Saturday report

Hope you’re having a good afternoon/evening watching the Final Four. Phil Jackson’s picks, in case you’re interested, are Georgetown and UCLA.

The Lakers were left talking about Friday’s overtime loss to Houston, a game that looked “impossible” to win in regulation, as Jackson put it, and then seemed “impossible” to lose in overtime. Of course, the Lakers did lose as the result of a couple of calls, a couple of missed free throws and a couple of blown defensive assignments.

“(The Rockets) got to win a game without earning it, basically,” Jackson said. “They (the Lakers) have to know how critical that is and how critical it is to finish a game.

As we were walking out the door, a team spokeswoman told us that Jordan Farmar would be playing in Sunday’s D-Fenders game. He’s going to be the first same-day call-up in NBA Development League history. The Lakers will recall Farmar after the game and have him in uniform when they play Sacramento.

Not sure if Farmar has had/will have the chance to practice with his teammates-for-a-day. The D-Fenders are fighting for a playoff spot and it can’t hurt to get Farmar some minutes since his role has been so reduced. Maybe he can get that spark back with an extended run of 30 minutes or so.

This is the first time the Lakers have taken advantage of their arrangement with the D-Fenders, who run the same triangle offense and share the team’s practice facility in El Segundo. Luke Walton was joking after practice Saturday that Andrew Bynum might be a potential ringer if the D-Fenders ever play for a championship.

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By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–Thanks to an inventive tape job by trainer Gary Vitti, Lakers center Kwame Brown looked like a different player in the first quarter of Fridays game, even finding the strength in his injured ankle to sky for a follow-up dunk.

Brown eventually wore down after a night of banging with the immovable object that is Houstons Yao Ming but not before he managed to block one of Yaos shots and strip him of the ball as the Lakers made their fourth-quarter comeback.

Then Brown was fouled intentionally by the Rockets with 15.5 seconds left in regulation and looked very much like his old self. Brown bricked both free throws only to be bailed out by Kobe Bryants miracle 3-pointer.

Brown was able to joke Saturday at practice that “Me and Kobe, we planned that, but the question is if other teams wont follow the Rockets example and force the 43.1 percent foul shooter to the line late in games.

Although Brown wasnt expecting the immediate foul, the Rockets did the same thing twice in the last four minutes of regulation of a double-overtime loss to the Lakers on Dec. 15.

“Ive just got to be ready to step up there and hit the shots, Brown said, “because I was shooting the ball pretty well from the free-throw line (5 of 6) before that.

Asked about having confidence in Brown late in games, Lakers coach Phil Jackson asked reporters: “Whats his shooting percentage? He was told it was in the 40s, and even worse in the fourth quarter.

“Hes probably going to shoot about 40-some percent, Jackson said. “Thats why theres percentages. The percentages are pretty good that hes going to miss 1 out of 2.

Brown finished with 15 points, seven rebounds, three steals and two blocks in one of his most productive games of the season. Vitti found a way to tape Browns left ankle so that he wouldnt suffer pain because of a pre-existing bone spur.

“I felt great. I felt normal for once, Brown said. “There was no pain when I turned for my jump hook. As the game went on, it wore down. But if I can start games like that, Ill be fine because everybodys not as big and heavy as Yao Ming is.

Farmed out: The Lakers will make rookie guard Jordan Farmar the first same-day call-up in NBA Development League history today. Farmar will play for the D-Fenders in this afternoons game against Anaheim at Staples Center.

Then he will be recalled and will be in uniform for the Lakers game against Sacramento. The D-Fenders are in the stretch run of their season with only six games remaining.

Farmar hasnt gotten off the bench in three of the Lakers last six games. Under NBA rules, the Lakers can assign their first- or second-year players to the D-Fenders up to three times in any season.

Understanding Artest: Lamar Odom has known Sacramentos Ron Artest since they were both teenage basketball stars in New York. Odom also once questioned whether he would play again after the death of his infant son Jayden last summer.

So Odom said he could understand why Artest would send text messages to his Kings teammates two weeks ago telling them he was planning to retire after the season. Artest was arrested March 5 on domestic violence charges.

“Sometimes as athletes, our lives are of course under a microscope, so when things are not going the way you want them to go off the court, it can feel overwhelming, Odom said. “I can see why someone could feel like that.

“Ron is still young and he still has a lot to give as far as basketball and I hope thats not the case. . . .Hes human at the end of the day, no matter what people may think. Some of us, you see us as these figures that cant be beaten down, but thats not the case.

Also: Jackson said he expects Maurice Evans (sore knee) and Brian Cook (sprained ankle) to return tonight. The Lakers got only six points from their bench Friday.

Thursday report

My ears perked up on the drive home from practice when I heard Jim Buss was going to be calling in to 570-AM this afternoon. Buss is his fathers designated successor when it comes to basketball operations; Jeanie Buss will run the business side of things.

We had an opportunity to sit down with Jim, whose official title is vice president of player personnel, in the summer of 2005. Jerry Buss met with the beat writers before he received his star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame back in October.

Here are some of the highlights of the 20-minute interview. Probably the most newsworthy comment came at the end, when Buss suggested that the Lakers are poised to make a major free-agent signing in the future.

“Those things start way before a player becomes available, Buss said. “Everything we do is planning to be in a position if you can get an All-Star-caliber player to help your team go to the next level. You have to have it planned out years before.

Buss set a timetable for the Lakers of making a major acquisition within the two seasons after this one. The Lakers already have $58 million committed for next season which is either right at or over the projected salary cap.

That doesnt take into account what they would spend to re-sign Luke Walton, Smush Parker, Chris Mihm or Shammond Williams. They could upgrade using the $5.5 million midlevel exception available to all teams and are free to make whatever trades they can.

“Mitch (Kupchak) is very good at watching the cap and so am I, Buss said. “We have a plan to move forward and when somebody drops the ball and drops one of their All-Star players, were there to get them. You don’t go over the cap like some of these other teams and be mediocre. That’s like the cardinal sin in my book….

What you do is you manage your money until you can spend it on the right thing. And it will happen. It will happen maybe next year or the year after but its going to happen. And when that happens, then we go right back to winning championships.

This comment will do nothing to quell speculation that the Lakers expect Kevin Garnett to either force a trade or opt out of his contract in the coming years. Garnett can opt out after next season but he would be walking away from $24 million

Weve also heard this talk about two- and three-year plans before. The Lakers were maintaining flexibility to sign Amare Stoudemire, Yao Ming or LeBron James in recent summers before all three players opted to re-sign with the teams that drafted them.

The Lakers have only three players (Kobe Bryant, Vladimir Radmanovic and Brian Cook) signed for the 2009-10 season, when they could have a chunk of cap space after Lamar Odoms contract expires. Keep in mind that Andrew Bynum is up for an extension that could pay him $10 million or more beginning in that season.

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Buss also took issue with the Shaquille ONeal deal being the so-called “worst trade in the history of sports.

“Youve got to look at it as, well, yes for the first two years, Buss said. “No for the many years afterwards because weve got to put ourselves in a position to get a player like that.

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Buss on whether he thinks the Lakers can win a championship with the current roster:

“The way I look at it is I believed last year this current roster could win it this year. The way things are going, its going to be very difficult because we didnt home court. Wed have to go through Phoenix, Dallas, San Antonio – – all three of them – – to get to the Finals.

“If we had played without the injuries that we sustained, then I think we would have had a home-court advantage and we wouldnt have had such a tough road to get to. And yes, I would believe this team is good enough.

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Buss on Bynums development:

“As far as Andrew Bynum is concerned with me, he is still ahead of the curve that I wanted him to be on. Were missing a (competitive) fire but hes 19 years old, hes learning the game, hes getting banged around.

“Even Kurt Rambis had told me last year, when this guy gets banged around enough, hell start to get angry and thats when his fire will come up.

* * *

Buss on Radmanovics snowboarding accident and the resulting $500,000 fine:

“If we voided the contract, I think it would have been a large legal battle, and we never thought of doing that.

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By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–In the three seasons he has played for Phil Jackson, Lakers forward Luke Walton said he never had seen his coach as furious as he was Wednesday the morning after an inexcusable loss to Memphis.

“The thing is, he doesnt get angry that much, Walton said. “I mean, Im sure he does inside but hes always trying to stay on that middle ground. You could see in his face he was really upset yesterday.

Jackson blistered the Lakers for giving away a game to the Grizzlies in the middle of a playoff push. He sent his players home early, telling them to get away from the game, with orders to return Thursday ready to work.

The true test wont come until tonights game against Houston, but Jackson said the team had a good practice. Jackson also framed the Memphis game for his players as letting down the coaches, the fans and themselves with their lack of effort.

