Open mouth, remove wallet

Phil Jackson’s comments about the NBA’s “witch hunt” and “vendetta” against Kobe Bryant proved to be costly to the Lakers. We just got the e-mail Thursday afternoon from the NBA that Jackson was fined $50,000 for his comments and the Lakers were fined another $50,000 as an organization for them.

Jackson was fined $25,000 earlier this season for disparaging the referee crew that worked a loss in Utah. That brings the total of fines Jackson has incurred to $150,000 in two seasons. He was fined $25,000 last season for violating the NBA’s anti-tampering rules by making comments about Toronto’s Chris Bosh.

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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.”

—–

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.

—–

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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Tuesday report

My only question walking out of practice Tuesday was $25,000 or $50,000. Its hard to imagine how Phil Jackson doesnt get fined for painting the picture of a league that has a “vendetta against Kobe Bryant and twice using the term “witch hunt.

Jackson certainly had his feelings on the NBAs decision to assess Bryant a flagrant foul penalty 1 for catching Philadelphias Kyle Korver in the face with an elbow in Fridays game. If you want to play David Stern, here are Jacksons unedited comments:

Q: Were you happy about the league just giving Kobe a flagrant 1?

Jackson: It shouldnt have even been a flagrant 1. Thats crazy. Thats a vendetta. They have a witch hunt going on. Thats nuts. A guys riding somebody. Everybody does that in this league. Its just becoming a witch hunt now.

Q: Do you have any idea why?

Jackson: I think that obviously once something happens like that and a lot of videotape starts floating around and people are making cuts of things that are happening, theres a lot of focus on him.

Q: Have you guys sent in tape to the league of him doing the arm motion on his shot?

Jackson: Not that I know of, unless Mitch (Kupchak) has asked our video guy to do that. Were just collecting things right now.

Q: Is it worrisome when these incidents involving Kobe have been no call, loose ball foul and no call on the court and you end up with two one-game suspensions and a flagrant foul?

Jackson: It is an after the fact type of thing. That is bothersome. They have (the) advantage of looking at videotape. We wish that they would correct some of the mistakes they make in ballgames the same way. Theres a couple games that probably could be swung, won or lost, by some of the calls if theyd correct them after the fact. But you cant do that in the game.

Q: Stu Jackson said after the second suspension that he didnt need to consult with the referees because he could watch the video replay. Do you think they should talk to the actual referees before they do something?

Jackson: Youd think that would happen, just off-hand. Even the details of the (Marko) Jaric foul, from what I understand, Jaric got on his arm before he got to the ball. So the shots coming, he hits his arm. Kobes reacting to his hand. The whole play ensues.

If a referee sees that, he might have called the first foul and not the second. A lot of referees will let a touch of the arm go if a guy pulls his hand back when his shooting motion begins. I mean, thats how our games become.

In those situations, the referee might have said, `Hey, he hit his arm first and Kobe reacted to that first arm touch and tried to draw the foul. But it doesnt look like theyre making that accommodation at all.

* * *

Luke Walton took part in most of practice but removed himself at the end to avoid any setback in returning from his ankle sprain. Walton is 99.99 percent sure hes playing Thursday at Denver but Jackson said his minutes will be limited for now.

What that computes to remains to be seen. The Lakers either played five on five or conducted full-court drills for the better part of two hours. Walton got through most of it, although he concedes that pain sets in when the ankle starts getting fatigued.

Walton also had a pretty good state-of-the-team quote in the wake of a six-game losing streak: “We need some shock therapy or something to get us going again because were dead right now.

Or this when asked about Sundays loss to Dallas: “Its one thing if youre losing, but if youre getting beat by 20 and theyre still out-hustling you, thats not right.

* * *

Jackson made a pretty stunning statement, I thought, about what the Lakers goals are here with barely a month before the playoffs begin. In essence, all the Lakers want to do is stay in the top eight and see what kind of momentum they can generate.

“I basically told them it doesnt really matter about our record, Jackson said. “At this point, were not searching for 55 wins, obviously. Were searching for an opportunity to make the playoffs and get healthy.

I asked Walton whether Jackson has changed his approach or his tone in the wake of the teams second six-game losing streak in a little more than a month. Jackson never had known a skid longer than five games before this season.

“Hes always very calm about it, Walton said. “I think were having a lot more conversations about self-checking ourselves now. Normally he lets us work our way out of it without saying much and then once we do, thats when we talk about it.

“Right now, were kind of talking about it a little more. Hes been very successful, so I dont think hes out there trying to change his ways.

* * *

The Lakers can look on the bright side in one respect: They came into Tuesday with the Western Conferences most favorable schedule the rest of the season.

The Lakers will play three games against teams with a .500 or better record and 15 games against teams with losing records.

They also have 10 home games and eight road games left. Thats a lot friendlier than Denver (8 home, 13 road) and the Clippers (8 home, 12 road). The Nuggets, however, could pull within a game of the Lakers if they beat Portland tonight at home.

