his offensive game, what makes him special.

Nowitzki scored eight points in the fourth and 29 for the game. Bryant was giving up at least six inches to the Mavericks All-Star forward. Jackson eventually moved Bryant off Nowitzki in favor of Turiaf for the final 2:51.

Walton totaled 21 points, six assists and three rebounds, with eight of his points in the fourth quarter. Bryant drilled three jumpers to open the fourth but had to give up the ball as the Mavericks sent two and three defenders in his direction.

“When we didnt trap him, he scored, Dallas coach Avery Johnson said. “When we trapped him, it seemed like Walton and Vujacic made a lot of big shots on us. So everything that we tried on them in the fourth quarter didnt work.

After the streamers fell to the floor and the players celebrated, the question of the Lakers place in the NBA hierarchy came up.

The Lakers (23-11) are only a half-game out of the top four in the Western Conference and have beaten San Antonio, Phoenix, Utah and Dallas all at Staples Center this season.

They have won four consecutive games, the latest being possibly the most improbable victory since the Shaquille ONeal trade. They are now 3-0 without Odom and Brown, both of whom will likely be sidelined most of January.

“We can certainly play up to certain teams in games, said Jackson, fastest ever to 900 victories. “Theres no doubt about it. But we had to emotionally come out of our skin a little bit tonight and work really hard at doing it.’

Walton summed things up simply, saying, “Theyve done a great job of putting a bunch of team players together.

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