Lakers 102, Warriors 85

The alternative was to get on a plane to Salt Lake City, so Kobe Bryant hung out and talked to reporters long after the final horn Sunday. The questions had less to do with the Lakers victory over Golden State than with Bryants personal comeback this season.

It has been a long climb back for Bryant, first from the Colorado accusation, then following the Shaquille ONeal trade and Phil Jacksons book. He said that he had all kinds of marketing and p.r. types trying to offer him advice on how to get his image back.

“They wanted me to go on this big campaign, do `Saturday Night Live, do all these talk shows and all this other stuff, Bryant said. “My response to them was, `I dont want to do that. What I want to do I just be myself.

“I said the one change that I will make is Ill allow people to see more of who I am as a person outside of the basketball court because I felt like throughout my earlier years, I never allowed people to truly see that.

“The side they saw of me was the killer instinct that I played with or the disagreements that we had on the team.

Wherever we go, you can see that the court of public opinion is shifting in Bryants favor. He ran off the court Sunday to cheers from hundreds of Lakers fans who filled the front rows of seats trying to get as close to No. 24 as possible.

Bryant said one example of how he changed came in publicizing his work with charitable causes, including the Boys and Girls Clubs and Make A Wish Foundation. You might remember a segment Bryant taped this summer with ESPN and a Make A Wish child.

“My philosophies there were, `I dont do this for publicity, so why would I promote this or advertise it or blast it everywhere? Bryant said. “One of the things they told me, they said, `Look, by you going out there and making it newsworthy, by putting it all over the place, helps the causes even more.

* * *

Bryant also told a story from his days as a high school star at Lower Merion (Pa.). He was asked about March Madness and whether he felt like he missed out by jumping to the NBA straight out of high school.

Its not a surprise to Lakers fans that Bryant was planning to go to Duke before he entered the draft. What I hadnt heard before was that North Carolina coach Dean Smith actually backed off recruiting Bryant because he was so sure he was headed to the pros.

Bryant could remember sitting in class and reading a letter that had been sent to him through his school. He said Smith had written him saying, “Im not going to waste your time. Ive seen you play. I know youre going to the NBA. Good luck.

Theres definitely an appreciation for the college game on Bryants part. When the Lakers were in New York to play the Nets earlier this season, Bryant and Ronny Turiaf went to watch Duke play Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden.

Bryant also went to a Pepperdine-Gonzaga game last season in Malibu with Turiaf, where he met up with Adam Morrison.

* * *

Every concern and criticism is minimized in a victory, but Lamar Odom had a pretty modest afternoon with eight points, eight rebounds and five assists Sunday. He didnt even touch the ball, in fact, for nearly the first five minutes of the game.

The Lakers didnt need a big game out of Odom to beat the Warriors but that wont be the case tonight against a Utah Jazz team that has won eight of its last nine games.

* * *

I wrote about Jackson’s new way of approaching timeouts (in the notes below) but forgot to mention that he also didn’t hesitate in calling one only 1:08 into Sunday’s game. The Lakers gave up three quick baskets to the Warriors and Jackson wasn’t happy with how Andrew Bynum was playing defense.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

OAKLAND–It was only two weeks ago in Cleveland that Lakers coach Phil Jackson offered a reminder that life in the NBA is nothing more than a six-month roller-coaster ride between winning and losing.

His team was on the downward plunge that Sunday, ultimately bottoming out with a six-game losing streak. Now the question is if the Lakers are back on the upswing after their second cruise-control victory in 72 hours.

They beat the Golden State Warriors 102-85 Sunday at Oracle Arena, building a 20-point lead in the second quarter and beating their division rivals for the seventh time in seven games since Jacksons return last season.

They did it with Maurice Evans making his case to stay in the starting lineup, scoring a career-high 26 points, and with the Warriors making just 2 of 19 3-pointers and 9 of 21 free throws. Golden State came in averaging 105.8 points a game.

“I told the players this afternoon that we have Mo on our side, Jackson said, “and we have to stay with it, in more ways than one.

Are the Lakers back after their six-game losing streak? The answer might come tonight against the Utah Jazz, who are leading the Northwest Division with a 37-18 record and are 2-0 since Carlos Boozers return from injury.

“You cant forget about (the skid) because its so easy to happen, Evans said. “You have to really stay focused and try and build this streak the other way because . . . teams are good in this league and they can take control in a minutes notice.

The Lakers did just that at the start of the second quarter, turning what had been a four-point game into a 20-point rout. Once again Shammond Williams and Aaron McKie were the first guards off the bench, but Evans came through with the play of the game.

Evans leaped to steal an entry pass by Sarunas Jasikevicius, then hit a shot that lived up to his Kobe Bryant-given nickname of “Lotto. With Jasikevicius wrapping him up with both hands, Evans tossed in a lay-up while drawing the foul.

“I think thats what having good strength will allow you to do, Evans said, “is still make a run at tough shots.

