Wednesday report

Since Ross had an early flight to Denver today, I figured I would provide a daily update, especially on a day when I’m sure everyone is interested in the El Segundo Witch Trials.

To the surprise of everyone, except Phil Jackson, Phil Jackson was not fined today (at least not as of 5:30 p.m. Pacific time). In fact, he seemed a bit incredulous that anyone would think he might be fined. Hmmm… saying the NBA has a vendetta and is conducting a witch hunt against Kobe Bryant? Yeah, Phil, hard to see how Commish Stern might have a problem there. But it seems like Phil knows more than we do, because his wallet isn’t any lighter, at least not today.

Here’s a Phil quote that didn’t make the notebook, in regards to why, exactly, there might be a witch hunt against one of the league’s top players: “It starts and then it just feeds on itself. The isolations become more pronounced and people start watching closer and things multiply from there. I just can’t understand. I mean, they want them to play on their (national) team this summer, don’t they? They don’t want to run this guy off.”

Kobe, who ditched reporters the day before, really didn’t want to talk about all this, but he did, although he deflected the topic of a witch hunt. He seemed pleased that Phil stood up for him. Kobe said, “He’s being supportive and coming to my defense. It obviously feels good to know that someone’s in your corner. I just want to focus on basketball. I don’t want to say anything about the league or say anything inflammatory that will cause a distraction.”

A good question was raised…would all this discussion and focus on Kobe’s supposed “dirty play” impact the way he plays? Will he become self-aware about his game and change things? I expected Kobe to be defiant and say “absolutely not,” but he gave an interesting answer. Kobe said, “You think about that a little bit, especially now, because I don’t want to have the image of being a dirty player. That’s ridiculous. You think about that, but not to the point where it effects your game or you’re out there thinking about it.”

The funniest line came from Lamar Odom. Asked if he had read Phil’s comments, Lamar said no. Told about them, he laughed. Asked if he had an opinion, Lamar said, “That’s PJ. I’ve got to be a little more political with my stance. I don’t have nine championships. He has the right to say whatever he wants to say.”

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In non-witch hunt news, Brian Cook is out for Thursday’s game, and don’t be surprised to see both Luke Walton and Lamar Odom in the starting lineup.

I haven’t been around Lamar as much as the beat guys, but he sure didn’t seem very confident to me. Asked how he felt, Odom said, “I can play,” which in the real world translates to, “This might not go well, but I’m going to give it a shot.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but we’ll see how it goes.

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By Rich Hammond
Staff Writer
EL SEGUNDO — The answers, respectively: No, and an emphatic no.
The questions: Would Phil Jackson get fined the day after he accused the NBA of conducting a “witch hunt” against Kobe Bryant? And is Bryant, now caught in a talking-heads debate, a dirty player?
Jackson laughed off the suggestion that the league might fine him and reiterated his stance, made the day before, that the league is unfairly singling out Bryant and has a “vendetta” against the Lakers’ star.
Bryant, meanwhile, expressed gratitude for Jackson’s support but fumed at the suggestion, floated by media pundits, that his elbow-swinging incidents might cause him to be viewed as a dirty player.
“It’s insulting,” Bryant said after Wednesday’s practice. “I don’t need to be a dirty player. If you talk to my teammates, talk to other coaches, talk to other players, they all say the same thing. It’s just something that people want to continue to talk about, no matter how many players say I’m not (dirty).”
Bryant, thrust into the spotlight after a pair of one-game suspensions and one retroactive flagrant foul, declined to discuss Jackson’s “witch hunt” comments but forcefully defended his style of play.
“It’s just ridiculous,” Bryant said. “It’s silly. I have never been a dirty player and never will be. It’s ridiculous. … If somebody wants to criticize me, at least make it something that’s somewhat realistic. Say I shoot too much. You know what I mean? But don’t knock me for something that I’m absolutely not.”
Teammates came to Bryant’s defense as well and described Bryant’s style as competitive but clean.
“He’s not dirty at all,” Luke Walton said. “He’s a very aggressive player and he wants to win at all costs, but he’s not out there trying to injure people. He enjoys contact.”
As for Jackson, he suggested that the league’s focus on Bryant had begun to “feed on itself” and remained firm in his assertion that Bryant is being targeted unfairly.
“I think you can take any player in this game that’s an aggressive basketball player and do an isolation film on him and you can have an amazing amount of aggressive activities,” Jackson said. “I know one of our former players, Karl Malone, delivered a blow every time he shot the ball. It’s ludicrous is what it is.
“It’s a physical game. It’s not a contact sport, per se, but it’s a physical game and there’s a lot of intimidation on the court, so I think that Kobe plays the game within the bounds. There’s a certain way that you play and that’s why it’s called the NBA. It’s `no boys allowed.”’
As for the fine, considered probable after Jackson ripped the league, it never came down Wednesday, and Jackson said he didn’t expect to hear from the league office at all.
“The equation doesn’t even enter my mind,” Jackson said. “Fines are about officiating and directly talking about officials in a personal way that undermines the game. This isn’t about officiating at all.”
Hello, goodbye: Barring any last-minute setbacks, both Walton and Lamar Odom will rejoin the lineup tonight in Denver, and both might be in the starting lineup.
That’s largely because Brian Cook, sidelined with a sprained ankle, did not make the trip to Denver.
Jackson said if he Walton starts, it will be partially out of concern that Walton’s sprained ankle, which has sidelined him since Jan. 26, might tighten up if Walton begins the game on the bench.
Odom’s issue is pain tolerance, not fitness, as Odom will try to play through a torn shoulder labrum.
“It’s as good as it’s going to get,” Odom said. “Some moves are going to hurt but I can’t sit back and watch anymore.”

LAKERS at DENVER
Time: 7:30 p.m., Pepsi Center.
TV/Radio: Ch. 9; TNT; 570-AM, 1330-AM (Spanish).
Lakers (33-31) update: With a loss tonight, the Lakers would fall into a virtual tie with the Nuggets for sixth place in the Western Conference. The Lakers’ starting lineup could have a three-fifths turnover tonight from Sunday’s loss to Dallas. Kwame Brown is expected to replace Andrew Bynum at center and Lamar Odom and Luke Walton, both returning from injuries, could be the starting forwards.
Nuggets (31-31) update: Denver, which is riding a two-game winning streak, is averaging 104.6 points per game, third-most in the Western Conference, but also is allowing 103.8 points per game, third-most in the conference. The Nuggets are 8-1 in their last nine games when scoring at least 100 points.
– Rich Hammond

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