What was most disappointing about Brian Cook’s blowup between the third and fourth quarters Thursday night was the fact that Phil Jackson addressed his players about this very issue during the season opening meeting back in October.
With a much deeper roster this season, Jackson acknowledged he would have some hard decisions to make from game to game. The Lakers were expecting to have to put healthy players on the inactive list some nights. Other players would dress but might not play. All would be capable of making a contribution.
The Lakers’ run of injuries changed that but Jackson’s message about submitting for the good of the team should have carried through all season. Cook’s outburst wasn’t about a warm-up top discarded in Jackson’s lap, it was about the frustration of not playing.
It has been a roller-coaster ride for Cook. The Lakers brought in a player in Vladimir Radmanovic who seemingly made him expendable. Then he signed a three-year extension hours before the season opener. He battled a respiratory infection and vertigo and didn’t play a couple of games in late November/early December.
But Cook not only found his way back into the rotation, he wound up starting after Lamar Odom went down with a knee injury and Vladimir Radmanovic couldn’t fill the void. These things always come around on Jackson teams. He even gave Von Wafer some minutes last season when Kobe Bryant was suspended.
Now Cook’s the 10th man on the bench with Odom back. All Cook has to do, though, is look to his right at Aaron McKie and Shammond Williams, two players who are even more buried than he is. Williams gave up a starting job on a top European team to come to the Lakers and wait for his name to be called.
Jackson also cares about his bench players. Earlier this season, he told us he appreciated it as a player when his coach told him he wished he could have used him on a night he didn’t play. Jackson is holding midseason meetings right now with his players. He and Cook are sure to revist what happened Thursday in their sit down.
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What was most disappointing about Thursday’s game was that the Lakers weren’t in it basically from the first quarter on. “We have not played a good game on this floor in about four or five years,” Jackson said.
The Lakers have beaten the top five teams in the Western Conference already this season but were blown out twice by the Pistons, who have the Eastern Conference’s best record. They trailed 18-8 after six minutes and were rarely in single digits the rest of the game.
Smush Parker had a terrible first quarter, mising all five shots he took and committing two turnovers. One of them came when he threw a pass into the backcourt looking for Kobe Bryant. The other came when he tried to lob a pass to Bryant with the Pistons playing pressure defense.
Radmanovic struggled to cover Rasheed Wallace and Bryant didn’t take his first shot until 27.4 seconds were left in the quarter. The Lakers trailed 28-17 after the first quarter and didn’t get any closer the rest of the way than four points in the second quarter.
“They played like champions ,” Bryant said. “They played really hard and are great defensively. They were really aggressive and we couldn’t get into anything. It was just a tough night for us.”
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I was surprised at how well Chris Webber played considering all the questions last month about how much he had left in the tank. Webber finished 18 points, 11 rebounds and four assists but the box score only tells part of the story.
Webber hit a big 3-pointer with 1:27 left in the first half. In fact, it was his first 3 since coming to Detroit. He came back at the start of the second half and made the play of the game, whipping a behind-the-back pass to Tayshaun Prince cutting for a basket. Webber also blocked Maurice Evans in the fourth quarter when the Lakers had a chance to make it a 10-point game.
“He’s just absolutely phenomenal making those passes,” Bryant said. “I can see the guys when he comes into the game, everybody’s kind of licking their chops and cutting a lot harder.”
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Jackson was asked before the game about the difference between the Pistons with and without Ben Wallace. He said Wallace set the tone with his shot blocking and rebounding and talked about the havoc that offensive rebounds, in particular, cause.
“You people don’t understand how valuable that is – - at least my players don’t understand how valuable that is,” Jackson said. “If you have a second opportunity, a lot of things break down.”
The Lakers outrebounded the Pistons 45-44 but they gave up several key rebounds. In the third quarter, Radmanovic was beaten to the rebound off an Odom missed free throw by Webber. Soon after, Wallace kept alive the offensive rebound off a Webber miss.
Jackson was on the Lakers about their rebounding. Odom turned around while the Pistons were shooting free throws and said, “They’ve got to want it, P.J.” The Lakers had to play the perfect game to beat Detroit and didn’t even come close.
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Asked Jackson before the game about how Andrew Bynum is coming along at shooting with his left hand. Bynum then proceeded to miss a bunch of left-handed shots in the game. He went 2 of 6 and finisehd with five points and five rebounds in 29 minutes.