The next possession, Evans buried a 3-pointer to send the Warriors into a timeout down 44-28. Golden State made just 1 of 10 shots to start the second quarter and watched as Stephen Jackson and Mickael Pietrus each missed two free throws.

“I definitely saw that they were on the brink of letting us take control of the game, Evans said. “We were all talking about it on the sidelines. They were ready to wilt, and if we could just continue to put pressure on them, we could gain control of this game.

The Lakers are now 4-0 with Evans in the starting lineup. He made 8 of 13 shots and said afterward the biggest difference between starting and coming off the bench is as simple as being able to shake off a couple early misses.

“Its hit or miss when you come off the bench sometimes, Evans said.

The last thing assistant Brian Shaw wrote on the locker room board as part of his scouting report was “Road mentality with an asterisk beside it. The Lakers came into Sunday with just an 11-16 road record, having lost their previous three road games.

If they are to advance in the playoffs, the Lakers likely will do so without home-court advantage, forcing them to win at least one game away from Staples Center. They will learn more about their ability to do that tonight in Salt Lake City.

“You have to gut it out, you have to grind it out, Jackson said of playing Utah. “You have to be able to play a physical game without losing your cool.

The Warriors, who lost Saturday to the Clippers, needed a victory before leaving on a five-game road trip. They never got closer than 13 points in the second half, however, and trailed by as many as 25 in the fourth quarter.

Bryant shook off a blow to his left shoulder to finish with 26 points on 9-of-23 shooting. He served notice at the start of the second half, stealing an Al Harrington pass and taking it the other way for a three-point play.

That defensive activity might be the biggest change for the Lakers. They had 11 steals in Fridays victory over Boston and another 11 steals Sunday.

McKie sent most of the crowd to the exits in the fourth quarter when he drilled a 19-footer with seven minutes remaining. The Lakers fans who remained until the final horn crowded the first rows of seats to cheer Bryant as he ran off the court.

“I think its a sign of support, Bryant said. “I think, at least from what I see, from talking with fans and communicating with them on my Web site and so forth, is that they appreciate somebody that goes through adversity that bounces back.

“I think thats something that they relate to in terms of drawing inspiration from or whatever the case may be. Thats what I try to do. Even though you may fall down or get knocked down, the key is to get back up and keep on moving.

Bryant was speaking in terms of his own personal comeback but the same could be said for his team. The roller coaster of the NBA, after all, wont end until April, May or beyond.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

OAKLAND–Even after 16 seasons as an NBA coach, nine championships and more than 900 wins, Phil Jackson has shown in recent games that he isnt above changing his style for the good of the team.

Jackson has taken to sitting in a chair to face his players on the bench during timeouts, a change that forward Maurice Evans said was suggested during a meeting last week with the Lakers mired in a six-game losing streak.

“I just want to get their attention and make sure that theyre on the same page and that we can talk about some things, Jackson said. “I felt like theres some distances that they were pulling away from each other in the timeouts and I just wanted to tighten it up a little bit and get more cohesive.

Jackson previously stood with a clipboard and huddled his players around him during timeouts. This month has seen Lamar Odom and Sasha Vujacic engage in a shouting match during one timeout and Brian Cook and assistant Brian Shaw do likewise.

“We were one guys over here, another guys over there, Evans said, adding, “It was something that we brought to (Jacksons) attention thats something that has to change.

Jackson has lamented his ability to communicate to his players on occasion this season. Once was in the final minute of a loss at Toronto when the Lakers unsuccessfully played the two-for-one possession game.

Despite the change, one thing has stayed the same: Guard Smush Parker regularly walks away from the huddle without hearing Jacksons words when he knows hes not going into the game.

He sat alone on the bench during a timeout with 3:03 left in the first quarter Sunday when Shammond Williams was set to check in for him.

Jackson said earlier this season that he didnt have a problem with Parker doing so. Evans wasnt asked about Parker but did say of seeing players standing out of the huddle, “That doesnt look very good.

In memory: Odom pays tribute on his sneakers to the all the people – – his infant son, mother and grandmother – – he has lost in his life. He had the No. 3 written Sunday in honor of Dennis Johnson, the former Boston Celtics great who died last week.

Johnson was an assistant during Odoms years with the Clippers and later served as the teams interim head coach. Odom said the two talked when Johnsons NBA Development League team played at Staples Center on Jan. 12.

“He told me he loved me, Odom said. “Count your blessings.

Also: Jackson said he allowed Vladimir Radmanovic to address his teammates informally about the snowboarding incident in which the forward suffered a separated shoulder. He also was the latest to joke about Radmanovics new nickname of “Slalom. . . ..

Once the Lakers return from this trip, Jackson plans on contacting Scottie Pippen, who has said he wants to make a comeback at age 41. Jackson noted that Pippen said he wants to play for a contender and added, “He didnt mention us at that particular time.