“We talked about how you motivate each other in a ballgame, Jackson said. “I felt the leadership to drive our team was missing because Kobe (Bryant) was missing his shots and no one else was willing to step up or take that action.

Bryant said Jacksons words had gotten through. The Lakers still lead Denver by 2 1-2 games for sixth in the Western Conference standings with 11 games to play.

“I think guys came back today ready to practice, Bryant said. “We had a good practice today and hopefully itll translate over to the game.

Proven commodity: Even though he admits that an ankle injury probably took him out of the running, Walton appreciates being mentioned as a candidate for the NBAs Most Improved Player. The Lakers have promoted Walton for the award in their game notes.

Walton went into the off-season knowing that he could showcase his range of skills if he could just shoot more consistently. A career 41.5 percent shooter his first three pro seasons, Walton has made 47.5 percent of his shots this season.

He has averaged 11.5 points (up from 5.0 last season), 4.9 rebounds and 4.4 assists while starting all 49 games in which he has played. His value to the team can be measured simply: the Lakers are 31-18 with Walton in the lineup and 7-15 without him.

Walton has been so indispensable that Jackson likened him to being the “yeast in bread for the way he encourages team play. For the time being, Walton is still trying to get back up to speed after missing 21 games with a sprained right ankle.

“Its still frustrating because I feel like I lost a lot of conditioning when I got hurt, Walton said. “My ankles still not strong enough to where I can constantly get in the lane and make aggressive plays, so its one of those things where I have to pick and choose.

Defensive minded: Bryant will have to earn every point tonight against a Houston team ranked second in the league in scoring defense and first in field-goal percentage defense. The Rockets give up 91 points a game and can use Shane Battier to guard Bryant.

“Theyre great contesting shots and getting into peoples bodies, Jackson said.

The Lakers are hopeful Kwame Brown will be able to overcome his injured ankle and give them minutes against Yao Ming. Brown went through half-court drills in practice, Jackson said.

Scoring king: Carmelo Anthony all but conceded Bryant his second consecutive scoring title, telling the Denver Post: “If he’s going out there throwing in 65 points like that, he can have it. It’s all fun and games winning the scoring title. It’s an individual accolade.”

Bryant is averaging 30.8 points to Anthonys 29.0. Jackson suggested last week that an exchange with Anthony during the Lakers March 15 loss at Denver provided some of the motivation for Bryants headline-making run of 50- and 60-point games.

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Wednesday report

There’s wasn’t much to say after Tuesday’s loss and there’s not much to report after Wednesday’s practice-that-wasn’t. Phil Jackson brought the team together in El Segundo and sent them home after a half-hour. What he told his players probably wasn’t too different from what he told the few assembled reporters.

“By the nature of the game that they played last night, I was disappointed in their play,” Jackson said, “and they should take themselves away from the game for a day and come back tomorrow ready to play.”

In case you were interested, here’s the list of 15 finalists for the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2007, which will be announced Monday. Given that Jackson’s picture is on the front of the Hall’s Web site right now, it seems safe to say that he’ll be getting in.


Players: Adrian Dantley, Chris Mullin

Coach Bob Hurley (St. Anthony’s, N.J.), Phil Jackson, Eddie Sutton, Roy Williams

Contributor: Bill Davidson (Pistons owner), Dick Vitale,

Referee: Mendy Rudolph

Team: 1966 Texas Western


Coach: Van Chancellor (Ole Miss, Houston Comets), Harley Redin (Wayland Baptist University, six AAU national titles)


Coach: Pedro Ferrandiz (Real Madrid), Mirko Novosel (Yugoslavian national team)


Player: Richard Guerin (six-time All-Star)

A finalist needs 18 of 24 votes from the honors committee to be selected. There were six people in the Class of 2006, headlined by Charles Barkley and Dominique Wilkins. The enshrinement takes place Sept. 6-8 in Springfield, Mass., and we’re just hoping that Jackson will speak either before or after Dick Vitale.

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By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–Lakers coach Phil Jackson had sat through too many losses this season to teams with records that look like target demographics (18-54) to let what happened Tuesday against the Memphis Grizzlies pass without comment.

So Jackson brought his players together the morning after the end to their five-game winning streak. Instead of holding practice, Jackson said a few words and sent them home with orders to clear their minds and return Thursday ready to work.

After sweeping aside so many similar losses, Jackson could not do the same with the playoffs only three weeks away. Not after the Lakers built a 15-point lead in the second quarter against the short-handed Grizzlies and then called it a night.

“I let them know it wasnt OK with me today, Jackson said. “Thats not the way we act or the responsibility of being a Laker or being a team thats headed for the playoffs. Thats what the other teams that are out of the playoffs are doing.

“This is a playoff drive were in right now and we have to step up our competitive level every night if were going to meet the demands that are needed in a playoff.

“My problem with them is that when we get a few wins in the course of this year, weve become lackadaisical and havent kept the same intensity drive as we go into a game and well lose games, particularly to teams that have been under .500.

“We just cant take a night off as a basketball team and expect to win any games at this point.

If injuries have been the primary storyline to the Lakers season, then inexplicable losses might be secondary. The Lakers have dropped two games apiece to New York, Milwaukee, Charlotte, New Orleans, Portland and Memphis.

Jackson said he was disappointed with Tuesdays game on two counts. The first was that the Lakers failed to build on the 15-point lead and let the Grizzlies, who own the NBAs worst record, gain confidence the longer they stayed in the game.

The Lakers did the same thing against Golden State on Sunday, giving back what had been a 19-point lead before rallying in the fourth quarter. It was enough of a pattern that Jackson mentioned “sustaining the effort multiple times Wednesday.

In addition, the Lakers were unable to pick up for Kobe Bryant, who made just 7 of 26 shots in finishing with 23 points. One problem is that Lamar Odom has been unable to trust his shot since returning from a shoulder injury.

“Hes playing great basketball, Jackson said of Odom, who is 0 for 15 from 3-point range in seven games back, “but somebody else has to step in there and play a little bit of the second fiddle on the scoring aspect.

Brown update: Although Kwame Brown was a late scratch from Tuesdays game, Jackson said he believed his injured center would be able to play Friday, when his size will be needed against Houstons Yao Ming.

“He came and talked to me today and said he feels like hell be able to play, Jackson said. “Hes been a big help for us in this situation where were going down the stretch and we need a guy with his activity level and his physical bearing.

Brown tried re-taping his injured left ankle three times before the game, Jackson said, before deciding seven minutes before tipoff that he couldnt play.

Fame game: For all they have been through, Kobe Bryant laughed in calling it a “no brainer that Jackson would be selected to the Basketball Hall of Fame. The Halls Class of 2007 will be announced Monday and Jackson is one of 15 finalists.

“Hes at his best in building chemistry for a team, Bryant said, “and building a cohesive unit. Hes the best Ive ever seen.

Bryant added that it was “ludicrous for Jackson to face questions about the championship-ready teams he inherited with both the Chicago Bulls and Lakers.

“Name me a coach thats won a championship with bad players, Bryant said. “What are you supposed to do? Are you supposed to take a team that was 30 games below .500 and turn them into a championship team without making any adjustments whatsoever?

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Grizzlies 88, Lakers 86

Dear Greg Oden and Kevin Durant:

Who knew that the perfect situation was waiting for you here in the NBA? Assuming the pingpong balls bounce as they should, one of you will be playing for the Memphis Grizzlies next season. The same team that just beat Kobe Bryant’s Lakers on Tuesday. Maybe Pau Gasol will even rescind his trade demand and stick around.

What an inexcusable loss for the Lakers. The calendar is about to flip to April and the Lakers still shrink when they see a zone defense. Even though Memphis interim coach Tony Barone said afterward, “We don’t like to play zone,” he hardly could have stumbled onto a better strategy.

Earlier this season, Lakers coach Phil Jackson dismissed the zone as being a “soft” defense. Now his team has lost three games (Detroit, Milwaukee and Memphis) where the opposing team has played zone the bulk of the time. It has been easier said than done for the Lakers to create penetration, move the ball and get inside against it.

The Lakers had all of six – – yes, six – – points in the paint in the second half. They took 19 3-pointers in the third and fourth quarters. Jackson said the Lakers went over how they would play against a zone at the morning shootaround. Of course, that was with Kwame Brown on the floor instead of the trainer’s room.

It takes a discipline to break a zone that the Lakers don’t have. They missed Brown’s interior passing, as Jackson cited after the game. They also missed having Vladimir Radmanovic to rain 3-pointers and force the Grizzlies out of that zone. Radmanovic separated his shoulder in a snowboarding accident over All-Star weekend.

Odom was asked why the Lakers struggle so much with a zone. They have used the zone here and there at times this season, usually springing it on teams coming out of timeouts, but they never have committed to using it for long stretches the way some other teams do.

