Lakers 132, Kings 128

If that’s the kind of game the Lakers and Kings are capable of producing on Jan. 4, I shudder to think what could happen April 18 when they meet again at Arco Arena for the final game of the regular season. The Lakers could be playing for a favorable path to the second round while the Kings might be just hoping to get in the playoffs.

In case you missed it, here’s the Cliff’s Notes version of what happened late: The Kings led 116-112 with 6.7 seconds left in regulation after coming all the way back from 21 points down in the second half. Then Vladimir Radmanovic keeps the Lakers alive with a 3-pointer with 4.7 seconds remaining.

The Lakers are still on life support after Kobe Bryant is called for an away from play foul, putting Mike Bibby at the foul line and giving the Kings the ball as well. Except Bibby, an 85.3 percent free-throw shooter entering Thursday, comes up empty.

Then Kevin Martin – - the NBA’s seventh-best foul shooter at 91.1 percent – - makes just 1 of 2 with 4.0 seconds left. That gives the Lakers the chance to tie down 117-115. They inbound to Bryant, the player the league general managers voted they would most want taking the last shot with the game on the line.

What does Bryant do? He gives up the ball to Smush Parker cutting the lane after Bibby leaves him to double Bryant. Parker hits the runner to force overtime at the buzzer. The Lakers nearly blow a five-point lead in the final minute of overtime before Corliss Williamson misses a potential tying shot with 5.9 seconds left.

How Williamson winds up taking the last shot for the Kings we’re still trying to figure out. The game lasts 3:21, a minute longer than the Lakers’ triple-overtime loss to Charlotte thanks to the extended TNT broadcast timeouts and the 80 – - yes, 80 – - fouls that Dick Bavetta, Jess Kersey and Robbie Robinson called.

I’ll apologize in advance to everyone who gets the first edition of our sports section, the one that has to be off the floor by 10:30 p.m. It’s not usually an issue except for when the game ends after 11. I sneaked some Phil Jackson quotes in the 11:30 p.m. edition but here’s some extra quotes from the locker room.

Kobe Bryant: “You want to give yourself an opportunity to win the game or tie the game. We had an opportunity and we were able to capitalize on it. I’ve seen weirder things happen. Inevitably, every time we play here we wind up having a really great game.”

Mike Bibby: “When you have free throw shooters like Kevin Martin and I who don’t finish, that’s what hurt us the most tonight. It was kind of on our shoulders to make those and we let our team down. If you make free throws, the game is over.”

Corliss Williamson: “There were a lot of options we had (on the last play) but the Lakers did a good job in defending the pass. One of the last options was for me to flash across the lane and get the ball on the block. I thought I had a chance to drive in there and hit the shot.”

* * *

Starting in place of Kwame Brown, Andrew Bynum finished with 15 points and 11 rebounds, four of which were offensive boards. He made two really nice plays in the first quarter, flipping in a shot over Shareef Abdur-Rahim while drawing a foul. Bynum had another chance at a three-point play after putting back a Luke Walton miss.

Bynum was on the floor late in the game as well but Lakers coach Phil Jackson decided to sit him in favor of Vladimir Radmanovic after Bynum picked up his pivot foot and was called for traveling with 2:53 left in the fourth and the Lakers clinging to a 108-105 lead.

Bynum came back for rebounding purposes as the Kings went to the foul line in the last 10 seconds and was on the floor for the start of overtime, when Jackson wanted him to win the tip-off. Jackson grimaced when Bynum missed the first of two free throws in overtime and sat him for the last 1:49.

It was a learning experience for Bynum, who played 33 minutes and did more than just stay out of foul trouble. Ronny Turiaf had six points and four rebounds but picked up four fouls in 10:30 off the bench.

* * *

The Lakers are now 5-0 in the Pacific Division. They’re the only team with a perfect division record left in the NBA.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

SACRAMENTO–As long as they must play without injured starters Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown, the only thing the Lakers can expect is the unexpected, a fact that was hammered home Thursday night at Arco Arena.