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Lakers 122, Celtics 96

The only comparison Lakers coach Phil Jackson could find Friday for Vladimir Radmanovics snowboarding injury came from Luc Longley, his former center with the Chicago Bulls and one of Jacksons favorite players.

Longley suffered a separated shoulder – – the same injury as Radmanovic – – when he was thrown into a sandbar while bodysurfing off Hermosa Beach on an off-day. It wasnt a prohibited activity in Longleys contract but did cause him substantial embarrassment.

Jackson was able to joke Friday about Longleys description of a “mongrel wave that caught him. They were close enough as player and coach that Jackson visited Longley in his hometown of Perth, Australia, during his year away from coaching.

(In fact, Jackson told a funny story the other week in Atlanta about heading into the high surf with Longley in an aluminum boat that started taking on water. It sounded more like a near-death experience than vacation fun.)

Since he mentioned Longley, it seemed like a fair question to ask if Jackson felt he could ever have that kind of relationship with Radmanovic, whose first season with the Lakers will not be remembered well.

“I hope so, Jackson said. “I have a good rapport with Vlade. We have a jocular relationship, I should say. Having made a space cadet comment about him, which is an archaic comment about somebody, it still lingers over him like a halo. I dont want him to get strapped with that.

Its clear that Jackson and the Lakers arent about to give up on Radmanovic, even though they do have the technical right to void his contract. It also will be interesting to see what punishment they decide on for their Shaun White-wannabe.

The Lakers could fine or suspend Radmanovic or they could simply dock him pay while hes out injured. Radmanovic is due to make about $1.2 million for the 25 games hes expected to miss in the next eight weeks.

Kobe Bryant was feeling good enough after Fridays game to describe Radmanovic by his new nickname of “Slalom.

* * *

Theres nothing more demoralizing to another team than when Bryant goes on one of his scoring binges and nothing more energizing to his own team. Yet Bryant has made a point of getting his teammates involved at the expense of his own offense all season.

Bryant had 22 points in the first quarter but he pointed out that it made little difference on the scoreboard. The Lakers led just 34-30 after the quarter and didnt start pulling away from the Celtics until they started trapping and coming up with steals on defense.

“I did my part there in the first quarter, Bryant said, “but the thing that we have to take away from this is that I can come out and have a 22-point quarter or a 30-point quarter, if were not stopping anybody, thats not going to do anything.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

Before he walked away from Wednesdays loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, Kobe Bryant offered his exit strategy for the Lakers six-game losing streak, saying, “You have to try to will yourself out of the stretch.

It fell to Bryant to provide that will Friday night as the Lakers broke through for their first victory since Feb. 5, beating the Boston Celtics 122-96. The Lakers led by as many as 26 points in the third quarter against a Celtics team that has lost 21 of 22 games.

Bryant finished with 38 points – – 22 of which came in a spectacular first quarter – – connected on 5 of 7 3-pointers, found his teammates for nine assists, matched a season-high with five steals and played only 31 minutes in the blowout.

“I spoke to Kobe before the game and said, `Dont wait to get going in this game. Lets go at them right away, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “He carried the staff, so to speak, tonight.

“He gave me the marching orders and I carried them out, Bryant said of Jackson. “We fell behind the eight ball tonight and needed kind of a kick start and I was able to provide that.

There was a trickle-down effect from Bryant to the last man in uniform. All 11 players scored – – including seldom-used guards Shammond Williams and Aaron McKie – – and the Lakers held Boston to 66 points in the final three quarters.

Williams finished with six points and four assists and played 20 minutes. He joked on his way to a television interview afterward, “Im still the same dude from two weeks ago, and later quipped that “the ball felt like a foreign object after playing so little.

Jackson brought out his binoculars to find both Williams and McKie and the end of the bench. He brought Williams in with two minutes left in the first quarter and started the second quarter with McKie and Williams in the backcourt and Bryant on the bench.

Where he normally would play Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic, Jackson opted for the veterans instead of the kids Friday. McKie had appeared in only one other game this season and was most valued as an expiring contract heading into the trade deadline.

“I told the young players that theyve had an opportunity during the course of the year to advance, Jackson said, “and right now for the sake of the team we need to have some of the veterans in there to do the things they know how to do because theyve been on winning teams.

“Right now, thats what were after. Weve tried to develop players and bring them along and now its time to use the moxie thats necessary as veterans to win it.

Williams hit his first jumper after checking in, then another to open the second quarter, and the Lakers wound up building a 13-point lead. In talking to reporters afterward, Williams thanked Jackson several times for giving him the chance to help the team.

The only thing worse than suffering through a long losing streak, Williams added, might have been doing it from the bench.

“Its terrible because youre sitting there like, `Wow, wow. Williams said. “You just want to win. Thats what were all here for. Were all here for the win. Were not here for the money, were not here for the fame. Were here for the win.

Jackson stressed the need during the losing streak to “play for one another. Bryant said Williams and McKie could serve as examples for the Lakers younger players.