“Most NBA teams do (struggle),” Odom said. “When you’re playing against a zone, you have to lock down on the other end. Usually teams that play zone, they get real comfortable offensively. Why? Because they don’t have to play man-to-man defense.”

Barone said of Bryant’s 7-of-26 shooting night: “We didn’t limit Kobe. What happens is Kobe limits his points depending on the number of shots he takes and we didn’t do anything special. . . .I think when you start doing special stuff, which we tried the last game we played them, he’ll tear you apart.”

Jackson dismissed the idea of teams tanking games to improve lottery position beforehand. He can always point to Tuesday’s loss whenever he’s asked about that topic again. The Grizzlies put a lineup of no-names on the floor and dispatched the Lakers when they had every incentive to lose.

* * *

All those hours on the 405 going to the Summer Pro League seemed worth it when Tarence Kinsey and Junior Harrington both started for the Grizzlies. Both played in Long Beach last summer and went on to make the Memphis roster. They also came through with big nights against the Lakers, a tribute to undrafted players everywhere.

Kinsey finished with 24 points, hit the go-ahead 3-pointer and had to have the thrill of his life – – his bio lists his favorite player as Bryant. Harrington played all 48 minutes and 13 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. Bonus points if you can name which player went to South Carolina and which to Wingate.

* * *

Jackson was disappointed with how Andrew Bynum responded when he was thrust into the starting lineup at the last minute when Kwame Brown was unable to go on his sprained ankle. Odom threw a sweet behind-the-back pass but Bynum was unable to finish around the basket in the opening minutes. He made just 2 of 7 shots overall.

For the second consecutive game, Ronny Turiaf played all the fourth-quarter minutes. Turiaf made a number of big plays in Sunday’s victory over Golden State but missed both shots he took and had three fouls Tuesday. He’s your crunch-time center, though, until further notice.

* * *

The Lakers shot just 11 free throws and Jackson couldn’t resist a swipe at the referee crew of Joe Crawford, Marc Davis and Gary Zielinski, saying, “Pretty low on that end of the stick. I don’t know if there wasn’t any fouling going on tonight or if it was just one of those nights, one of those crews that said, `We’re not going to call any fouls,” so they didn’t.”

Sasha Vujacic had a nice run in last season’s playoffs and the pressure’s on for him to start making shots. He went 3 of 8 from 3-point range Tuesday but missed two midway through the fourth quarter. The Grizzlies took advantage, with Rudy Gay running out for a dunk and a 79-74 lead after the second one.

Vujacic did come back and drill a 3-pointer with Smush Parker waiting at the scorer’s table to replace him. Parker missed all four 3-pointers he took in the fourth quarter, including what could have been the game-winner in the final seconds.

* * *

We’ll see if Gasol faces any action from the league office after flailing his arm and hitting Bryant in the face in the second quarter. Bryant had slapped the ball out of Gasol’s hands from behind when Gasol swung his left arm and caught Bryant square. Bryant, who stayed in the game, was twice suspended for plays like that earlier this season.

* * *

The only other team to lose to Memphis twice this season is Charlotte. The Bobcats swept both games from the Lakers this season. Bryant said the same thing about the Grizzlies as he did about Charlotte earlier this season: “Thank God they’re not in the playoffs.”

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By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

Never in the three seasons since the Shaquille ONeal trade have the Lakers been able to stretch a winning streak past five games. All that stood in their way Tuesday night was a game against a Memphis Grizzlies team counting the days to the draft lottery.

Even that was too tall an order, though, as the Lakers were snapped back to reality in an inexplicable 88-86 loss to the Grizzlies, who brought the NBAs worst record (17-54) to Staples Center and were playing without two injured starters.

Only five days after he ripped the Grizzlies for 60 points, the fourth-highest scoring game of his career, Kobe Bryant didnt even come close to another milestone number. He finished with 23 points and made just 7 of 26 shots.

“It was just one of those games we couldnt get our rhythm, Bryant said. “Everybody has games like that and we had one tonight.

Bryant finished the game flat on his back, his turnaround jumper with a chance to tie in the final seconds having been swatted by Pau Gasol. Worse than that, the Lakers were stopped dead in their tracks of what had been a compelling playoff push.

“We can set ourself up either to play a seven-game series or get swept, forward Lamar Odom said. “If we go out there and play like that, its easy to get swept by good teams. If we go out and play the way we know we can play, we can push any team to seven games.

After giving back what had been a 15-point lead in the first half, the Lakers still had a chance to win on the final possession. Hakim Warrick split a pair of free throws and Lakers coach Phil Jackson diagrammed a final play for Smush Parker, not Bryant.

But Parker came up short on an open 3-pointer from the corner. The rebound bounced right to Bryant, who had his turnaround jumper blocked by Gasol with 1.9 seconds left and time expired on the Lakers five-game winning streak.

So did Bryants run of putting up numbers not seen since the days of Wilt Chamberlain. The Lakers had an early clue that things would be different when Bryant stepped to the line and clanked two free throws to start Tuesday’s game.

Bryant had been averaging 53.6 points and shooting the lights out the last five games. But the Grizzlies dug in with a zone defense and swarmed Bryant with defenders every time he touched the ball.

“It really was not a very good game, Jackson said, “but Kobes due to have a game where shots didnt go down and he wasnt shooting the ball well. Those odds are going to function a little bit in that regard.

The result? Bryant was outscored 24-23 by undrafted rookie Tarence Kinsey. The Grizzlies, hoping to win the rights to draft Greg Oden or Kevin Durant, were playing Tuesday without Mike Miller and Damon Stoudamire, both out with knee tendinitis.

The Lakers blew a chance to move three games ahead of Denver in the standings and solidify their hold on sixth place. Instead, they showed that they were not above a loss to a Memphis team that has not won consecutive games all season.

They also learned only seven minutes before introductions that center Kwame Brown could not get his sprained left ankle in shape to play. Andrew Bynum started in his place but Jackson said the 19-year-old center wasnt up to the task.

The Lakers also had no answers for the zone Memphis played, scoring just 14 points and making 5 of 23 shots in the third quarter. Bryant missed all six shots he took in the quarter as the Grizzlies took a 68-63 lead into the fourth.

“At some point, I felt like the team was relying on Kobe to do all the scoring, Jackson said, “and nobody could pick it up once they kind of figured he wasnt going to make shots.

As much as the fast start gave them false hope, the Lakers still had numerous chances to win late. Odom and Ronny Turiaf both had shots blocked in the last 3 1-2 minutes. Odom split two free throws and had a rebound bounce off his hands and out of bounds.

Luke Walton knocked down a 3-pointer to tie the score at 81-81 but Kinsey answered with a 3 at the other end. It proved to be the go-ahead shot after Odom missed a 3 of his own, leaving him 0 for 15 from long range since returning from a shoulder injury.

Odom filled up the box score with 16 rebounds and 11 assists but made just 1 of 7 shots and scored only three points. Jackson said afterward that Odom was willing to do all the other things but wasnt looking for his shot.

Parker missed a 3-pointer with 13.9 seconds left and a chance to tie – – the Lakers were 13 of 35 from beyond the arc – – and Kinsey hit two free throws to give Memphis an 86-81 lead and enough cushion to hold on.

It was the Lakers second loss to Memphis this season. Only Charlotte has suffered the same indignity.

“We wont sleep too well tonight, Bryant said. “But you have to use that as motivation and just gear up and get ready for the next one.

Monday report

I heard this quote from Robert Horry on “Pardon the Interruption” and wanted to see in just what context it was said. This is what Horry told San Antonio Express-News columnist Mike Monroe for a Sunday story on Kobe Bryant’s chances of winning the NBA MVP award:

“Nobody’s going to vote for Kobe because of the perception about his attitude, that he’s arrogant,” said Horry, who also stressed that he considered Bryant a good teammate. “It’s going to be a while before he ever wins MVP. I hate to say that, because it’s MVP on the court, not MVP off the court.”

Let me say up front that I don’t have an MVP vote . . . or at least I haven’t my first two seasons on the beat. But there’s no player I see more than Bryant and it seems obvious to me (and probably everyone in Los Angeles) that the Lakers would be in the draft lottery if it wasn’t for Bryant. That seems like one standard for being an MVP.

Here’s another: As I wrote Sunday, if the Golden State Warriors are going to take credit for holding Bryant to 43 points, then he should be the unquestioned MVP. If Bryant played baseball, he’d be Barry Bonds getting intentionally walked by opposing managers a hundred times a year. And Bonds is a seven-time MVP in his sport.

It’s a shame that a de facto standard has emerged whereby a player needs to come from a team that wins 50-plus games in order to merit MVP consideration. Bryant is unquestionably the biggest game-changer in the NBA regardless of whether the Lakers finish with 44 or 46 or 48 wins. The same would be true if they finished 39-43.