The Lakers have three games left against Denver and two games remaining against Memphis, Sacramento, Phoenix, Seattle and the Clippers. If it comes down to it, the Lakers play their final game of the regular season at Sacramento.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–Even as Kobe Bryant was forced to serve two one-game suspensions for striking opposing players in the face, Lakers coach Phil Jackson maintained that he didnt believe the NBA powers-that-be were singling out his star guard.

He wasnt saying the same thing Tuesday, however, after the league office assessed Bryant a flagrant foul penalty 1 for elbowing Philadelphias Kyle Korver in the jaw while trying to dribble free for a shot late in the first half of Fridays game.

In comments sure to reach the desk of Stu Jackson, the NBAs executive vice president in charge of all disciplinary matters, Jackson twice referred to a “witch hunt against Bryant.

“It shouldnt have even been a flagrant 1, Jackson said. “Thats crazy. Thats a vendetta. They have a witch hunt going on. Thats nuts. (Korvers) riding somebody. Everybody does that in this league. Its just becoming a witch hunt now.

An NBA spokesman said the league would review Jacksons comments today. Jackson was fined $25,000 earlier this season for referring to the “dubious referee crew that worked the Lakers Nov. 30 loss at Utah.

Bryant did not talk to reporters Tuesday but the flagrant foul marked the third time this season that the league has used video replay to punish Bryant after the fact. The NBA does have explicit rules regarding contact made above the shoulders.

No foul was called on the play from Fridays game. Korver was keeping step with Bryant on defense when Bryant threw his left elbow backward and caught him in the face.

On the plays for which he was suspended, Bryant was not called for a foul when he struck San Antonios Manu Ginobili in the face. He was called for a loose ball foul on a nearly identical sequence involving Minnesotas Marko Jaric.

“Obviously, once something happens like that, Jackson said, “and a lot of videotape starts floating around and people are making cuts of things that are happening, theres a lot of focus on him.

There are two degrees of flagrant fouls and Bryant was assessed the less severe of the two. Bryants contact was deemed to be “unnecessary as opposed to “unnecessary and excessive and worthy of immediate ejection.

Another ankle: The Lakers couldnt even get through their first full practice with Lamar Odom and Luke Walton back on the court before watching Brian Cook land awkwardly on a fast break drill and suffer a moderate left ankle sprain.

Cook, who has started 24 games this season, will be listed as doubtful for Thursdays game at Denver. The Lakers wont know the extent of his injury until today, Jackson said.

“Its out of control right now, Walton said. “Every time someone starts getting healthy again, someone else goes down. Hopefully, it is just moderate and hell be able to get back soon because weve got to get something going to make a run for the playoffs.

Odom update: Odom tested his injured left shoulder again in practice and could be seen shaking out the pain in his arm at times. As he told reporters, “Im going to be in situations where you might see me grimace or grab it, but its time to play.

There also will be situations when Odom will be forced to use his right hand on the court. He has used his left hand almost exclusively throughout his career.

“Ill try to do more things with two hands on the ball, Odom said. “That way Im a little stronger. I dont want to get on there and get it wrenched. Ill have to use it a little bit, pull it out. Theyve been saying, `Force him right since I was like 10 years old.

Also: Maurice Evans (sore right knee) didnt practice bit is expected to play Thursday. . . . Kwame Brown will start at center against the Nuggets, Jackson said.

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Monday report

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

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.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

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.

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Mavericks 108, Lakers 72

How great would it have been if Dallas and Detroit could have played in the varsity game at Staples Center and the Lakers and Clippers played in the afternoon JV game? There were two championship teams in L.A. on Sunday and neither one calls this city home.

It would have proved more compelling than the 36-point dismantling the Lakers suffered. If you take the second half of Fridays loss to Philadelphia and all of Sundays game, the Lakers have now been outscored 165-107 their last three halves of basketball.

The biggest question, in my opinion, for Phil Jackson is how hes going to pull Smush Parker out of this quagmire. If you think back to last seasons playoffs, Parker dug himself a hole so deep against Phoenix that he never found his way out.

And Jackson admitted after Sundays game that Parker has the starting job by default right now.

“No one came out and played well enough for me to say, `Theres someone else right here to take his job, Jackson said. “There was no one else that did a better job, so I guess not. Smush has been able to hang onto this job because hes done an adequate job and nobody else has been able to replace him.

Im not sure if Jackson quite has an idea of how to get Parker turned around. In his post-game comments, Jackson referenced Parkers play three games ago in the double-OT loss to Minnesota. Maybe theres been some hangover from those four killer missed free throws.

“He played really well in Minnesota, Jackson said. “I thought he had a terrific game . . . He missed some foul shots down the stretch. I told him those foul shots were in and out. Some of it was bad luck and some of it was just the touch on the ball or whatever.

“He made a great play to take the ball away on a steal. There was every reason for him not to be despondent after that game. But the last two games have not been good and tonight was obviously triple that up.