“All season long, they havent complained, they havent whined, Bryant said. “Theyve just worked hard every single day. First ones at practice, last ones to leave sort of thing. . . .Their number got called tonight and they performed extremely well.

After the Celtics broke to an 11-2 lead to start the game, Bryant took over the rest of the first quarter. He connected on four 3-pointers and scored 22 points, including 13 in a row, in what Jackson described as “attack mode.

The Lakers didnt break open the game, though, until the end of the first half, when they scored the last nine points to head into the locker room with a 65-54 lead. They made the run with their defense, which had been non-existent in recent games.

With Bryant setting the tone, the Lakers forced Paul Pierce into three consecutive turnovers, which Pierce then compounded with a technical foul. On one play, Bryant stripped Pierce, then lobbed a pass to Ronny Turiaf for an alley-oop basket.

“We have to be more aggressive, Bryant said. “Were a team that gets their hands on balls and gets out in the passing lanes and knocks the ball loose. Thats what we have to do. We cant just sit back and wait and play a passive type of a defense.

The good feelings were enough afterward that Bryant was able to joke about Vladimir Radmanovics new nickname – – “Slalom – – after Radmanovic came clean Friday about injuring his shoulder while snowboarding All-Star weekend.

“We know he feels bad about the situation, Bryant said.

Thursday report

No matter what you thought of Thursdays events, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said one thing everyone can agree upon: “I think that the explosive media coverage raised expectations and the emotional level for a lot of people.

He was talking about the trade deadline, which passed without the Lakers making a move. The Jason Kidd-to-the-Lakers talk might have been the perfect storm, only gaining in volume the more it was downplayed by those involved.

Kupchak said he came into Thursday not expecting any deal. He spent the afternoon, in fact, attending a ceremony honoring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at City Hall.

From what I can gather, the Lakers and Nets tabled discussions a while back after New Jersey made it clear they wanted Andrew Bynum in the deal. The Lakers obviously are not about to give up the player who might be their franchise center someday.

The two sides revisited things Wednesday to see if there was any change. The Nets werent going to deal without Bynum, so that was that. It was hard for me to see from the beginning how the Nets were going to sell the trade to their fans without the 19-year-old.

Kupchak couldnt talk about any specifics but he did say that he “pulled out all the stops trying to make a move. But given the protocol that has to be followed for a trade, the Lakers didnt hold out hope after Wednesday that anything was going to happen.

Im therefore skeptical of reports that say the deal didnt go down at the last minute for one reason or another. Asked how close he got to making a deal, Kupchak said, “Not very close, which is what we expected going into the last day.

“Things could turn on one phone call or a pinhead but it was unlikely based on conversations going into the trade deadline that wed do anything. That was where our expectations were.

My thinking all along was that the Nets would have a hard time trading Kidd (as well as Vince Carter) if only because they would be forced to accept irrelevancy in the New York market. The only thing worse than losing is losing in front of 10,000 empty seats.

Now the Nets can cling to their playoff hopes – – especially with Dwyane Wades shoulder injury – – and the Lakers can fall back on the fact that they have beaten all five of the Western Conferences top teams. Theyre a good team when they play like it.

* * *

Assistant coach Kurt Rambis filled in Thursday with reporters while Phil Jackson went to the dentist. Rambis offered an interesting perspective on how Jackson is handling the first six-game losing streak of his career.

“He keeps in his mind that this is a young ballclub, Rambis said. “We have a lot of young guys that need a lot of basketball education. He talked to them today about not getting too high during the high times and not getting too low during the low times. To try and keep an even keel so theyre best able to learn.

“They cant focus on things that happened in the past. Maybe they didnt get a foul call and maybe their shot didnt go in, but thats gone. Lets focus on the next moment that appears in front of us. He wants these guys to educate themselves and hes here to perpetuate that learning process.

Rambis said that Jackson did talk to Kobe Bryant about the fourth quarter of Wednesdays loss to Portland and when it makes sense to take over a game. It was Jacksons belief that Bryant started too early and failed to keep everyone involved.

Of course, the Lakers fell apart when Jackson sat Bryant to try to facilitate that involvement on offense. “It wasnt as much for Kobe as it was to force other people to stop relying on Kobe, to stop force-feeding him the basketball, Rambis said.

As for the film session, Rambis said: “A lot of guys sat there and watched the edit with their mouths open. They couldnt believe they were making the mistakes they were making. [ep

* * *

I didnt envy Rambis having to answer a question about the death of Dennis Johnson not even an hour after the news came Thursday. He found the right words after being on the other side of all those Lakers-Celtics battles in the 1980s.

“I just remember him as an extremely tough competitor and defender, Rambis said. “He was one of those guys that just willed his team to win. He was such an integral cog in the success the Celtics had.

Johnson was very nice to me when I went to Austin last season to do a story on the NBAs new development league system. We talked for about a half-hour and I was struck by how much he clearly loved the game to be coaching at that level.