They played an adventure of a game against the Sacramento Kings, complete with a 74-point first half, a blown 21-point lead in the second half, a buzzer-beater at the end of regulation and ultimately a 132-128 victory in overtime.

For the fourth time in 10 games, the Lakers went to overtime to decide things. They led for the first 45-plus minutes but Sacramento was the team that couldnt hold onto a four-point lead in the last 6.7 seconds of the fourth quarter.

The Lakers sent the game to overtime on the play of the season. Sasha Vujacic inbounded the ball to Kobe Bryant some 30 feet from the basket with 4.0 seconds left. John Salmons and Mike Bibby both converged, expecting Bryant to take the last shot.

Instead, Bryant gave up the ball, firing a pass to Smush Parker, who cut down the lane after Bibby left him. Parker pushed in a shot with 0.1 seconds left as Corliss Williamson arrived to help too late for the Kings.

“I just told them that youre going to have opportunities to take the ball to the basket, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “Theres 4 seconds, thats a lot of time when you get the ball inbounds.

“Dont be hesitant about moving the ball and taking it to the hoop because we dont have to score a 3. And Kobe said, `Im doubled all the time. You guys just be open or be aware.

Bryant finished with 42 points on 11-of-21 shooting with 10 rebounds and nine assists while Brian Cook (season-high 26 points) hit his first six shots and provided the instant offense Jackson was looking for without Odom and Brown.

Jackson saw Thursdays victory as sweet revenge after the Lakers lost here 118-109 in overtime last January after blowing a lead late in regulation in part because of an Odom charging foul.

“I think you come to Sacramento, watch a Laker-King game and youre going to find something different happening out there, Jackson said. “This is the second time in almost a year that weve just had an outrageous game with this team.

The Lakers led by as many as five points with a minute left in overtime but the Kings still had a chance to tie late as Bibby buried a 3-pointer with 11.7 seconds remaining and Bryant made just 1 of 2 free throws at the other end.

The Kings couldnt get the ball to Bibby, so Kevin Martin threw it to Williamson instead. Williamson missed around the basket with 5.9 seconds left and Bryant finished things at the foul line.

After a 3-hour, 21-minute game, the Lakers once again found a way around the injuries to win. They are 3-0 this season without Bryant, 6-5 without Odom, 1-0 without Odom and Brown and 21-11 overall.

The Lakers are 10 games above .500 for the first time since the Shaquille ONeal trade.

Parker finished with 10 points while Vladimir Radmanovic had five points and connected on the 3-pointer that kept the Lakers alive in the fourth quarter. Bibby led the Kings with 38 points while Ron Artest fouled out with 1:28 left in regulation.

After watching the referees call 26 fouls in a second quarter that crawled along, sending the two teams to the free-throw line an arena-record 47 times, Bryant was left in disbelief as no foul was called on a potential tying drive with 10.9 seconds left.

Bryant went up into the arms of Salmons and Williamson as his bank shot from 8 feet rimmed out. The Kings grabbed the rebound and Salmons converted two free throws to make it 116-112 with 6.7 seconds left.

If the game looked over, it wasnt. Radmanovic buried a corner 3-pointer as the Lakers closed to 116-115.

“We always tell guys, `Keep playing because you never know whats going to happen, Jackson said. “We had 3-point shooters in the game, Vlade knocked that down, we had the opportunity to do something.

Bryant, however, was called for an away from play foul on the subsequent inbounds that left him stunned. But Bibby missed the free throw and Martin missed the first of two with 4.0 seconds left. That was all the opening the Lakers needed.

Bryant took only one shot and did not score in the first quarter but watched as the Lakers took a 33-18 lead after the opening 12 minutes. Cook was knocking down shots, Bryant was moving the ball and the Lakers were rolling.

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Wednesday report

Does a Lakers/Kings game in Sacramento still carry the same weight when Kobe Bryant, Phil Jackson and Mike Bibby are the only holdovers left from the 2002 Western Conference Finals? That was one of the questions asked at Wednesday’s practice.