Part of me wonders what would happen if Parker did go to the bench. His attitude is obvious to anybody whos bought a ticket or watched the game on TV . . . and thats after starting 146 straight games. His ejection Sunday was inexcusable with the Lakers desperate for any hope.

* * *

There were some horrific turnovers there in the second quarter as the Mavericks turned the game into a runaway. Start with Ronny Turiaf throwing a pass to Maurice Evans that Jerry Stackhouse was able to take the other way for an easy dunk.

You had Kwame Brown with the ball four feet from the basket . . . and deciding to force the ball even more inside to Evans. Even after the Mavericks missed a shot late in the quarter, Farmar rocketed an outlet pass out of Evans reach for a turnover.

The Mavericks converted nine turnovers by the Lakers into 14 points in the quarter. They should have had a 10th turnover as well because Brown missed three free throws (short, long, airball) with Kobe Bryant out.

* * *

Lamar Odoms return obviously will make a difference to the Lakers but just remember that they won only six of 16 games after he returned from a sprained knee ligament earlier this season.

Odom was in good spirits talking to reporters Sunday – - he said he could do chin-ups and push-ups – - but its hard to imagine him swooping to the basket with his left hand on that torn labrum.

* * *

Sometimes its easy to forget the heart some guys show in just suiting up for games. Turiaf played Sunday even though he had what he described as a “terrible time on the six-hour flight home from Philadelphia.

Turiaf was forced to lie on the floor of the charter plane with his feet on a seat for the final 2 1-2 hours. It was the only way position that brought any comfort for his aching back.

Turiaf scored seven points in 14 minutes before his back flared up. Jackson said it was good just to get him on the floor.

* * *

There was a funny moment in the first quarter when Bryant sized up Devean George with a couple of between the legs dribbles before faking a shot and drawing contact from George. Bryant made both free throws for a 20-13 Lakers lead.

George might laugh last come June. If the Mavericks win a championship, George will join Robert Horry and Shaquille ONeal in winning a ring after leaving the Lakers.

* * *

Dallas improved to 52-9 and needs to win 18 of its final 21 games to join the Jackson-coached 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (72-10) as the only team to win 70 games in a single season.

“The last six weeks are tough, playing all your conference, division rivals, Jackson said before the game. “They have nine losses. If they get through the season with 14 or 15 losses, its an unbelievable season.

* * *

The Lakers were going to hold a practice Monday the likes of which I’ve never before seen. Kobe Bryant and Brian Cook have the day off. Kurt Rambis is going to run practice in place of Jackson. Everybody else is supposed to be there. We’ll see how things go for Odom once he’s on the floor.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

Wasnt it only last season that Kobe Bryant scorched the Dallas Mavericks for 62 points in only three quarters, outscoring the eventual Western Conference champions all by himself in a game the Lakers led by as many as 37 points?

The contrast couldnt have been any greater Sunday night as the Lakers suffered their worst home loss in history against those same Mavericks. All Bryant could do was watch as the clock ticked away and the 108-72 drubbing went in the record books.

Bryant sat at the end of the bench, talking with injured forward Lamar Odom, and there was a glimmer of hope in that. Odom was cleared to practice today with his torn labrum and guaranteed that he would play Thursday at Denver.

Not that Lakers coach Phil Jackson was about to claim that Odoms return – - as well as that of Luke Walton – - would be enough to stabilize the Lakers, who suffered their sixth consecutive loss, the last three by an average of 24 points.

“The way theyre playing now, it doesnt matter who comes back, Jackson said. “Jesus Christ could come back and we still wouldnt have a chance because weve ruined the mix by not playing together, not doing the right thing.

The 36-point loss was the Lakers worst at home since they moved to Los Angeles and matched the sixth-worst loss in franchise history. The Lakers worst loss ever came in 129-83 blowout at Portland in January 1995.

They were saved from matching the lowest-scoring game in their history only by Jordan Farmars jumper with 6.9 seconds left. The Lakers scored just 70 points in a 19-point loss at Cleveland in November 2002.

It also was the seventh loss in the last eight home games for the Lakers and the second-worst loss in Jacksons coaching career. His Chicago Bulls lost by 37 points at Madison Square Garden in November 1992.

“We were embarrassed today, Jackson said. “That was an embarrassing loss for us. Theres no excuse for the way we played. I dont care if its the first day of Daylight Savings Time. Its still not a good enough excuse.

It was the predictable result from a game that matched the NBAs unstoppable force – - the Mavericks won their 17th consecutive game and improved to 52-9 – - and the sinking ship that is the Lakers, who lost for the 12th time in 15 games.

Bryant made just 4 of 16 shots in the first half and finished the game with 25 points. Kwame Brown was the only other Laker to finish in double figures with 10 points. The Mavericks were led by Josh Howards 24 points and Dirk Nowitzkis 19.

“I told Kobe at halftime that I thought he was trying to take it all on himself, Jackson said, “and in the process he didnt give the other guys a chance to get started and get things going. He felt the urgency in that regard.