His team was practicing at a recreation center in a rough part of town with signs ringing the court that dunking was prohibited. There was no 3-point arc, although Johnson joked that he didnt mind because his team shot so poorly from long distance.

But he took pride in fulfilling a job that he saw as preparing players for the NBA. If they were hoping to stick in the league, Johnson made it clear that they had to do all the dirty work and out-hustle the guys with the million-dollar contracts.

It was the only conversation I had with Johnson but I was grateful for it today. It would have been nice to see him get a second chance at being an NBA head coach.

* * *

Luke Walton did some light practicing Thursday but is not expected to play Friday against Boston. With the Lakers playing back-to-back games Sunday and Monday, Waltons return from a sprained ankle might not come until March 2 against Sacramento.

* * *

By Ross Siler [ep
Staff Writer [ep

EL SEGUNDO–As the clock struck noon Thursday and the NBA trade deadline came and went without a move, the Lakers were sequestered in the film room at their practice facility, starting the search for answers from within. [ep

Only a day after becoming the first Phil Jackson-coached team to lose six consecutive games, the Lakers learned that they will move forward this season with a roster that general manager Mitch Kupchak said “in all likelihood will stay intact.

Asked how close the Lakers came to a deal, Kupchak said, “Not very close, which is what we expected going into the last day.

“Things could turn on one phone call or a pinhead but it was unlikely based on conversations going into the trade deadline that wed do anything, Kupchak added. “That was where our expectations were.

In the meantime, the players went frame by frame through their second-half failings in Wednesdays loss to Portland – – a video session turned team meeting – – before getting on the practice court to talk about defense and do some shooting.

They heeded Jacksons admonishment that they werent “playing for one another and reaffirmed their commitment to finding the open man on offense and being accountable for their defensive effort.

They will have every opportunity to end the losing streak tonight at Staples Center against the Boston Celtics, who have lost 27 of their last 30 games and own the NBAs worst record at 13-40.

“Weve just got to battle back out of it and become a better team, Kobe Bryant said. “I dont think anybodys wavered from the fact – – at least I havent – – that we can make some serious noise in the playoffs with the roster that we have.

“This is a bump in the road that were going to have to get through and when we get through it, well be a better ballclub.

The Lakers resolved to be a better defensive team than they were in giving up 112 points on nearly 60 percent shooting to Portland, which was the NBAs third-lowest scoring team coming into the game.

“Were just basically letting teams go wherever they want, do whatever they want, and were not going to be successful if we continue to do that, said assistant coach Kurt Rambis, who filled in with reporters after Jackson left to see the dentist.

“Its up to each individual to make a stand and make sure that their teammate doesnt get embarrassed at that end of the floor, either.

No big deal: In spite of all the rumors of a potential deal for All-Star guard Jason Kidd, the Lakers stood pat at the trade deadline for the eighth straight season.

“I think everybody was looking forward to possibly Jason coming out here, Bryant said. “Obviously, that would have been an amazing backcourt. But it didnt happen so we just move on from here.

The two sides never were close to a deal and there was little movement in the final days. The Lakers refused to include 19-year-old center Andrew Bynum in a trade and offered a package built around Kwame Brown, expiring contracts and draft picks.

Although he grew up in New Jersey, Bynum didnt hear much about the possibility of coming home to play for the Nets. Why? He said he lost his cell phone more than a week ago.

“It makes me feel good to be wanted by a lot of people, Bynum said. “That means Im doing something right. I wanted to be a Laker when I got drafted. This is my home. Im happy that they want me here.

Trail Blazers 112, Lakers 108

That might be the worst Lakers’ loss in my three seasons on the beat. It felt that way at least. When you looked at the schedule after the All-Star break, you had to think the Lakers could beat Portland and Boston at home and Golden State on the road and bounce back from their five-game losing streak with three wins.

Now it’s the first six-game losing streak of Phil Jackson’s coaching career. The Lakers gave up 112 points on nearly 60 percent shooting to a 24-32 team that was playing the second game of a back-to-back. They got lit up by two rookies (LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy) and a second-year player in Jarrett Jack.

I still have a hard time understanding Phil Jackson’s rationale for sitting Kobe Bryant with eight minutes left. We’ve seen Bryant play the entire fourth quarter of games when the stakes are the highest. A good example was the Sunday game to finish the eight-game road trip at Cleveland. He’s the NBA’s best closer, after all.

Jackson said he thought Bryant was trying to do too much in the fourth quarter – – we’ll get to his four-point first half in a little bit – – and decided the offense might open up if Bryant went to the bench. That didn’t work and Portland did the bulk of its damage in a 16-2 run with Bryant watching from the sidelines.

Bryant and Jackson have been on the same wavelength the last two seasons. I thought Bryant might voice some frustration after the game but he didn’t question Jackson’s decision to sit him.