Phil said: “It is different. Theres something that’s different about their team. Their teams still good on their home court. Their fans are still rabid fans. Theyve got an aggressive team. They have not played well this season, theyve had a few things go wrong for them. But theyre back at it now.

Kobe said: “Its always special to go up to Sacramento. No matter how both teams are doing, its always special to go up there because of all the memories that weve had. Its always a fun place to play.

If you need an extra reason to watch Thursday’s game, Charles Barkley is leaving the TNT studios to call the game live. As long as Kobe takes more than three shots and scores more than one point in the second half, we should all be fine.

* * *

Jackson has taken jabs at Kwame Brown several times in the past week, making fun of his bad hands as well as the various injuries he has suffered. But Jackson offered a pretty good analysis of what the Lakers will be missing with Brown recovering from a severely sprained ankle.

“Sometimes hes not successful, things may not go as well as he wants,” Jackson said, “but the ability of him to just knock guys around in there, hes so physical and so strong, that it sends them back on their heels and it makes them a little less reluctant to be aggressive offensively. So that force or that sense of power in there is very important to us.”

Although Andrew Bynum’s length and shot-blocking ability can cause problems, Brown is a physical presence inside. You have to think the Lakers would be happy to play .500 basketball as long as Brown and Lamar Odom are both out with injuries.

* * *

Odom has a great line he’s used a couple of times in talking about big-time college athletics: “Ain’t nobody ever paid money to watch somebody take a test.”

With the news Wednesday that Nick Saban’s leaving for Alabama, I think it’s fair to say: “Ain’t nobody ever paid a coach $4 million a year to graduate players.”

* * *

A scene from practice Wednesday: Rookie guard Jordan Farmar, the last guy on the practice court, getting as many shots as possible with the leather ball.

* * *

Notes for Thursday

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–When the Lakers needed to stay afloat last January, Kobe Bryant was able to bail them out with one of the greatest months in NBA history. He averaged a staggering 43.4 points per game, most by anyone not named Wilt Chamberlain.

The odds are Bryant wont put up the same numbers this season, but he will face a balancing act once again.

The Lakers will be playing the bulk of this month without forward Lamar Odom (sprained knee ligament) and center Kwame Brown (severe ankle sprain) and must account for 26.2 points and 15.3 rebounds per game in their absence.

In the past, that might call for Bryant to score 40 points just to give the Lakers a chance at winning. But Bryant would like to avoid that fate, especially after already shouldering the load with Odom out the last 10 games.

“I just think its better if we all get on the same page and play well, Bryant said. “Its always more enjoyable. Its more enjoyable for me, its more enjoyable for us.

“That being said, some nights youve got to do what youve got to do to try and win the game. But Ill feel much better and be happier if I didnt have to do that.

Bryant faced what he described as “kitchen sink defenses throughout the Lakers recent six-game trip, with teams committing two and three defenders to stopping him. He figures to see more of the same as long as the Lakers are down two starters.

Kid games: Although he hasnt officially been told he is starting, 19-year-old center Andrew Bynum again practiced with the first team Wednesday. He also has gotten the message from the coaching staff about staying out of foul trouble.

Bynum said he watched tape of himself picking up fouls by exposing his body and letting guards collide with him while driving the lane. He resolved to stay out of the restricted area and contest shots from a distance.

In addition, Bynum said he is prepared for teams to attack him with the screen-and-roll, a nemesis for the Lakers in recent games.

“Its more than just myself and the guard at the top, Bynum said. “All of the team has to have a foot in the paint so that if he does get by us, then somebody else is there and we can recover to our man.

“That killed us in the Charlotte game. Kwame and Smush (Parker) were doing a pretty good job up top but our weak-side defense was so far out of the lane, we just didnt have a chance.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson, meanwhile, was asked about the need for an emergency big man as long as Brown is out. He revealed that the Lakers are estimating Browns recovery at about four weeks.