After Jackson referenced the “unbelievable energy that brings together teams like the Mavericks, the coach could only watch as guard Smush Parker was ejected in the second quarter after his second technical foul.

Just like last seasons playoffs, Parker has fallen into a black hole. He was benched by Jackson at the end of last Sundays loss to Phoenix and missed four free throws at the end of regulation and overtime in Tuesdays loss to Minnesota.

That paled in comparison to what happened against the Mavericks. Parker was called for two fouls in the first 3:53 and then was assessed a technical foul by referee Eddie F. Rush as he complained from the bench.

Parker returned to start the second quarter and tried to throw a 1-foot bounce pass to Ronny Turiaf that was stolen. It led to a clear path foul and five-point swing for Dallas on two Howard free throws and a Jerry Stackhouse 3-pointer.

Barely a minute later, Parker was gone. He lost the ball on a drive and drew a technical for protesting that he was fouled. Thus Parker was tossed at 9:28 of the second quarter, joining Odom as the only Laker to be ejected this season.

Jackson said Parker thought he had not been called for the first technical, though the coach was skeptical of the claim, saying, “I find that hard to believe. What did Jackson say to him afterward? “There was nothing to say, he said.

The Lakers hold on sixth place in the Western Conference is down to a tenuous 1 1-2 games after Denvers victory Sunday over Sacramento. They still have a four-game cushion when it comes to falling out of playoff position altogether.

Not that the Lakers (33-31) can feel even remotely comfortable: The Nuggets could pull even in the standings this week if they can win at home against Portland on Tuesday and the Lakers on Thursday.

The Lakers were outscored 31-11 in the second quarter, made just 3 of 15 shots and committed nine turnovers. Dallas closed the half on a 13-0 run, capped by Austin Crosheres 3-pointer for a 59-35 lead.

“This team that we played against tonight is a great team, Bryant said. “Theyre playing with a lot of momentum. We caught them at a bad time. They caught us at a good time.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

What once looked like a potentially season-ending shoulder injury will wind up keeping Lamar Odom out for less than two weeks, a critical development for the Lakers as they attempt to regroup with 18 games left in the regular season.

Odom saw team doctor Steve Lombardo before Sundays game and was cleared to practice. It was feared that Odom would need surgery to repair the torn labrum he suffered in a March 2 game against Sacramento.

“The strength is good, so the strength will protect the shoulder, Odom said. “I regained strength really quick, so the rehabs going well right now, and Im looking forward to getting on the court.

“I will play on Thursday (against Denver), Odom added. “No doubt about it.

The Lakers are 0-5 since Odoms injury. He saw specialist Lewis Yocum last week, at which time the Lakers said Odom would defer a decision on surgery for two to three weeks to see whether he would be able to strengthen his shoulder enough to play.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson conceded that Odom, who needed surgery to repair a similar injury at the end of the 2004-05 season, would be limited in some ways once he returns. Odom still hadnt done any shooting yet, to the best of Jacksons knowledge.

“I think hed have to understand what he can do and what he cant do, Jackson said. “Theres some things, maybe going to the basket and dunking the ball, that right off the bat is something hes going to have to watch because that extension is the problem.

Injury report: Jackson said Luke Walton reported no pain and increased mobility in his ankle and was hopeful of returning Thursday. Walton was in uniform for Sundays game but did not play.

The coach also has given Vladimir Radmanovic (separated shoulder) the nickname of “Count Dracula as he watches practice from the sidelines. Radmanovic was injured in a snowboarding incident for which he was fined $500,000.

He is not expected to play until sometime in April but Jackson did say, “Hopefully, hell get back in time to play a couple games.

Center of attention: A combination of factors led to teenage center Andrew Bynum staying in the starting lineup and Kwame Brown coming off the bench Sunday. The first came with Brown showing up late to Sundays shootaround.

Brown celebrated his 25th birthday Saturday – - there were no cake-throwing incidents – - but didnt make any excuses to Jackson.

Jackson also said he “liked (Bynums) attitude after Fridays loss to Philadelphia. Bynum had another lackluster game, making just 1 of 4 shots and scoring two points, in what Jackson considered a favorable matchup against the Mavericks.

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Sixers 108, Lakers 92

There was a great story waiting to be written Friday about Kobe Bryant visiting Lower Merion High in the afternoon and finding the inspiration in the place where his career was launched to score 50 points and lead the Lakers to victory over the 76ers.

I guess it wasnt meant to be. Bryant made just 3 of 14 shots in the second half, the Lakers dropped their fifth consecutive game (remember when they went 12-9 without Lamar Odom earlier this season?) and the trip back to Lower Merion gets overshadowed.

That shouldn’t take anything away from what Bryant did. For starters, he spent two hours – - that’s more than just making an appearance – - at his old school and got around to a bunch of places, which was remarkable given the crush of students that followed him everywhere.