“It’s a matter of us having to step up and make plays when we need to make them,” Bryant said. “Whether I’m in the game or on the bench is irrelevant. We have to perform. That being said, we’ve had games where we’ve performed when I was out of the game and games where we haven’t. Now moreso than ever we need everybody to step up and make plays.”

(Jackson also opted not to bring back Bryant when the Lakers ran into trouble almost immediately in the fourth quarter. Andrew Bynum brought the ball down and let Dan Dickau come in from the backside for a steal, leading to a fastbreak basket for the Blazers. Jackson called timeout with 7:31 left but Bryant didn’t return.)

Lamar Odom is supposed to hold together that bench unit while Bryant is resting. He didn’t want to hear that the game was lost during that stretch. “I look at that and you can point to that but you look at the whole game,” Odom said. “They were still not missing, getting whatever (shots) they wanted.”

It’s worth noting that Bryant scored nine points for the Lakers after he came back and finished with 13 of the team’s 28 points in the fourth quarter. The Lakers obviously are relying too much on Bryant but they also had to win Wednesday and suffered a terrible loss instead.

* * *

Another reason why Wednesday’s loss was devastating: Houston now leads the Lakers by five games for fifth in the Western Conference standings. The Rockets are on pace to finish 52-30, which means the Lakers would have to go 22-5 the rest of the way just to tie them. See you on the Riverwalk in San Antonio in May.

Or maybe we’ll all end up in Utah . . . where Vladimir Radmanovic can show Jackson in person just where he separated his shoulder on that patch of ice in Park City.

* * *

The Lakers scored 28 points to start Wednesday’s game before Bryant drove for a layup with 54.1 seconds left in the first quarter. That was his first basket of the night; the Lakers scored another 22 points before Bryant had a second field goal. He hit a twisting layup just before halftime to give the Lakers a 54-52 lead.

Bryant’s first half line: four points on 2-of-7 shooting with five assists and seven rebounds.

As has happened more than a couple times this season, every starter scored before Bryant. It’s hard to say if the Lakers are well served this way but they were leading at halftime and Bryant did move the ball as Portland sent two defenders in his direction. He wound up taking 10 of his 22 shots in the fourth quarter.

* * *

Jackson was happy with how Smush Parker played, especially in scoring 16 points in the first half. Parker made the Blazers pay for leaving him alone, hitting three 3-pointers. But Jackson wasn’t thrilled with Parker’s out-of-control shot with 3:27 left in the game, coming on a drive in which he was all turned around. Jackson said he thought Parker took a “premeditated” shot instead of seeing what was available.

* * *

As hard as it is to believe, the Lakers had a six-point lead and the chance to create some separation in the third quarter. They couldn’t do it and wound up taking just an 80-78 edge into the fourth quarter. As always, the longer you let a team stick around, the greater the chance of getting burned in the end.

The whole team was guilty of blowing the opportunity to build a double-digit lead. Bryant uncharacteristically missed the first of two free throws on consecutive trips to the line. Odom forced a pass to Bynum that was stolen. Roy hit a big-time 3-pointer and Jack connected on another. Zach Randolph bullied Ronny Turiaf for a basket.

* * *

It could always be worse, I guess. You could be the Miami Heat and be looking at the photo on the front of tonight with Dwyane Wade being taken to the hospital in a wheelchair.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

The light at the end of the tunnel couldnt have looked any dimmer than it did Wednesday night for the Lakers, who arrived at the NBA trade deadline as the first Phil Jackson-coached team in history ever to have lost six consecutive games.

They suffered a dispiriting 112-108 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center, falling apart with Kobe Bryant on the bench midway through the fourth quarter and playing indifferent defense from start to finish.

What was a one-point game when Bryant checked out with eight minutes remaining turned into an 11-point Portland lead in a matter of 3 1-2 minutes. All Jackson could say afterward was, “That game got away from us real quickly.

The Blazers arrived for the second game of a back-to-back set as the NBAs third-lowest scoring team, averaging 93.8 points per game. They scored 18 points more than that average Wednesday and shot a season-best 59.7 percent.

The Lakers lost their fifth straight home game – – with the boos starting late in the fourth quarter – – and fell five games behind Houston for fifth in the Western Conference standings. They are just 4-12 in their last 16 games.

All that was left was for the Lakers to work the phones and try to convince the New Jersey Nets that they were better off without the remaining $41 million on Jason Kidds contract than they were with the All-Star guard.

Jackson portrayed things in less than favorable terms before the game, saying that he didnt think the “momentum was there to make a deal after spending the afternoon huddled with general manager Mitch Kupchak.

At the same time, Jackson questioned whether the Kidd rumors had taken a toll on his young players, saying, “They get focused on the fact that theyre going to be traded or their life is iffy and I think it makes them insecure.

After coaching nine championship teams and winning 907 games in his career, Jackson took stock of his first six-game losing streak and said, “I think we deserve it.

“Weve had a little bad luck with our injury situation, Jackson added, “but we have not outplayed people or played harder than people. Weve made mistakes in situations in which I told them theres a pattern almost to their losses.