“We think that we can see our way through for a short period of time and patch it up, said Jackson, who also will give minutes to Ronny Turiaf and Brian Cook at center.

Injury update: Odom was shooting on the practice court with a knee brace Wednesday but was uncertain when he would be able to play again. He has been able to do some light running but cant afford to rush back even with Brown out.

Feel-good story: By having his right hip replaced on the eve of training camp, Jackson avoided having to take a midseason leave of absence. Miami Heat coach Pat Riley did just that Wednesday to deal with knee and hip problems.

Having both hips replaced would have kept Jackson out three months. He is weighing having his left hip replaced this summer and was able to crack a joke Wednesday.

“Next year, Jackson said, “I know Ill take it off during the season and have a holiday in the middle of this.

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Lakers 104, Sixers 94

If there’s one injury we didn’t need a primer on, it’s a severely sprained ankle. Kobe Bryant suffered one in the 2004-05 season and Chris Mihm suffered one last season. Bryant missed a month exactly and Mihm five-plus weeks, although Mihm would later admit that he came back too quickly trying to get ready for the playoffs.

Bryant described the rehab process as being “hell” when he talked about the injury last season. He also was asked where he was when he came back after a month. If you remember that game in Cleveland, Bryant’s ankle was still so bad that he played with the straps on his shoes unfastened.

“I was not even close to 100 percent. Nowhere close,” Bryant said in March. “It almost becomes your life. You just have to rehabilitate it every single day, all day.”

So that’s what Kwame Brown is facing after Sunday’s game. I would guess that he’ll be out between five and eight weeks. The Lakers are going to have to consider adding a big man to the roster, although they’ll have to get in line behind both Houston and New Jersey, who are trying to replace Yao Ming and Nenad Krstic, respectively. The Lakers always can buy out Mihm’s final season if they need to acquire a player.

“Kwame, hes built like a horse,” Luke Walton said. “Hopefully, hell be able to get back quicker than most people. Hes a strong guy, so hopefully hell be able to stay healthy once he gets back.”

* * *

Shammond Williams had played in only five games all season and none since Nov. 19 when Jackson called on him in the second quarter Sunday. The Lakers had come up empty on a couple of possessions with Bryant on the bench and the Sixers playing a zone defense. Jackson brought Walton, Brown and Williams into the game together.

Williams connected on a 3-pointer and the Lakers were able to survive from there until Bryant checked back in. I don’t know if Williams will play more or not with Brown out, but at least he and Aaron McKie will be on the active roster most nights. McKie hasn’t played a minute this season.

* * *

Jackson couldn’t resist taking a swipe at Brown, his favorite punching bag. He revealed in his post-game session with reporters that the Lakers training staff has a medical skeleton and they take turns guessing what body part Brown will hurt next. He has been battling knee and wrist injuries recently and a shoulder injury all season.

“Nobody picked an ankle yesterday or today,” Jackson said.

* * *

Every player scored for the Lakers in Sunday’s game. Brown had six points and eight rebounds in 17:18 before he was injured.

The Lakers are now 14-4 at home and finished 10-6 in December. That’s two games better in December than I expected. They will head into January on a 50-win pace, but that’s all a question mark if Brown is out for an extended period.

* * *

It would be interesting to look at players who are at the extreme end of not being prone to injuries. They are a huge benefit to their teams. Bruce Bowen came into Sunday as the NBA’s leader in consecutive games played (383) followed by Andre Miller, Tayshaun Prince and Damon Jones.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

The clock hadnt even hit midnight before the Lakers hopes for good health in the New Year were dashed Sunday night. Now they must wait to learn just how long starting center Kwame Brown will be out with a severely sprained left ankle.

Already playing without injured forward Lamar Odom, the Lakers lost Brown in the third quarter of their 104-94 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers. Brown went up and blocked Andre Millers shot in the lane only to roll his ankle coming down on Millers foot.