He did a 15-minute question and answer session with the boys and girls from all levels of Lower Merions basketball program. Bryant, in fact, has done everything from outfit the teams in Nike gear to offer a pep-talk (via Internet video) before a big game this season.

When he was back in Philadelphia this summer, Bryant put on a clinic that several of the schools varsity players attended. To say Bryant got to know them might be an understatement.

His last stop at Lower Merion was to huddle with the varsity boys in advance of Saturdays state playoff game. Bryant walked into the cramped locker room and asked one of the players: “Are you using that in-and-out move I gave you?

How cool is that for a teenage kid? Here’s a little of the background story:

“That clinic this summer, he spent a full day just sweating and working with the kids, said Doug Young, who was one of Bryants former teammates and now works at the school and is an assistant coach. “They gained a lot and he got to know them.

“So when he calls and asks about the team, its `Hows this guy doing? Is he going hard to the rack? Is he finishing his lay-ups? Is he working on his 3-ball? All that is really important to him. He wants to see these guys develop.

Young made the point that Bryant has no alma mater other than Lower Merion because he made the jump to the NBA straight out of high school. He told the players: “I always keep track of how were doing. Always. When we have a bad season, it upsets me.

The Q-and-A was particularly insightful. Bryant was asked which of his teammates was the hardest worker (Sasha Vujacic), which player was the toughest for him to guard (Clyde Drexler and Michael Jordan) and which player is the best at defending him (Bruce Bowen).

He also talked a little trash upon learning that the ninth-grade team had gone undefeated this season. “I heard if the ninth-grade team played the varsity team, Bryant said, “the ninth-grade team would win.

Bryant was asked if he ever would have wanted to play for the Sixers and didnt hesitate in answering “Absolutely.

“They drafted (Allen Iverson) instead of me in 96, Bryant added. “Theres nothing I could do. Obviously, Im locked into L.A. for many, many years. Ive been in the league for 11 years now; I dont see myself playing that much longer. But it would have been great to play here.

He was asked about the good and bad parts of being a celebrity.

“The bad thing just off the top is that everybody thinks that your life is an open book – - like they have rights to you, Bryant said.

At the same time, Bryant talked about the platform he has and his work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Boys and Girls Clubs. “By you speaking out about those particular causes, it enhances their cause,” Bryant said. “So theres a lot of positive things you can do.

There was a question about being a leader and what is required of him in that role.

“Its about trying to get the best out of (my teammates), Bryant said. “I kind of had to go back to what my role was here in high school. Im trying to do the same thing: I was trying to lead this team to a state championship.

“The essentials of being a leader in a team sport, they dont change. The faces do. Its just about trying to get the best out of them and keep them moving in the right direction.

Bryant was asked about the All-Star Game and what it has become. He said he talked on the Saturday before last months game with Celtics great Bill Russell, who told him there were three fights at one All-Star Game during his playing days.

“They were getting after it, Bryant said, “and Id like to see us kind of get back to that.

Young said he thought the visit was actually well-timed in the wake of Bryants suspension.

“With something like what happened the other night, regardless of whether its right or wrong, hes capable of moving forward, Young said. “I think thats a good message to send to kids, especially a young group like we have.

“Were going into the state playoffs. Theyre going through a lot of these things for the first time. If things dont happen for you, just move forward.

* * *

What was it like to be Bryants teacher? He took the time to visit with Jeanne Mastriano, who teaches English and speaking arts at the school. She told one story about taking a field trip to attend a play and watching as strangers kept coming up to Bryant.

“It would take me by surprise because Id look at him as my student who happens to like basketball, Mastriano said. “Even now, it kind of takes me still by surprise because hes a human being who loves basketball. I was always startled by it.

* * *

There was a big story in the Philadelphia Daily News about Bryant’s relationship with the city’s fans, who have booed him ever since his “cut their hearts out” quote in the 2001 NBA Finals. Yet Bryant heard more cheers than boos during player introductions Friday.

His high school coach, Gregg Downer, said at Friday’s event: “I do know if he played for the Sixers, hed be worshipped. This is a blue-collar town and people would quickly understand his work ethic and his love of winning.

* * *

One thought from Friday’s game…

Shammond Williams had a great second quarter off the bench and was one of the few players who delivered when the Sixers doubled Bryant. Williams hit his first 3-pointer that way and went on to knock down two more 3s in the quarter and score 11 points.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson noted afterward that Smush Parker “has trouble resetting himself when he doesnt get going. But I doubt Jackson will give much consideration to starting Williams instead of Parker because he worries about the matchup against bigger guards.

* * *

By Ross Siler [ep
Staff Writer [ep

PHILADELPHIA–The traffic was so snarled for the bus ride to Wachovia Center for Fridays game that Phil Jackson jokingly claimed it must have been a product of the flower show at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Then came the second half of the Lakers 108-92 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, when Jacksons team gave up a 20-3 run out of the locker room and left the coach to continue with the horticultural theme for the night.

“It was a wilting, Jackson said.