“That’s the thing we like about him is that he experiments with his left hand and tries to do some things and that’s gratifying,” Jackson said.
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By Ross Siler
AUBURN HILLS, Mich.–Before the Lakers set out on this eight-game road trip, their longest since December 1989, coach Phil Jackson framed it for his team in terms of bringing them together or tearing them apart.
After watching the scene that unfolded on the bench between the third and fourth quarters of Thursday nights 93-78 loss to the Detroit Pistons, it was hard not to conclude that the Lakers were coming apart at the seams.
Already beaten by the Pistons, the Lakers were broken when forward Brian Cook engaged in a furious shouting match with assistant coach Brian Shaw after Jackson removed Cook from the game for a perceived act of insubordination.
Jackson called for Cook to check in for Lamar Odom with 1:25 left in the third quarter, then removed him immediately after he believed Cook intentionally deposited his warm-up top in the coachs lap on his way to the scorers table.
Jackson sent Andrew Bynum to replace Cook, who returned to the bench without playing a second. Once the quarter ended, Cook blew up during the timeout and Odom had to step in to keep him and Shaw separated.
“We talked about it just now after the game and he apologized, Jackson said. “Thats not in character for Brian to do that but hes frustrated. He hasnt been playing in the regular rotation now. Theres some things thats about that thats not unnatural.
Ever since Odom returned from a sprained knee ligament, Cook has struggled to find playing time.
He signed a three-year, $10.5 million contract extension before the season opener, started 17 games while Odom was injured but after Thursday has not played in three of six games on this trip.
“Anybody who knows me, they know Im passionate about the game to the fullest extent, Cook said. “I practice hard, I play hard, I work hard in the summer. I love my teammates. Im a team player. I think (Jackson) knows that about me.
“I met with him afterwards and we settled it. I told him I didnt mean to do it. He said that he wants to do whats best for me. Hes going to use me at the times he wants to use me. Thats what I have to deal with is him using me the way he wants to.
“Ive dealt with it all year. Ive dealt with it for three years. Its nothing new for me. I look forward to dealing with it for three more years.
Cook also had a heated discussion with trainer Gary Vitti during a timeout with 8:58 left in the fourth. He rejoined the huddle during timeouts but did not play even as the Lakers trailed by as many as 20 points in the quarter.
“You just try to nullify the situation, Shaw said. “Theres always points in a game where your emotions get high. Sometimes you do or say things that you dont necessarily mean but you get caught up in the moment. I just felt like I needed to kind of address the situation and see if I could make it go away. Things happen
It was the second shouting match for the Lakers on this trip. Odom and Sasha Vujacic had a fiery exchange during a fourth quarter timeout of last Fridays game at Indiana. But Jackson said he wasnt concerned that the Lakers were coming apart after 11 days on the road.
“I need players to be emotional about the game, want to play, to be desirous of getting in the ballgame and do their part, Jackson said. “Brians one of those guys that is and hes frustrated because hes not getting an opportunity right now and he did.
“He had a regular rotation up until a couple weeks ago. But right now hes out. Thats OK. Thats part of what you do.
The Lakers didnt fare much better on the court, where they lost to the Pistons for the eighth consecutive time at the Palace. Only two Ronny Turiaf free throws with 25.9 seconds remaining saved the Lakers from their lowest scoring game of the season.
“We just got our butts kicked by a veteran team, Odom said. “They really made us look young.
They unraveled in the third quarter. Smush Parker drew a three-shot foul but missed two free throws with the chance to make it a six-point game. Kobe Bryant also had a terrible time handling the ball, committing four turnovers and having a shot blocked.
Chauncey Billups twice stripped Bryant in the quarter and blocked his shot. The Pistons scored four times at the other end after Bryant lost the ball. He finished with 18 points but made just 5 of 13 shots and had eight turnovers in all.
“Detroit plays great defense with their hands and they were able to get in Kobes game tonight, grab his arm, grab the ball, knock it out of his hands, Jackson said. “It was frustrating for him, but we have to go around that stuff, we have to play beyond it.
The Lakers now have to win one of their final two games – - against Toronto and Cleveland – - to secure a 4-4 split on this trip. They also admitted that Cooks blowup was something that should have been kept in the locker room.
“From the outside looking in, it always looks a little worse than really what it is, Odom said. “Its just a growing up process. It just so happens that we grow up in front of 20,000 people.