Obviously, the worse his team’s record, the more extraordinary such a player’s accomplishments should be. In Bryant’s case, he has seven 50-point games this season. The rest of the NBA has accounted for eight such games (Gilbert Arenas has three, Michael Redd two, Jamal Crawford, Ray Allen and Richard Hamilton one).

To his credit, Bryant has tried to do everything right this season. You have to remember that he sat out all of the exhibition season and the first two regular-season games while recovering from knee surgery. That he is able to finish the season this way is – – to borrow one of Phil Jackson’s favorite words – – remarkable.

He shot less and looked for his teammates more when the Lakers were on their way to a high playoff seed. Then he watched the bottom fall out due to injuries. His run of 50-point games pulled the Lakers out of a seven-game slide and bought time for Luke Walton and Lamar Odom to play their way back from injury.

The suspensions afforded everyone the opportunity to see what they wanted to in Bryant. If you’re a Kobe fan, then you saw the league singling him out for plays that lacked obvious intent and happened in a split-second. If you’re a Kobe hater, then you saw him as a dirty player and, worse, a repeat offender.

Behind the scenes, No. 24 has been a seemingly different person. It’s an oversimplification to say that, but he has gone above and beyond in talking to reporters. He continues to promote his work with the Boys and Girls Club, Make a Wish Foundation and his own Vivo Foundation. He was celebrated throughout All-Star weekend.

All I’m saying is that it would be a shame for Bryant to arrive at the end of his career, having written his name alongside Chamberlain, Jordan and Baylor so many times in the record books, only to have never won an MVP award. Until then, I guess Bryant will have to settle for the unofficial title as the game’s best player.

* * *

Just for fun, I asked Bryant what number he thought he might put up when he scored nine points in the first two minutes of Sunday’s game.

His answer: “I wasnt really thinking about it. I actually said, `Theyre going to have to make some serious adjustments. Just in the middle of the first quarter, after the second timeout, I said, `Theyre going to have to do something drastic. Because the crowd was getting into it, we as a team had jumped on them, every shot I hit seemed to be creating a lot of momentum for us.

It’s hard to see how the Grizzlies will keep Bryant under 50 points Tuesday unless the game is such a blowout that he doesn’t need to play late. That wouldn’t be the worst thing; Bryant is averaging 46.6 minutes in the last five games.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–Even as Kobe Bryants run of 50-point games came to an end Sunday, the Lakers were left with another streak to consider. That would be the 10 consecutive games in which they have allowed 100 points or more.

For the team that stressed defense from the first day of training camp, the Lakers are riding a season-high five-game winning streak solely by being able to outgun teams. So far in March, they are giving up 110.1 points on average.

“The one positive thing is we have been coming up with the stops when we need them down the stretch, Luke Walton said. “But giving up 110 points a game isnt going to make anything easy for us, and its definitely not going to win us a playoff series.

All the Lakers have to do is consider their probable first-round opponent to understand how important defense will be. The San Antonio Spurs are third in the Western Conference standings and came into Monday allowing 83.5 points this month.

Not only does Bryant credit San Antonios Bruce Bowen with being the toughest defender he faces but he praises the Spurs for playing the best team defense in the league.

The Lakers, meanwhile, have been unable to build any cohesion on defense with the injuries that have forced one player after another out of the lineup. Kwame Brown, in particular, is still limited after returning from a sprained ankle.

There were encouraging signs for the Lakers in the fourth quarter Sunday as Ronny Turiaf blocked shots and Lamar Odom turned a steal into a layup. Yet the Lakers also gave Golden States Al Harrington a look at an open 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Asked if the Lakers could still be a good defensive team, Bryant answered: “We have the personnel to be able to do it and do it collectively. The thing that really hurt our rhythm as a defensive unit was having all of these injuries.

“Having the guys back now, it seems like were trying to build a little bit more rhythm on the defensive end, Bryant added. “I think well get to a point where well be more consistent.

Kobe show: Five days after scoring 60 points against Memphis, Bryant might be in for another big night with the Grizzlies in town. Not only does Memphis rank 29th in the NBA in defense, but it will be playing the second game of a back-to-back set.

“What we want to try to do is just continue to put pressure on the defense, Bryant said. “Its not necessarily me scoring 40 or 50 points but its making the defense adjust. Now when we match up against teams, they understand that theyre going to have to deal with the issue of me being aggressive. Its going to compromise their defense somewhat.

Follow up: Part of the explanation for Bryants scoring burst comes with a change in how he shoots the ball. Bryant said he switched from a two-finger release to a one-finger release. He could be seen on the bench practicing his form during timeouts Sunday.

Fame game: Assuming that 915 coaching victories and nine championships are enough, Jackson will be introduced as part of the Basketball Hall of Fames Class of 2007 on Monday in Atlanta.

With the Lakers playing three games in four days, however, Jackson has told the Hall that he would not be able to travel for the announcement before the NCAA Tournament final.

Jackson said: “Its either an award for longevity or its acknowledgment of the (Chicago Bulls) teams that I was able to be a part of that really were remarkable in their duration in the 90s and then this team here in this century thats just been playing great basketball.

Injury report: Vladimir Radmanovic shot around for the first time since separating his right shoulder while snowboarding in Utah over the All-Star break. He was limited to shooting a series of short bank shots before climbing onto a treadmill.

Jackson said he hoped Radmanovic could return the week after next, although he described it a “technical injury to a guy whos a 3-point shooter. One benefit of the time off for Radmanovic is that a finger injury on his right hand has healed.

Lakers 115, Warriors 113, Kobe 43

With every victory, the Lakers look more and more likely to open the playoffs as the No. 6 seed in a first-round series against San Antonio. You can see the lead storyline starting to develop as well with Kobe Bryant and Bruce Bowen doing battle.

Bryant is the games unquestioned top scorer after his run of 50-point games. Bowen is the player Bryant has credited with being the toughest defender he faces. That in itself is remarkable because Bryant rarely gives any defender credit.

In fact, Bryant called the Spurs “the perfect storm when he stopped by his old high school earlier this month, for having the top defender in Bowen and playing the best defense as a team. It would all come together in a must-watch series.

Which brings me to Sundays game and the end of Bryants streak, which might have been a good thing with a dozen games left in the season. I think Bryant and Phil Jackson both know how small their chances would be of beating the Spurs with Bryant alone.

The first, second, third and fourth orders of business for the Lakers is finding any way to shore up their defense. Theyve given up 100 points or more in the last 10 games, including 113 to the Warriors on Sunday.

Which team do you think has the edge in this series: The one giving up 83.5 points per game in the past month or the one giving up 110.3 points per game in that same time? Well see just what the Spurs hold the Warriors to when they play Monday.

Thats why its so important for the Lakers to do what they did in the fourth quarter, which was fill in around Bryant, grab offensive rebounds, block shots and generally do all the little things they needed to win.

Bryant didnt score a basket in the final four minutes of a win. Thats a good sign looking ahead. He said so himself: “Its always a team effort, even though I scored 40 points or 50 points, whatever it is. You have to have your teammates playing well in such a case.

Lamar Odom came up with the big rebound and made the key free throws at the end. Even though he had two turnovers in the fourth, he also stripped Al Harrington and took it the other way for a basket with 4:05 left.

The Lakers searched all game for a big man and Ronny Turiaf came through in the fourth. He had seven points, four rebounds and two blocks in the fourth and dove to the floor after his own missed free throw late.

Walton assisted on two of Turiafs baskets and Shammond Williams knocked down a big 3-pointer after Monta Ellis coughed up the ball in the backcourt. Jackson went with Williams the whole fourth quarter with the unit playing well and Smush Parker still hurt.

Whenever Bryant talks about San Antonio, he uses his favorite word “execution to suggest that everything must be done perfectly. The more contributions the Lakers get from players other than Bryant, the deeper they might be able to push the Spurs.

* * *

As Odom predicted in the locker room, the Warriors would say afterward that they did a good job holding Bryant to 43 on Sunday. (If thats not the definition of a Most Valuable Player, by the way, I dont know what is.) Heres Al Harrington afterward:

“For the most part, we did a good job, Harrington said. “I mean, he had (17) in the first quarter and finished with 43, so obviously we did some type of a job on him.

If you subtract his burst in the first two minutes, Bryant would have had 34 points on 11-of-29 shooting. From my seat, Stephen Jackson put up a good fight in overplaying Bryant to deny him the ball. The Warriors also took away a couple of early lobs over the top.

Well see how Memphis plays Bryant on Tuesday after the 60 he unloaded on them last week.

* * *

Its an admission of how much his shoulder is causing problems for him, but Lamar Odom said of the two free throws he hit with 18.1 seconds left, “They were luck. As soon as he falls out of rhythm, Odom says he can feel his shoulder tightening up.