All that was left was for the Lakers to pack up and head home from an 0-4 road trip. They dropped their fifth consecutive game, 11th out of the last 14, and have to wonder if theyll be able to stay in playoff position these final 19 games.

Kobe Bryant returned from his one-game NBA suspension and finished with 30 points but made just 3 of 14 shots in face of double-teams all second half. It was just one factor in an avalanche that saw the Lakers lose the second half 57-35.

“Thats called them going in and making some adjustments and us going and out doing the same thing we did in the first half, Kwame Brown said. “They put that `Kobe-dar on like every team is going to do and nobody else stepped up and made a play.

Bryant said: “Our execution just fails us because we dont have the guys out there that know the intricacies of the offense.

The Sixers won their sixth consecutive game while the Lakers remained winless since Lamar Odom was lost to a torn labrum. Jackson spent the third quarter trying to find any combination that worked and contemplated lineup changes afterward.

Foremost in his mind was 19-year-old center Andrew Bynum, who has started the last 32 games since Brown went down with a sprained ankle Dec. 31. Bynum missed all four shots he took, committed four turnovers and was called for five fouls in 33 minutes.

Jackson said Bynum “didnt get anything accomplished out there tonight, and later added, “He needs to get off the front line and get out of that enemy fire for a while.

The question is if Brown is ready to play heavy minutes only five games after returning from the ankle injury. Brown finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds against the Sixers and said afterward, “Whatever (Jackson) decides, Ill be ready.

The Sixers trailed 57-51 at halftime but started the third quarter on a 12-3 run that saw Brian Cook pick up his fourth and fifth fouls in two minutes. Jackson had seen enough when he called timeout with 8:25 left after Philadelphia scored eight consecutive points.

He sent Shammond Williams and Aaron McKie to replace Smush Parker and Bynum. With only 10 available players due to injury, the Lakers were left at times with McKie playing 7-foot Steven Hunter on defense.

Andre Iguodala, the Sixers third-year guard, finished with a game-high 31 points and punctuated the third-quarter run by burying a 3-pointer while drawing contact from Bryant. He completed the four-point play and scored 14 points in the quarter.

Bryant, meanwhile, spent two hours in the afternoon at his old stomping grounds of Lower Merion High in suburban Ardmore, where he visited with coaches and teachers and talked to the boys basketball team on the eve of the state playoffs.

He also took part in a question-and-answer session with players from all levels of the basketball program. Asked about his suspension for striking Marko Jaric in the face, Bryant said, “Theres too many NBA cameras in this room to say anything.

Bryant returned with a furious first half, in which he scored 21 points and made 9 of 13 shots, including a stunning three-point play in which he spun away from Iguodala, cut back on Hunter and scored while drawing a foul from Joe Smith.

The Lakers arrived at the arena barely an hour before tipoff because of the Friday traffic. They didnt show up at all in the second half, though, losing the third quarter 32-18 and trailing by 16 points with seven minutes remaining.

Cook fouled out in barely 90 seconds in the fourth, depriving the Lakers of both a big man and a shooter to help Bryant. Philadelphia made twice as many free throws (29 of 37) as the Lakers shot (11 of 14) for the game.

We didnt play smart enough, Jackson said. “I think some of the guys felt we didnt play hard enough; I thought we just didnt play smart enough.

The only good news for the Lakers was that Denver lost to Detroit, leaving them with a 2 1-2-game lead for sixth in the Western Conference standings. They also could take comfort in returning home . . . to play a Dallas team that has won 16 games in a row.

With Sundays loss, the Lakers became the first Jackson-coached team ever to suffer two five-game losing streaks in one season.

“You cant feel that pressure about winning or when youre going to win or how youre going to win, Jackson said. “You just go play (the games) and play hard.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA–Every time the Lakers are in town to play the Philadelphia 76ers, Kobe Bryant makes a point of stopping by his old school. Theres something about the smell of the gym at Lower Merion High that just brings back memories for him.

After serving a one-game NBA suspension this week for striking Minnesotas Marko Jaric in the face, Bryant paid a visit to the school on Friday and said taking a trip back in time for two hours might have been the best thing for him.

“I remember coming into this gym at 5 oclock in the morning and working on my skills before class, said Bryant, who was originally given the No. 24 as a freshman by coach Gregg Downer.

He took part in a question-and-answer session with players from all levels of the boys and girls basketball programs. One was about his favorite cheesesteak (Larrys) but another touched on his rebuilt relationship with Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

“I think a lot of it is team dynamics, Bryant said. “Now we have younger players, Im the veteran on the team. Its my 11th year. For a lot of guys on the team, its their second or third year in the league. So he and I have to rely on one another to make sure the message is the same.

Pippen update: The Lakers explored petitioning the NBA for a roster exception involving injured players that would have enabled them to audition free agent Scottie Pippen on a 10-day contract before deciding such a move didnt make sense.

Although the Lakers have a full 15-man roster, Jackson outlined a special case in which the NBA would allow the Lakers to add a 16th player provided that they declared four of their injured players out for at least 14 days.