Bryant finished with 25 points, eight rebounds and six assists, but the most telling stat came with the Lakers being outscored 25-11 in the 8:17 he spent on the bench. Maurice Evans tied a career-high with 23 points and Smush Parker added 18.

It looked as if Bryant would play to the final horn when he came back for the start of the fourth quarter. He banked in a shot and drove for a layup but Jackson decided to sit Bryant with 8:03 remaining.

“I thought he forced the action in the fourth quarter and I almost felt I needed to get him out, Jackson said. “He wanted to do so well so bad or he wanted to carry the team that his actions made it more difficult. That was one of the areas that we got stalled in.

“Then I took him out and we immediately were even worse off after that. It went from bad to worse. That was what I thought maybe we had to do to get our offense moving the ball the right way again.

The results were disastrous for the Lakers. Jackson called one timeout after Dan Dickau stripped Andrew Bynum in the post and Portland ran out for an Ime Udoka layup at the other end. As it turned out, the Blazers were just getting started.

Evans missed a jumper and Zach Randolph scored for the Blazers. Sasha Vujacic fell down on a drive and Lamar Odom missed a 3-pointer, leading to a LaMarcus Aldridge basket for Portland.

Dickau missed a 3-pointer but the Lakers couldnt grab the rebound, which went to Randolph. He floated in a shot as Portland went ahead 98-89, forcing Jackson to call timeout again and bring back Bryant with 5:06 left.

“It was very helpless, Bryant said. “It was difficult to watch. We just didnt come out ready to play in that particular time.

The Blazers went ahead 100-89 on Brandon Roys jumper, finishing a 16-2 run. The Lakers closed to four points but Jarrett Jack and Randolph got to the foul line while Bryant missed a 3-pointer and layup.

But the Lakers, who are now giving up 102.4 points per game, kept coming back to defense. They watched Jack drive his way to 30 points and Aldridge drain one jumper after another in finishing with 18 points off the bench.

“(For) a team to shoot 60 percent tells us were not putting pressure on the ball, Jackson said, “were not taking teams out of their offense, were not forcing turnovers or making teams take difficult shots.

Jackson had suffered two previous five-game losing streaks in his 16-year coaching career but never had tasted six consecutive losses. The losing had taken enough of a toll that Jackson joked beforehand about his goals for the seasons final 28 games.

“Undefeated, Jackson said.

The Lakers will settle right now for a victory over the Boston Celtics on Friday and an end to the misery. The All-Star break only interrupted the losing and left Bryant to offer a grim solution: “You have to try to will yourself out of the stretch.

Not so Rad

Not much to add to the story other than the fact that Vladimir Radmanovic’s separated shoulder is pretty serious. Lakers spokesman John Black said Kobe Bryant suffered a similar injury a couple of seasons ago but made it back after missing just nine days and six games because he is such a fast healer. Radmanovic’s injury will cost him eight weeks and was of a more serious degree, Black said, although he probably won’t require surgery.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

The Lakers couldnt even make it out of the All-Star break unscathed as forward Vladimir Radmanovic suffered a separated right shoulder when he fell on a patch of ice in Park City, Utah, on Saturday.

Radmanovic, who was starting in place of the injured Luke Walton, is expected to miss approximately eight weeks, a timetable that would cost him more than 25 games and keep him out until the final week of the regular season.

He returned to Los Angeles on Sunday where he was examined by team doctors. Radmanovic underwent an MRI and CT scan Monday that confirmed the separated shoulder, the team said.

The timing couldnt be worse for the Lakers, who already were without two injured starters in Walton and Kwame Brown, and need a victory Wednesday against Portland to avoid the first six-game losing streak of Phil Jacksons coaching career.

“It seems like weve had at least our fair share (of injuries), Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “Its something that all teams go through. Maybe weve had a little bit of an extra dose. But theres nothing you can do about it. Its part of the equation.

The Lakers are hopeful that Walton will be able to return from his sprained right ankle in the coming week, with team spokesman John Black saying Walton made “slight progress this weekend and might try to practice today as the team reconvenes.

Whether Radmanovics injury emboldens the Lakers to make a move before Thursdays trading deadline remains to be seen.

“It doesnt really affect a whole lot, Kupchak said. “I think of more concern right now is where we are with Luke because he was close to returning before the break. With Luke back, I think were versatile enough to make it through the end of the season.

Kupchak said he wouldnt look to add a forward, but said of the overall picture: “Does it increase the urgency as far as making a deal? I dont know. We have a pretty good idea of what we want to do if we can do it.

For the time being, the Lakers face a decision about starting Brian Cook or Maurice Evans in Radmanovics place. The injury also derails what already had been a disappointing season for the Lakers major free-agent acquisition.

Radmanovic, who signed a five-year, $30.2 million contract in July, was averaging just 6.9 points and 3.4 rebounds while shooting a career-worst 33.9 percent from 3-point range.