Perhaps more impressive were the two free throws he hit at the end of the second quarter. Odom was clobbered trying to follow up his own miss in the lane and got hit in his left arm by both Josh Powell and Matt Barnes.

Jackson called a 20-second timeout and Odom extended only his right arm for his teammates, who were trying to help him back to his feet. He made 8 of 10 free throws for the night and had 24 points.

* * *

Bryant was called for his 12th technical foul of the season in the first quarter. Another four technicals in the final 12 games and Bryant would serve a one-game suspension under the NBAs unofficial Rasheed Wallace rule.

“No more suspensions for me, Bryant said afterward.

He played the first quarter in a fury and was irate after he thought he was hit in the face by Jason Richardson on a jumper. Bryant later was assessed the technical by referee Michael Smith after he argued that Richardson made contact with his arm on a jumper.

* * *

I dont know if Chamberlains 100-point game ever will be equaled, but I think everyone in Staples Center thought Bryant had a chance after the first two minutes. It would take a start like that and multiple overtimes for Bryant (or anybody else) to even have a shot.

Bryant scored 17 of the Lakers first 24 points in Sundays game. Its been barely mentioned recently but Jackson is going to have to cut down Bryants minutes somehow leading up to the playoffs. He played another 46:22 against the Warriors.

As for those missed free throws in the last 20 seconds, Bryant said he changed the release on his shot – – how he flicks his wrist – – in recent games and went back to his old form. He had made 63 of 67 free throws before that, which computes to 94 percent.

* * *

Here’s the list of the most consecutive 40-point games in NBA history. Bryant’s not through in the record book department yet.

1. Wilt Chamberlain 14 games (twice) 1961-62
3. Wilt Chamberlain 10 games 1962-63
4. Kobe Bryant 9 games 2002-03
4. Michael Jordan 9 games 1986-87
6. Wilt Chamberlain 8 games 1961-62
7. Wilt Chamberlain 7 games (twice) 1962-63
9. Kobe Bryant 5 games 2006-07
9. Allen Iverson 5 games 1996-97
9. Elgin Baylor 5 games 1962-63

* * *

You had two four-point plays in Sunday’s game, one from Sasha Vujacic and another from Bryant. The Warriors also set what I believe is a record for a Lakers opponent by taking 15 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

At the end of the night, Lakers coach Phil Jackson could joke about Kobe Bryant having an “off game, Lamar Odom could remind reporters that “43 aint bad and Wilt Chamberlain could rest a little easier, wherever he was. [ep

If the Lakers were wondering what would happen when Bryants streak of 50-point games came to an end, they got the answer Sunday night when Bryant scored a mortal 43 points in a 115-113 victory over the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center. [ep

The run of 50-point games came to an end at four – – although Bryants streak of five straight 40-point games is tied for the ninth-longest in history – – and the Lakers still stretched their season-best winning streak to five games.

“I think it energized us as a team, it energized the city, and I think thats great, Bryant said. “Before that, it seemed like we were kind of dead in the water in terms of energy, in terms of belief in the city of what we could do.

“It seemed to kind of do a 180. Were playing with a lot more energy now.

The Lakers had to come from 10 points down in the fourth quarter, after squandering a 19-point lead in the first half, and survived despite committing a season-high 26 turnovers. They also stayed two games in front of Denver for sixth in the playoff race.

As proof of how much Sunday was a team victory, however, consider that the biggest play was made not by Bryant but by Odom instead. It was Odom who grabbed the rebound after Bryant missed a free throw with 19.6 seconds left.

And it was Odom who stepped to the line and sank both free throws to give the Lakers a 114-110 lead. That was enough of a cushion for the Lakers to survive as Golden States Al Harrington couldnt get off a potential winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Odom finished with 24 points and matched a career-high with 19 rebounds. Bryant joked that Odom lost a bet by coming one rebound short of a 20-20 game. Yet Odoms play with a torn labrum in his left shoulder was remarkable.

He took a blow to the shoulder at the end of the first half, a frightening reminder of an injury that likely will require surgery this summer. Free-throw shooting also has been anything but easy for Odom since his return.

“I always tell people, when the game is going and the adrenalines pumping, the ball gets swung, I can shoot it from anywhere, Odom said. “But when it kind of stops, I have to refocus and it tightens up.

Bryant had made 63 of 67 free throws before he missed two in the final 20 seconds. He finished with 43 points on 15-of-33 shooting with seven turnovers in 46 minutes, in addition to starting the comeback with a 3-pointer and fast-break jumper in the fourth.

The Warriors, who had won seven of nine games before Sunday, did everything in their power to stop Bryant. Stephen Jackson and Baron Davis spent the most time on Bryant, overplaying to deny him the ball and double-teaming at every turn.

The Lakers opened the fourth quarter with a series of three turnovers, as Bryant stepped out of bounds, Andrew Bynum couldnt hang onto a pass and Ronny Turiaf forced a pass to Bryant, a classic example of what Phil Jackson calls “Kobe-dar.

But the Lakers regrouped and scored 14 unanswered points. Turiaf finished with seven points, four rebound(s) and two blocks in the final quarter, grabbing the offensive rebound off a Bryant miss with 1:02 left and blocking Monta Ellis in the final minute.

During the streak, Bryant bristled at the suggestion that the other Lakers were his “supporting cast. Odom said the hardest thing was not to watch the one-man show and continue to stay aggressive. They did just that in the fourth quarter Sunday.

“It was a pretty good team effort and I think it shows that we are multi-dimensional, Turiaf said. “We have Kobe in the forefront and we have the soldiers in the back.

Even the most memorable of Bryants games never started with the thunderclap that Sundays did. Bryant had the crowd on its feet and roaring as he hit his first four shots and scored nine points in barely two minutes.

Bryants determination was evident with his first basket, in which he grabbed the offensive rebound after a Luke Walton miss, then drove baseline and pushed in a hanging shot with his left hand. He came back and hit a 27-foot 3-pointer after that.

After the game, Bryant said he would wait until the summer to put his streak in perspective. He still has a game Tuesday against a Memphis team that he lit up for 60 points last week.

But Bryant was able to laugh when asked if he wished he could have matched Chamberlains record of seven straight 50-point games from December 1961, a season in which Chamberlain averaged a record 50.4 points per game.

“He just seems to be a guy thats not human, Bryant said. “The records and the things that hes accomplished are beyond miraculous. For me to be in the same breath with him, even if its just a short little breath, is pretty cool.

Lakers 121, Grizzlies 119, Kobe 60

It would have been interesting to talk to Jerry West after Thursdays game about the run that Kobe Bryant is on. Its unthinkable to watch a player average 58.3 points on 54 percent shooting while scoring more than half his teams points in three games.

Bryant has single-handedly restored the Lakers momentum. Just consider the history they were making on that seven-game losing streak, which included the worst home loss since the Lakers moved to Los Angeles 47 years ago.

(On a personal note, Im not even through three seasons on the Lakers beat and Ive covered 81-, 65-, 62- and 60-point games out of Bryant and a 60-point game from Gilbert Arenas earlier this season. Thereve been only 60 such games in NBA history.)

The Grizzlies came into Thursdays game as the NBAs second-worst scoring and worst field-goal percentage defensive team. They played a soft zone much of the first quarter, then let Tarence Kinsey, Dahntay Jones and Rudy Gay each take a turn on Bryant.

Bryant scored every way imaginable, which led to a good quote from Memphis coach Tony Barone. He cut backdoor for an alley-oop dunk, buried deep 3-pointers, got to the foul and hit a jumper in the face of two defenders to end the third quarter.

“Hes not bad, is he? Barone said. “What he does is play with an intensity level that doesnt . . . the intensity level rises. Some guys drop, but his starts off at a level and gets better and better from there. He proves you have to score more than one way.

“He got to the basket and he got fouled. I thought there were about five baskets that we gave him. But for the most part, I thought we challenged him pretty well. We wanted to double him at the beginning but he got rid of the ball so quickly that we couldnt.

“He can score inside, he can score outside, and he can score at the foul line. So youve got a problem guarding him. If he can only score inside or only shooting jump shots, then hes easy to guard. He just goes out and plays.

“I hope our young guys were watching because he really put on a clinic.

Well ignore the fact that the Lakers have now given up 100 points or more in eight straight games – – they have one of the NBAs feeblest offensive teams Friday in New Orleans – – in favor of Bryants brilliance.

“If hes hot, were going to keep riding him, Luke Walton said. “One thing about Kobe Ive noticed playing with him for four years is he doesnt get tired. Hes an amazing athlete, has an amazing mental ability to not let himself get tired.

“Were going to try to keep getting better as a team, but we need to win right now, too, so were going to try to find a nice balance of both.