He collapsed to the floor immediately, clutching the ankle, and had to be helped to the locker room. The Lakers said X-rays of the ankle were inconclusive and that Brown will undergo further tests today, including a CT scan.

It was reminiscent of the severe ankle sprain center Chris Mihm suffered in a game in March. Mihm returned in 38 days for the Lakers final regular season game but his ankle never was right and he has had to undergo two surgeries since.

The Lakers were down a big man to begin with in Mihm, who is out for the season. Now they will have to make due with 19-year-old Andrew Bynum – - who started earlier this season while Brown nursed a shoulder injury – - and Ronny Turiaf.

“Thats all we have left out there, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “(Brian Cook) can play that center role, too, but we are getting to the position where were going to have to be bucking up and taking care of some business inside.

Brown was on crutches in the locker room after the game, with a walking boot on his foot. His New Years Eve plans would consist of a sleepless night keeping the ankle wrapped and elevated and contemplating an uncertain future.

Asked if he heard something in the ankle pop, Brown said, “Yes, I did. Man, it hurt. Its killing me right now.

Kobe Bryant could relate after missing exactly a month with a severely sprained ankle in January 2005. Bryant told Brown that the difference between missing weeks and months could come down to how aggressively he treated the ankle in the first 48 hours.

“Ankle injuries are the worst, Bryant added. “Theyre just the worst. They take the longest to heal. When they heal, it takes a couple weeks just to get your ankle underneath you again, to cut like you normally would cut. Its a tough injury to deal with.

Brown compared the injury to a sprained right ankle he suffered in his first NBA game with Washington in October 2001. He missed four games then but a severe sprain involves one or more ligaments that are 50 percent to fully torn.

The story of the Lakers season once again returned to injuries. They started the season with almost as many injured players as healthy ones in training camp, while Bryant recovered from knee surgery and Jackson from hip-replacement surgery.

Then they lost Odom to a sprained knee ligament on Dec. 12. He said before Sundays game that his recovery is taking longer than expected; the Lakers initial timetable for Odom had him missing a minimum of four weeks.

If Brown is out for several weeks, the Lakers might have to play without two starters for most of January.

“It sucks but the one thing its taught us is that we can still win, Luke Walton said. “Its obviously going to hurt us because Kwames our best post defender and our best rebounder right now. Were just going to have to all step up our games again and keep moving on.

Jackson said he had not decided about starting Bynum – - who has averaged 8.8 points and 6.3 rebounds in 14 games as a starter – - or Turiaf. Bynum started when Brown was out with a shoulder injury; Turiaf played 11 minutes in the fourth quarter Sunday.

“Im not sure Andrews quite ready to step into that role at a full-time level, Jackson said. “I wont make that decision till I kind of check out how I feel about that. I may keep Andrew (coming) off the bench and use Ronny as a starter.

The Lakers didnt need Brown to beat the Sixers, an 8-22 team that traded Allen Iverson on Dec. 19. It took a half for the Lakers to adjust to being back at Staples Center after their six-game Christmas trip, but Bryant delivered 20 points in the third quarter.

Bryant put on a show in hitting 8 of 9 shots in the quarter. He drilled three jumpers as the Lakers went ahead 74-60, then drove the lane and wrapped a pass to Bynum for a dunk. He followed by stealing a Kevin Ollie pass and pushing in a shot at the other end.

But Bryant committed an embarrassing mistake after a Walton steal with a minute left in the third. He led the fastbreak and tossed an underhanded pass to Walton, expecting him to rise for an alley-oop dunk.

Walton thought the pass was meant for Maurice Evans and stayed bound to the floor. Ollie came up with the ball as the crowd groaned. Bryant buried a 3-pointer moments later and motioned with his hands for the fans to calm down.

“I was trying to get (Walton) the first lob of his NBA career, said Bryant, who finished with 35 points, eight rebounds and six assists.

It was the only lighthearted moment the Lakers could enjoy on a night their inury woes deepened.

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