He suffered an injury to his shooting hand during the preseason and watched Walton take the starting job originally earmarked for him. Then in December, Radmanovic was dubbed a “space cadet by Jackson for his difficulties in learning the triangle offense.

He found himself out of the rotation altogether after Lamar Odom returned after missing 21 games with a sprained knee ligament. But Walton was injured just when the Lakers welcomed back Odom and Radmanovic went from sitting to starting.

Although he scored in double figures in five consecutive games, Radmanovics play regressed and Jacksons patience ran out on the Lakers eight-game road trip. He stayed in the starting five after the team came home, but Jackson opted not to play him in the fourth quarter of games.

All told, the Lakers have lost key players to 119 games with injuries. Center Chris Mihm has not played this season after undergoing ankle surgery, Brown has missed 23 games with a severe ankle sprain and Walton has sat out the last 11 games.

Time to get out of Vegas

Crazy night last night. Around 4 a.m. there was a shooting in the parking garage at the MGM Grand Hotel. Police blocked off all the entrances and exits to the garage.

I was supposed to take a friend to the airport at that time, but was told that no one was getting in or out for at least an hour. My friend had to wait in a ridiculously long line to get a cab to the airport instead.

The only line longer than the cab line was the checkout line in the lobby this morning as all the millions of people who flooded into town this weekend left to go home.

Highlight of the weekend

Winning the MVP was great. But it wasn’t the highlight of Kobe Bryant’s weekend. Judging in the slam dunk contest along with Vince Carter, Michael Jordan, Dr. J and Dominique Wilkins was.

“As a kid, I never ever thought I would be in the back, chopping it up with Dr. J and Mike and Dominque Wilkins. That’s something I’ll remember forever,” Bryant said. “We pretty much talked trash the whole time. It was just unbelievable. You get guy in the same room who are extremely competitive and you start comparing records and sneaker technology and what guy whould’ve done it they had the technology we have. Comparing hand size and who can plam the basketball. We had a blast doing that.”

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Bryant gets MVP

Kobe Bryant seemed genuinely touched to be embraced so warmly by the Las Vegas crowd on Sunday night, probably because the last time he was named the MVP of an All Star game, he was roundly jeered by his hometown fans in Philadelphia.

“I was pretty upset. Pretty hurt,” Bryant said in 2002. “I just wanted to go out there and just play. Just play hard.I can just look at them being just diehard Sixers fans, I guess, being loyal to their team.”

But this year, with his stellar play and the Lakers’ early season success, Bryant’s been hearing MVP chants in the most unlikely places. Even Boston.

Vegas seemed enamored with him all weekend. He received the loudest cheers of any player at the West’ practice on Saturday and was second only to Michael Jordan when they were announced as judges for the Slam Dunk contest Saturday night.

Sunday, he was clearly the crowd favorite.

“It’s humbling,” he said. “As player we always want to feel appreciated for what we do. To have this type of reaction here is very humbling.”

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What’s new

Former Detroit Pistons bad boy Bill Laimbeer was part of the winning team in the Shooting Stars competiton. Laimbeer, the coach of the WNBA’s Detroit Shock, was booed mightily by the crowd at the Thomas & Mack Center before the competition.

Laimbeer, Shock guard Swin Cash and Pistons guard Chauncey Billups won the competiton when the Chicago Bulls’ team of Scottie Pippen and Ben Gordon was disqualified.

“I’m going to try to figure out how we’re in Vegas and getting booed and I look to my left and it’s all about Bill,” Cash said. “Chauncey and I are very likable. But for some reason, they just hate Bill. He has a theory that it’s because all the Laker fans are here.”

Laimbeer didn’t seem to mind the booing. [ep

“The era I played in was very intense and competitive. There’s was no shaking hands or hugging or kissing or anything like that,” he said. “It was, we’re going to go otu there and kick your butt in basketball. People miss those days, so they still hang on to them.”

Kapono wins 3-point contest

Jason Kapono’s 3-Point Shooting Contest started a lot like his NBA career: a couple clanking off the rim, one air ball, and then lights-out. [ep

The fourth-year pro put an exclamation point on his breakout year — Kapono lead the NBA with 56 percent shooting on 3-pointers while averaging 11.1 points for the Miami Heat — by besting Gilbert Arenas and defending champion Dirk Nowitzki in the 3-point shooting contest. [ep

“I had an air ball or two. I kind of heard the crowd saying, `What the heck is this guy doing out there?’ ” the former UCLA star joked. “I felt pretty good after the first round.” [ep

Kapono had 24 of a possible 30 in the final round, tying Mark Price final-round record and coming up one short of Craig Hodges overall mark. Arenas was second with 17, although he shot the last five balls with just one hand. [ep

“It’s something that I dreamed of as a kid. You watch Larry Bird and all the guys shoot. And obviously I learned early on that I wasn’t ever going to be in the Slam Dunk par of this.” [ep