Bryant said he hasnt kept much in the way of memorabilia from his run of 50-point games. The Lakers saved the ball from his 65-point game Friday; maybe it can go on display at his house with the jersey he wore in his 81-point game.

Another record that didnt make it into the game story: Bryants 60 points were a franchise record against the Grizzlies. He had 56 in three quarters against Memphis back in January 2002.

* * *

Youre not going to see a lot of games where the losing team shoots 55 percent. Kwame Brown was overmatched against Pau Gasol (35 points) and the Lakers were slow to rotate to Mike Miller, who hit four 3-pointers and scored 17 of his 33 points in the third quarter.

Two of the Lakers showed their defensive frustration in the second quarter. Sasha Vuajcic gave up a three-point play to Miller and then threw the ball against the basket standard to draw a technical foul. Vujacic got an earful from coach Phil Jackson.

Brown complained to referee Courtney Kirkland after a Gasol basket and received a technical as well. Of course, Kirkland later called the Grizzlies for a second delay of game warning in the fourth quarter, a questionable technical in a four-point game.

Vujacic found redemption when he sneaked in to rebound a missed free throw by Shammond Williams and then connected on a key 3-pointer in the fourth quarter. Talk about plays that dont show up in the box score when Bryant has 60.

I also liked the way the Lakers played in the first quarter, when they picked apart the Memphis zone and scored 22 of their 34 points in the paint. Memphis actually outscored the Lakers inside 50-48 for the game.

* * *

Jackson was nearly on the mark last season when he picked UCLA to win the NCAA Tournament before it began. Hes seen less college basketball this season but likes USC to at least cover the spread Friday against North Carolina. [ep

“USC, I think is going to be a surprise team, Jackson said. “I think theyve got a chance to upset North Carolina, even more than the point spread. I know Pinky Floyd (Tim Floyd), hes got a real good defensive mindset and he can screw up some games against them.

“I think Tims got a team thats willing to listen and work hard. I dont know if they have enough talent to do it or not but theyre pretty good.

Floyd was the hand-picked choice of Jerry Krause to succeed Jackson as coach of the Chicago Bulls.

* * *

Jackson expects forward Vladimir Radmanovic to resume practicing in about two weeks. Radmanovic suffered a separated right shoulder in a world-famous snowboarding accident over All-Star weekend.

Although the strength of his game is his 3-point shooting, Radmanovic likely will have to find other ways to contribute once he returns.

“Hes probably not going to be hoisting up 30-foot jump shots with a lot of ease because of that shoulder, Jackson said. “Thats going to be a little bit different for him.

Jackson added that he expects Radmanovic to build on his injury-plagued first season in the triangle offense. Radmanovic was the Lakers top free-agent signing last summer but has yet to pay dividends on the five-year, $30.2 million deal he received.

“Now we say youd better pay the damn rent, Jackson said. “When youve got a guy thats making that kind of money, you want him to be successful.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn.–Who would have guessed when Kobe Bryant made the jump to the NBA out of Lower Merion (Pa.) High back in 1996 that he would redefine March Madness all these years later?

The comparisons for Bryants scoring binge might have run out after the Lakers 121-119 victory Thursday night over the Memphis Grizzlies, when the superstar guard could only joke about the man he calls “the human video game.

That would be Wilt Chamberlain, in whose company Bryant once again finds himself keeping. His 60-point game at FedEx Forum was his third straight of 50 or more and his three-game total of 175 points is the most by any player except Chamberlain.

That he reached 60 against a Memphis team with the NBAs worst record (17-52) and flimsiest defense made Bryants milestone no less spectacular. He scored 36 points in the second half as the Lakers extended their winning streak to three games.

“For him to reach these feats, if you know him its not surprising because hes really focused and his will to win is incredible, Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. “So when anybody has the will to win like that, anythings possible.

Bryant made 20 of 37 shots, played the entire second half and hit his first 16 free throws in going 17 of 18 at the foul line. He joined Michael Jordan, Elgin Baylor and Chamberlain as the only players ever to score 50 or more in three straight games.

Jordan was the only player in a generation to do so before Bryant, scoring 53, 50 and 61 points in April 1987, leaving Lakers coach Phil Jackson to joke that “I think I was in high school at that time.

Somewhere Jerry West, the man responsible for bringing Bryant to the Lakers and now the Grizzlies president of basketball operations, had to be watching in amazement.

It was Bryants highest scoring road game ever and marked the fourth 60-point game of his career. Chamberlain holds the record with 32 career 60-point games; Bryant and Jordan now share second place with four each.

“Im doing my part and other guys are stepping up and doing theirs as well, Bryant said. “I just feel like guys are finding me. Its not like Im taking difficult shots outside of a couple of them, but Im already in rhythm by the time I take those, so I feel pretty good.

“But to get in rhythm, I have to get great picks, great looks, great passes. You cant do that without the help of your teammates, particularly because theyre sending double- and triple-teams.

The records hardly ended there. Chamberlain held the first 16 spots on the list of the greatest three-game point totals in NBA history before Thursday. Bryants 175 tied for 11th; Chamberlains record of 226 includes his immortal 100-point game.

“Hes in a zone right now, Lakers forward Luke Walton said. “Most people get in zones for one game. Hes been in a zone for about a week straight now. Its been a pretty amazing display that hes put on.

After Bryants 65- and 50-point games against Portland and Minnesota, the Grizzlies had to know what awaited them Thursday. Yet the Grizzlies were powerless to stop Bryant, who is shooting 54 percent these last three games.

Bryant missed his first three shots but got in rhythm with a revere dunk and scored 13 points in the first quarter. He reached halftime with 24 points after burying a 29-foot 3-pointer over rookie Tarence Kinsey from somewhere on Beale Street.

The third quarter saw Bryant mix it up twice with Dahntay Jones, drawing a double foul and later a double technical. It took Bryant scoring 19 points in the third for the Lakers to withstand the Grizzlies run-and-gun 37-point quarter.

The Lakers finally made their push at the start of the fourth as Sasha Vujacic hit a 3-pointer and Ronny Turiaf drained a jumper. Bryant scored his 50th point with 8:09 left as he popped out for a jumper and drew a foul from rookie Rudy Gay.

“Hes in a league all to himself, Jackson said. “What you admire in Kobe is that hes going to attack, hes going to be in that mode and hes going to continue to go at a team until either you take him out of ballgame or else they stop him.

The Grizzlies closed to 111-109 with 4:29 left but Shammond Williams hit a 3-pointer set up by Bryant. The rest of the fourth quarter belonged to Bryant, who finally missed a free throw with three minutes to play.

“Its special because its coming off of three straight wins, Bryant said. “This is a stretch where we really need to make up some ground and get some rhythm back.

The only blemish came with 10.3 seconds left when Bryant caught Jones with an elbow to the face as he went for an inbounds pass. Bryant twice has been suspended and assessed a retroactive flagrant foul by the league for striking players in the face.

Bryant was called for an offensive foul by wasnt concerned afterward, saying of Jones, “He flopped. He knows he flopped. If he says he didnt flop, hes a liar.

Jackson said beforehand that he hoped the Lakers would be able to get back up to speed in about a week with Odom and Walton still playing their way back from injury. Until then, Bryant will follow his coachs instructions to shoot early and set the tone.

He asked to stay in the game the entire second half and Jackson obliged, with Maurice Evans sitting out with a sore knee. Even Odom, who finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds, could only marvel afterward.

“Its a blessing to be on the court when hes feeling it like that, Odom said. “To be a part of history.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn.–Even with Kobe Bryant looking to extend his streak of 50-point games to three, Thursday nights game hardly was the featured attraction in town with Memphis playing Texas A&M in the NCAA Tournament on television.

The two games intersected midway through the third quarter, leaving Lakers coach Phil Jackson exasperated as the tournament game was shown on the video board at FedEx Forum with Lamar Odom shooting free throws.

Odom appeared rattled as the crowd erupted in cheers as Memphis Tigers guard Antonio Anderson made two last-second free throws. Odom missed three of four free throws, spanning a timeout in the NCAA game, as the locals celebrated.

Jackson walked down the scorers table to complain to the Grizzlies operations staff. He later fumed to referee Bob Delaney, who ordered the tournament game turned off, much to the displeasure of the crowd.

“That was awful, Jackson said. “I went to the scorers table, I said, `Thats not right. You know thats not right. This is the game thats happening here. I know these fans are into it, but they came to this game and we have to play this game.

It was a momentary distraction for Odom, who had his strongest game since returning from a torn labrum. He got inside for dunks early against the Grizzlies zone defense and finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds.

Playoff picture: The Lakers moved a game in front of Denver in the race for sixth place in the Western Conference. The Nuggets lost 109-108 to Chicago on Thursday.

