Assuming that nine championships and 910 career coaching victories are enough, Phil Jackson’s election to the Basketball Hall of Fame will be announced in three weeks as part of Final Four weekend. With that in mind, it’s worth considering the toll these twin six-game losing streaks must be taking on him.
Jackson joked before Sunday’s game about considering retirement a couple of weeks back before deciding that Pat Riley had beaten him to it with his leave of absence. The Lakers then held practice Monday without Jackson, who went to the dentist. Kobe Bryant and Brian Cook also were given the day off.
It seemed like a good time to ask Kurt Rambis, who filled in for Jackson, exactly how the coach was holding up. Here was Rambis’ answer.
“It’s hard on all of us,” Rambis said, “and I think the perspective that we take as coaches is that if we’re losing ballgames and our guys are playing hard, they’re playing together, but the other team just plays better or they’re more talented or they’re deeper, whatever, that’s stuff you can handle.
“But right now, we don’t feel like our guys are playing hard and we certainly don’t feel like they’re playing together. With the amount of injuries that we’ve had, there’s just no way our team is going to be able to get around those two aspects.
“They’re going to have to play together. They’re going to have to play hard in order to even challenge other teams, let alone expect to win ballgames. So that’s the frustrating part is that we don’t have the guys right now doing those two things. That’s what I think is more frustrating to him than the fact that we’ve lost these games.”
Although he said everyone from the players and coaches up to owner Jerry Buss is frustrated, Rambis also noted, “We are in a situation where we’re still in the playoffs right now. But we’re going to have to start playing much better now if we expect to do anything.
“We feel like we’re capable of turning things around and we feel like we’re capable of getting back to a level of playing playoff basketball.”
Rambis went on to say that Jackson told his players after that loss that they were still looking at a favorable playoff pairing as long as they reversed course soon. That’s an interesting perspective from the coach who told reporters after the game that “Jesus Christ” couldn’t save the Lakers the way they’re going right now.
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Leave it to Luke Walton to provide the perfect words after watching the Lakers finish the Dallas game with 13 assists and 18 turnovers while making just 2 of 16 3-pointers.
“I think if we get out there and just start passing like earlier, passing just like shooting becomes contagious,” Walton said. “When everyones just gunning shots, that gets contagious. When everyones passing, that becomes contagious. So thats what Im going to try to help the team get back to.
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The portion of practice open to reporters is pretty short, so all we can report from watching Lamar Odom was that he missed about three jump shots but did block a shot on defense and finished a drive with his right hand. He did not appear to be in any discomfort.
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By Ross Siler
EL SEGUNDO–As if the questions about their second six-game losing streak of the season and their 36-point drubbing by Dallas werent enough, the Lakers also have to wonder just what player they will be getting back this week in Lamar Odom.
Odom returned to the practice court Monday – – along with forward Luke Walton – – and is hopeful of playing Thursday at Denver. That would be less than two weeks after suffering a torn labrum that likely will require surgery after the season.
There were positive reviews for both players, whose return undoubtedly will help stabilize a team that has lost 12 of its last 15 games. Whether Odom, though, will be an attacking player or one who is protecting his left shoulder remains to be seen.
“Im going to go out there and play at full throttle, Odom said.
When he is at his aggressive best, Odom is one of the NBAs most dynamic players, capable of using his speed to take a bigger forward off the dribble or using his size to post up a smaller forward inside.
When he is at his passive worst, Odom is largely a jump shooter who takes up residence on the perimeter. Far from putting up triple-double numbers, Odom sometimes goes long stretches without even touching the ball.
Odom was the first player before he injured his right knee in December and the second player after he returned. The Lakers won just six of 17 games with him back; Odom averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists but shot 41.7 percent.
Now the question is which Odom will return for the final 18 games of the season. How Odom goes likely will determine whether the Lakers can make something out of this injury-ravaged season.
Assistant coach Kurt Rambis, who ran Mondays practice while Phil Jackson went to the dentist, acknowledged that Odom would be putting himself in position where he could aggravate his shoulder just by trying to secure a rebound.
“You put that shoulder in a situation where youre reaching back and somebody grabs it, you know its going to hurt, Rambis said. “So its something that hes going to have to continue to fight through and play.
“We hope that like he showed today, that he can play through that and he can block it out and be aggressive and thats what we need from him.
Odom has been vague about the state of his shoulder, although he reported no pain after practice. He would not commit to requiring off-season surgery and said of his first day back: “Im just taking my time. Ill mix it up a little bit more tomorrow.
Rambis said the Lakers forced Odom, who uses his left hand almost exclusively on the floor, to test his shoulder in practice by playing him at a wing spot instead of the backcourt.
“He was in rebounding, he was attacking the basket and he was getting inside, Rambis said. “That let us know that at least at some point in time mentally, that hes ready to go with that and ready to challenge his shoulder.
Walton, meanwhile, remained on track to return against Denver. He said he started feeling weakness in his injured right ankle only at the end of practice, after he had become fatigued from playing in three full-court games.
The Lakers have gone just 6-15 without Walton. Not that Walton expected his return (along with Odoms) to provide any guaranteed relief from the Lakers collective misery. Their last three losses have come by an average of 24 points.
“Its not that simple, Walton said. “Were not playing like a team right now. Just throwing guys back in there is not going to make it happen. Itll help, because I think Lamar and I are both very unselfish players, but weve got to do it as a team.
“We have to all start buying into the offense again, and our defense, were not even playing any defense. Weve got to as a team come together and decide we want to start stopping people.
Rambis also provided some insight as to how Jackson is handling this unending stretch of losing. Jackson had known only two five-game losing streaks as a head coach before this season.
According to Rambis, Jackson told the Lakers after Sundays loss to Dallas that they still were looking at a favorable first-round matchup in the playoffs as long as they could recapture the spirit with which they played earlier this season.
“We dont know if we can beat those teams, but we can certainly challenge all of those teams and make it tough on them in the playoffs in a seven-game series, Rambis said. “So he still has that confidence, he still has the belief in the team and the guys.
Also: The NBA assessed Kobe Bryant a flagrant foul type 1 for an elbow he delivered to the head of Philadelphias Kyle Korver late in the first half of Fridays loss. No foul was called on the play; Bryant was trying to dribble free for a shot.
Bryant and Brian Cook both were excused from Monday’s practice. The Lakers played five on five with 40-something assistant coaches Brian Shaw and Craig Hodges on the floor.