The Lakers have three players who fit the bill in Chris Mihm, Vladimir Radmanovic and Lamar Odom. When it comes to a fourth player, however, Jackson is hopeful that Luke Walton can return from a sprained ankle next week.

The Lakers could release Mihm, who is out for the season after undergoing ankle surgery, and sign the 41-year-old Pippen. The benefit of keeping Mihm comes in retaining his free-agent rights for this summer.

“We have to assess what has to happen, Jackson said. “Our priority is just to get this team back and righted and getting some winning games again and get back in the playoff hunt. If thats our chance and we have to do something, well have to do something.

As for the Lakers fifth injured player, forward Ronny Turiaf said he was hopeful he could overcome back spasms and play Sunday against Dallas.

“I can actually walk now as opposed to walking like a grandma, Turiaf said.

Also: Bryant couldnt quite keep his elbows to himself in Fridays game, catching Kyle Korver in the face as he tried to dribble into space for a last-second shot in the first half. No foul was called on the play.

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Bucks 110, Lakers 90

What I told people after the NBA suspended Kobe Bryant from the Jan. 30 game in New York was that the play in which Bryant struck Manu Ginobili in the head might as well have been a Rorschach test for what people think of Bryant himself.

If youre a Kobe fan, you saw the league office overreacting to a sequence of events that unfolded so fast in real time that the referees missed it. If youre a Kobe hater, you saw a dirty player going head-hunting after having his shot blocked.

The same thing applies to the play at the end of regulation in Tuesdays game that led to Bryants one-game suspension and the Lakers loss to Milwaukee. One thing I think is important to realize is how different things look live in person instead of ESPN.

Maurice Evans talked about this after the game; Ill include his quote below. I just cant get past the fact that the play seemed insignificant watching it with my own eyes at Target Center. Marko Jaric picked himself up and stayed in the game. End of story, right?

The Ginobili play occurred at the end of a nationally televised ABC game and left the Spurs without one of their star players for the start of overtime. Jaric was hurt so badly he was able to block Kwame Browns shot in the final seconds of regulation.

Thats right, Jaric blocked the shot of one of the NBAs biggest and strongest players only seconds after getting hit in the face by Bryant.

Its just amazing to me how if you watch a replay a dozen times, it can change the way you view an entire event. If you go frame by frame, everything of course looks different.

“I was actually on the floor when it took place and I didnt realize the severity of it until I went back and saw it on ESPN, Evans said, “and I saw them replay the Ginobili incident and there were a lot of similarities.

“So I knew once his nose was kind of bleeding and all that, that most likely it would take place, the suspension.

(As an aside, the NBA office had better be making sure that Ron Artest is at the top of their priority list right now as opposed to Bryants flailing arms. Theres no doubt in my mind which is a bigger black eye for the league.)

Its also worth noting that Jaric apparently didnt think a suspension was warranted. He said as much to ESPN.com. I assume Jaric was interviewed by the NBA security office and told them the same thing.

“I don’t think he did it intentionally, and I don’t think players should be suspended for things that happen unintentionally,” Jaric said. “I think he was trying to draw a foul, and he swung his hand out to make it look dramatic, and he hit me by accident. He apologized right after.”

You also have to wonder if the NBA realizes what its doing when it suspends Bryant for his one game in New York or Milwaukee all season. There was so little energy in the arena for Tuesdays game that it might as well have been played in a library or morgue.

* * *

We present Wednesdays game as Exhibit A in explaining how Andrew Bynum struggles in back-to-back games. Bynum missed his first three shots and never got going against the Bucks. It would have been fun to see Bynum match Andrew Bogut basket for basket.

* * *

Sasha Vujacic (6 points, 2 of 7 shooting) got the start against Milwaukee and was out of control in the first quarter. He managed to make a steal on the defensive end and then dribble out of bounds on the same play for a turnover.

Vujacic also might have taken one of the most inexplicable shots of the Lakers season. He launched a 3-pointer with seven seconds left in the third quarter when the Lakers were supposed to be holding for the last shot. Not a smart play.

* * *

Something I’d never seen before: With 3:26 left, Phil Jackson sent Jordan Farmar, Maurice Evans and Bynum back into the game. Of course, he only had four players on his bench. That left Shammond Williams sitting alone in a sea of empty seats. I think I counted six empty seats between Williams and the nearest assistant coach.

* * *

Funny moment with 2:24 left in the fourth quarter of a blowout game. You’ve probably read or heard about how Phil Jackson last month changed how he operates during timeouts. Instead of standing in the huddle, he now sits in a chair and faces his players on the bench.

Its the job of somebody to get that chair there, as well as to place the special cushion (the approximate size of a New York City phonebook) that Jackson sits on. Chip Schaefer and Alex McKechnie, two members of the training staff, have split the duties so far.

Jackson went so far as to joke to an ABC reporter before Sundays game in Phoenix that Schaefer was getting stronger when it comes to handling the chair.