Evans hurting: Maurice Evans sat on the ledge of his locker with his right leg propped up on a chair before Thursdays game, an electric stimulation machine sending currents into his sore knee.

Unable to shake the swelling in his knee even after having it drained for a second time, Evans opted for a different course of action Thursday: He sat out the Lakers game against Memphis with an eye toward the bigger picture of the season.

“Ive been playing like this for three weeks now, Evans said. “Ive been trying to treat it every way except this. I know if we go into the playoffs this isnt going to work. Im looking ahead to the real thing, to what really matters.

The swelling has been a problem for Evans, who had the knee drained a second time March 11 and also received a cortisone shot. Evans said he has been playing at about 30 percent, unable to change directions or get lift on his shot.

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The Durant story

It’s not even 11 a.m. but Kobe Bryant apparently is “furious” with a story in the Dallas Morning News claiming that he called Texas star Kevin Durant on behalf on Nike. A team spokesman said Bryant “vehemently denies” the story and will be addressing the subject after practice Wednesday. The Lakers are going to confront the story aggressively because they’ve seen the fines Boston, Charlotte and Golden State already have received from the NBA when it comes to Durant.

Saturday report

We’re trying to streamline things as much as possible to accommodate the most inches in Sunday’s paper following up on Kobe Bryant’s 65-point game. It’s not going to get the attention it deserves on a busy NCAA Tournament weekend (and because Bryant scored 81 only last season) but consider that it was one of the top 20 scoring games in NBA history.

There are so many things that will be overlooked from that game, such as the fact that Bryant scored the Lakers’ first 15 points of the second quarter. Or that he banked in a half-court shot that didn’t count after a clear-path foul. Or that he mixed it up with Zach Randolph and drew a technical foul. Or that he did it in the second game of a back-to-back set after the Lakers lost their previous two games by a combined 63 points.

All you needed to see was the 3-point barrage that Bryant unleashed in the last two minutes of regulation and overtime to get the Lakers to the finish line. If you opened up the paper in Portland this morning, the game story in the Oregonian had a Los Angeles dateline followed by a two-word lead: “Kobe Bryant.” Maybe nothing more needed to be written.

Here’s your Luke Walton’s update: Walton said his ankle was feeling “60 times” better than it did Friday, when he had to sit out what would have been his second game back from the injury. He went through layup lines but couldn’t get the ankle to loosen up. He told coach Phil Jackson that he could run the offense “but I couldn’t drive or I couldn’t pull up and do anything like that.”

Walton, who missed six weeks with the injury, said he would play Sunday against Minnesota. It also didn’t help Walton that the Lakers were up all night after Thursday’s game against Denver because of the problems with their charter flight. There also was a question about whether the ankle would be a game-to-game thing going forward.

“All week before, I practiced and when it would get sore, I’d go ice it. By the end of the day, or the next morning, it’d feel great again,” Walton said. “Hopefully, a couple more games, it’ll get strong enough to where I won’t need to take a day off.”

Walton also had a good quote when he was asked if he sees Bryant regularly hit the kind of 3-pointers in practice that he did at the end of Friday’s game.

“He’s got such great body control and balance,” Walton said, “that when he does it, by the time he ends up shooting the ball, he’s just shooting like a fadeaway 3-pointer. He was doing it before practice today, and he was making not all of them, but he was making enough to where you’re like, `That’s pretty impressive.”’

Jackson also talked about Kwame Brown, who left for the locker room to treat his ankle before halftime. Brown returned to start the second half and gutted out the rest of the game. Brown’s ankle was so bad that Lamar Odom had to jump center at the start of overtime instead of the center.

“It’s was like, `Let’s see if we can’t fuss our way through this thing because he makes such a difference for us,”’ Jackson said. “If we don’t have to double-team or stunt defensively, suddenly our whole defensive game becomes better.”

Maurice Evans also had a good quote after Friday’s game: “Nothing’s coming easy for this Lakers team right now. We’ve got guys out there, Kwame was on one leg, I was on one leg. Ronny’s back’s spasming, Lamar’s shoulder’s out, Luke can’t go because his ankle’s stil messed up. We’ve got to fight through a lot of adversity right now. A little sunshine comes in every once in awhile.”

Don’t look now but Bryant is closing in on Carmelo Anthony for what would be his second consecutive scoring title. After his 65-point game, Bryant is averaging 29.7 points per game to Anthony’s 29.8. If Anthony maintains his average the rest of the way, Bryant would have to average 30.5 ppg these last 16 games to pass him.

* * *

When he was breaking down tape of the Portland game, Jackson said he was talking to his players about making the extra effort. He was disappointed to see the Lakers slow to rotate on defense and giving up a 3-pointer to Ime Udoka. Maurice Evans also left Martell Webster to help on a drive and gave up a 3-pointer to the young guard.

It made the hole that Bryant had to dig the Lakers out of that much deeper. One example of a play where the Lakers did make the extra effort came in overtime, when Smush Parker lost his dribble but dove to the floor after the loose ball. It led to a Lamar Odom dunk. Jackson also cited Odom’s block of Brandon Roy with 30.9 seconds left.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–Theres only 3 feet of room to operate between the 3-point arc and the sideline in the deepest corners of an NBA court. Yet Kobe Bryant found space enough in the final minute of overtime Friday night to hit a shot that stretched the imagination.

More than that, Bryants turnaround 3-pointer from the corner, while seemingly boxed in by Portlands Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, might have cracked open a window of opportunity for the Lakers at the end of a seven-game losing streak.

The first step was to end the skid, and the Lakers have Bryant to thank after he hit three 3-pointers in the last two minutes of regulation, plus his mind-bending 3-pointer in overtime, on the way to 65 points and a victory over the Trail Blazers.

The second step is to build on whatever confidence that created. Even Bryant noticed a change at Saturdays practice, saying, “Guys seemed to be in much better spirits today. Hopefully, itll be something that can kind of carry us for a while.

It was the second-highest scoring game in Bryants career and fourth-highest scoring game in franchise history, after Bryants 81 against Toronto last season, Elgin Baylors 71 in November 1960 and Wilt Chamberlains 66 in February 1969.

In fact, Bryant said he felt hotter in Fridays game than his 81-point masterpiece. He made 11 of 13 shots and all five 3-pointers he took in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“Every shot that left my hand just felt absolutely good, Bryant said, “like it was going to hit the bottom of the net.

Bryants 65 points tied for the 19th highest scoring game in NBA history. The list of players ever to reach that number in a game is a short one: Chamberlain, Bryant, David Thompson, David Robinson, Baylor, Michael Jordan and Pete Maravich.

If the Lakers had taken their team picture after Fridays game – – as opposed to before Saturdays practice – – Bryant might as well have stood alone. A one-man band rarely hits the right notes, but Bryant delivered a victory the Lakers had to have.

“We dont want to have to force him into that kind of a need situation night after night, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, “but when were going as bad as we are now, we welcome that.

Bryant led the Lakers back after Lamar Odom missed two free throws with 2:25 left in the fourth quarter and the Trail Blazers took a seven-point lead. The degree of difficulty only increased with each 3-pointer, until the last with 44.1 seconds in overtime.

“If he would have missed one of those, Luke Walton said, “it would have been game over.

With the score tied 108-108, Bryant spun free from Roy, then buried the shot from the corner over Aldridge. He hadnt seen a replay until Saturday morning, but was able to share a laugh with owner Jerry Buss about it.

“I told him, `I got a good look, Bryant said. “He said, `Good look? The guys hand was in your face. I said, `I didnt see his hand. All I saw was the basket.

Jackson has framed the rest of the season in terms of getting players back and building momentum for the playoffs. Its a process that could take the final 16 games. Or it could have been accelerated by one spectacular night from Bryant.

There were signs in overtime that the Lakers were riding shotgun with Bryant, as opposed to piling in the backseat to ride out a game he would win or lose: Odom and Smush Parker knocked down jumpers; Parker dove to the floor after a loose ball.

“Theyre continuing to be aggressive, and a lot of that has to do with Lamar and him being assertive, Bryant said. “Me taking over games but him still being able to continue that offensive thrust, and I think the other guys just kind of followed suit.

The Lakers rode Bryants scoring into the playoffs last season before coming together as a team and pushing Phoenix to seven games in the first round. They hoped the days of Bryant having to score 50 to win were behind them but injuries changed that plan.

“We dont have the same core that we had last year thats healthy right now, so its tough to rely on that, Bryant said. “Youve got to do what youve got to do until we get that rhythm back.

There was still some unfinished business for Bryant at Saturdays practice, namely a bet forward Ronny Turiaf made with him after the game. He would give Bryant five shots to hit two turnaround 3-pointers from the corner.

Did he deliver?

“What do you think? Bryant said. “I just needed to make two, so I was goofing around for the first three.

Nuggets 113, Lakers 86

If you listened to Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson talk after Thursday’s game, you never would have guessed the Lakers lost their seventh consecutive game, the last four of which have hardly been competive. Those losses have come by 20, 16, 36 and 27 points, if you’re keeping score at home.

You could tell, though, that the stakes are higher for Lamar Odom. He’s not out risking further injury to his shoulder to watch the Lakers take an 11-point lead in the second quarter and then get outscored 77-39 the rest of the game.

“The way to get out of slumps or to get out of not playing well is when you’ve got teams down, when you’re hitting them, just don’t stop,” Odom said. “Just keep doing the small things right. It seems like we can’t do that. We had them right where we wanted. Carmelo (Anthony) was a little off in that first half.

“It’s like we don’t understand how to take advantage of things we need to take advantage of. It’s March.”

The Lakers squandered that lead so quickly, it was hard to figure out exactly how it happened. Allen Iverson started getting to the basket, J.R. Smith knocked down a 3-pointer and the Nuggets got a couple of fast break baskets. Smush Parker also picked up a key third foul late in the half.

“We didn’t make them burn a ton of energy to get it,” Luke Walton said. “We just turned the ball over, let them get layups and at halftime it was tied up again.”

Nobody expected the Lakers to experience immediate success with the returns of Odom and Walton. You had to expect, though, that the Lakers might push the Nuggets into the fourth quarter of a game that had implications for their playoff positioning. Now they have to beat a rested Portland team in the second game of a back-to-back set.

* * *

The worst thing that happened to the Lakers might have been Kobe Bryant’s fast start. The Nuggets started Steve Blake on Kobe Bryant but brought Linas Kleiza off the bench less than five minutes in to use his size (6-foot-8, 245 pounds) on Bryant.

Kleiza was the difference maker for the Nuggets in the first half, which he finished with 16 points. He hit 10 of 13 shots for the game, including five 3-pointers, and sent me to to look up his bio. He’s a Lithuanian-born forward, 22 years old, who played in college at Missouri. He also had 24 points Sunday against Sacramento.

Bryant left Kleiza on defense more than a couple of times and paid the price. Jackson said after the game: “We told the guys he was a straight shooter and a long shooter and played hard. He got all those things accomplished tonight in short order.

* * *

Stop if you’ve read this before: Smush Parker had another lost night for the Lakers. Parker obviously had a difficult matchup with Allen Iverson but the Lakers are going nowhere when they get four points on 1-of-8 shooting with five fouls in 20 minutes from their starting guard.

As soon as he finally hit a jumper in the third quarter, Parker picked up his fourth foul when Iverson drew contact on a drive. Jackson opted to keep him in the game but Parker had no choice but to commit his fifth foul with the Nuggets running back on a fast break with 5:11 left in the third.

“That’s a tough game for him,” Jackson said. “When you play against Iverson, he’s always going to create contact. You’re going to be at the mercy of the referees, what they want to call or not. He did a really good job on Iverson but it was the other guys, Kleiza, that got us tonight.”

Iverson finished with 15 points and 13 assists but made only 4 of 15 shots. He did punctuate the fourth quarter by serving up a lob for an alley-oop dunk by Carmelo Anthony that put the Nuggets ahead 107-82.

One thing I thought about tonight was how Jackson defines stars and role players in the NBA. He’s said it before that stars deliver seven games out of 10 or four out of five. You hope that your role players do their job, like knocking down open jumpers, in two or three out of five games.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get that consistency out of them. That quality of that effort is what the Lakers are trying to get out of Andrew Bynum right now. Then you watch Parker and he hasn’t been able to get anything going in the better part of two weeks. Forget three good games out of five. Jackson would settle for one right now.

* * *

Had to ask Kobe Bryant at the end of his postgame session about the seeming disconnect between the optimism he is expressing and the slide the Lakers are on. Here was his answer:

“We’re built on chemistry,” Bryant said. “That’s why I’m not really fretting or depressed because I feel like, we get these guys back, we start building on that rhythm again, I feel like we’ll be OK. Then the players that were forced to play 38, 40 minutes, now have more of a supporting role, which is a role they can flourish in.

“They were asked to do so much when guys went down in a system that they knew nothing about. It’s difficult for anybody to handle. But I feel like, we get these guys back who’ve been in this system, have those (other) guys come off the bench and make contributions, I feel like we’ll be OK.”

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

DENVER–There was the confidence voiced by Kobe Bryant, who preferred to block out what happened in the second half and talk about the “flashes the Lakers showed in the first half of Thursday nights 113-86 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

There was the pessimism voiced by Lamar Odom, who questioned whether his return from a torn labrum made a difference for a Lakers team in need of “soul searching after its seventh consecutive loss.

And there was the reassurance voiced by Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who watched his team squander an 11-point lead in the first half and take another step back in the playoff race, yet pledged that things would be fine going forward.

Maybe all three were correct as the Lakers matched the third-longest losing streak in franchise history. They fell into a tie with the Nuggets for sixth in the Western Conference standings yet spoke with encouragement about the playoffs afterward.

“We saw flashes of some of the things that were capable of doing in the first half, Bryant said. “We just have to build on that and understand that thats the team we really want to make some noise with in the playoffs.

Jackson took stock of Odoms return, as well as that of Luke Walton, and saw light at the end of the tunnel for the Lakers. This even though his team has lost its last three games by an average of 24.8 points.

“That starting group looks like theyre going to be fine, Jackson said. “Theyre back there again ready to play and I think well be OK. We just have to get our legs underneath us now and well be fine.

Linas Kleiza scored a career-high 29 points off the bench for the Nuggets while Carmelo Anthony (26 points) took over in the third quarter. What had been a tie game at halftime saw Denver take an 87-72 lead into the fourth quarter at Pepsi Center.

It was a dark finish to a day that saw both Jackson and the Lakers fined $50,000 for comments Jackson made on Tuesday charging that the league was conducting a “witch hunt in disciplining Bryant this season.

“Any response I make to that is going to be inflammatory, Bryant said, “and I really dont want to add fuel to that fire.

The Lakers were playing with their top starting five – – Smush Parker, Bryant, Walton, Odom and Kwame Brown – – for only the seventh time this season and the first time since Dec. 12, when Odom suffered a sprained knee ligament against Houston.

They showed maybe theres a reason why the Lakers were 5-1 in games with that starting lineup earlier this season. The connection between the five was apparent as the Lakers broke to a 13-6 lead in the first quarter.

The Lakers ran their offense through Bryant inside and the star guard was at his dynamic best. He finished the first quarter with 10 points and six assists, finding Walton and Shammond Williams for 3-pointers and feeding Brown for a dunk.

“I was actually surprised by how well we clicked in the first half considering we havent played together all year, said Bryant, who finished with 25 points on 9-of-19 shooting with nine assists.

With the Lakers facing a Everest-like climb just to match last seasons 45-37 record, Jackson talked in recent days about trying to get as many players back healthy and build some momentum heading into the playoffs.

Odom finished with nine points, seven rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes but made just 4 of 11 shots. Walton totaled 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists before Jackson thought he ran out of gas.

Odoms comments after the game reflected the investment he has made in these final 18 games. He is playing with a shoulder injury that likely will require surgery after the season.

“I felt all right, Odom said. “I dont think it made a difference, though. We need soul searching as a team. Weve got to all be aiming for the same thing. If were not, this is going to be hard to overcome.

The losing streak is now the Lakers third-longest; they also dropped seven consecutive games in the 1991-92 season. If they lose tonight against Portland, the Lakers would match the eight-game skid from the dark days of the 2004-05 season.

Once upon a time, Jackson coached a Chicago Bulls team that lost only 10 games all season on the way to posting the best record in NBA history at 72-10. Now the losing knows no end, with the Lakers falling for the 13th time in 16 games.

After watching the Lakers give back their second-quarter lead, Jackson said, “We knew that momentum would kind of ride them the second half and it did.

The picture of the third quarter was Allen Iverson twirling his arms, exhorting the crowd to its feet as the Nuggets started rolling. They got two 3-pointers from Kleiza and Steve Blake as well as dunks by Nene and Marcus Camby.

Then there was Anthony, the player Bryant counseled during his 15-game suspension for fighting earlier this season. Anthony was brilliant in the third quarter and Odom was all but powerless to stop him.

Anthony scored 10 points with four assists in the quarter. Even when the Lakers switched Bryant onto him, Anthony hit a turnaround jumper over him. The Nuggets flattened the Lakers 36-21 in the third quarter and 62-35 in the second half.

“We just have to win games, Jackson said. “Its not about Denver. Its not about anybody. Its just about us. Right now we just have to play basketball and find a way back. Im confident this team will be fine. Theyll be OK.