When McKechnie fumbled the cushion to the floor during the timeout, Schaefer could been seen laughing and motioning with his arms the same way a football referee does when a pass is bobbled. Like all things, the Lakers remain a work in progress.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

MILWAUKEE–As soon as he saw Kobe Bryants arm meet Marko Jarics head late in the fourth quarter of Tuesdays loss to Minnesota, Lakers coach Phil Jackson had a feeling Bryant would be getting another call from the league office.

“In this league, everybodys got a pretty face, Jackson said, “and theyre trying to keep it that way.

Those fears were confirmed Wednesday when the NBA followed the precedent it set in suspending Bryant for one game at the end of January after he struck San Antonios Manu Ginobili in the head on a nearly identical late-game play.

The league suspended Bryant for Wednesday nights game against the Milwaukee Bucks, leaving the Lakers with only nine available players – - six of them guards – - after forward Ronny Turiaf was unable to play due to back spasms.

What followed was a punchless 110-90 loss to Milwaukee in which the Lakers trailed from start to finish. The Bucks shot 59.5 percent as a team with Charlie Villanueva (26 points) and Andrew Bogut (22 points) each making 10 of 12 shots.

The Lakers lost their fourth consecutive game, dropping to 0-3 on this road trip, and must win Friday at Philadelphia to avoid becoming the first Jackson-coached team ever to suffer two five-game losing streaks in the same season.

Only 2 1-2 weeks ago, Bryants personal comeback was the story of the NBAs All-Star weekend. He was selected as the games MVP and judged the dunk contest alongside Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and Julius Erving.

Now Bryant is viewed as a repeat offender in the eyes of the league office. He was suspended from the Lakers Jan. 30 loss to New York for the play involving Ginobili and watched Wednesdays game from the team hotel.

Jackson said Bryant was trying to draw a foul on the play by flailing his arm. Bryant, who was not available for comment, lost more than $161,000 in pay from the suspension.

For the second time this season, Stu Jackson, the NBAs executive vice president of basketball operations, had to explain the decision to suspend Bryant. Jackson was specifically asked about the perception that the league was singling out Bryant.

“My response to that, Jackson said in a teleconference, “would be that Ive not seen this type of contact exhibited by a player whereby the player takes a shot, follows through and then drives an arm backward into a defenders body making contact above the shoulders. I have not.

Stu Jackson said he was “very surprised to see a second, nearly identical, incident involving Bryant. He added that he considered suspending Bryant for multiple games and put Bryant on notice that a third offense would be dealt with more harshly.

“In cases where weve had multiple offenses, at some point the player becomes a recidivist, Jackson said, “and certainly, if this occurs again, most likely there would be multiple games.

The play in question happened with 58.7 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of a double-overtime loss to Minnesota. Bryant pulled up for a jumper and Jaric got a hand on the ball to block the shot. The same thing happened with Ginobili as well.

Bryant then swung his right arm and connected with Jaric in the face. He was called for a loose ball foul on the play; Jaric stayed in the game and went on to make a key block of Kwame Brown with 8.4 seconds left in regulation.

“I think Im going to have to put about 50 clips (together) of Kobe shooting his shot with his arms going out like that, Phil Jackson said. “ Its not an unnatural basketball motion for him.

Stu Jackson described the play involving Bryant as having two separate motions. The first came as he followed through on his shot. The second came as he cleared out the Timbwerolves guard with a “hard arm driven backward into Jarics head.

“That movement is not an acceptable movement, Jackson said.

Although the Lakers were furious with the leagues decision, Phil Jacksons pregame comments were tinged with resignation.

“We saw it happen and said, `Thats awful similar to what happened in L.A. versus San Antonio right off the bat, Jackson said.

He later credited the league for one thing: “If theyre going to make a call, even if theyre wrong, theyll still be consistent.

Stu Jackson admitted that he didnt talk to Bryant about the incident, leaving that task for an NBA security official. Asked if he had a problem with that, Phil Jackson said: “They never talk individually to people. They send their henchmen out to do their dirty work.

The coach said he tried to find the positive in the suspension for Bryant, who played 53 minutes in the double-overtime game. With a night of rest, Bryant might be better served for upcoming games against Philadelphia and Dallas.

“Itll come out at the other end somewhere, and thats what he has to look at, Jackson said.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

MILWAUKEE–The Lakers could have blamed Kobe Bryants one-game suspension, the 58 minutes of basketball they played the night before or the injuries that left them with a team that could have squeezed into a mini-van for the ride to Bradley Center.

They refused to make any of those excuses, however, after a 110-90 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks that coach Phil Jackson described as “embarrassing. It was the 10th loss in 13 games for the Lakers, who had only nine players available for the game.

“Its just disappointing that we didnt give the type of effort that we needed to compete in this basketball game for 48 minutes, forward Maurice Evans said.

The Bucks led from start to finish and shot 59.5 percent even as guard Michael Redd – - who scored 45 points in a November victory over the Lakers at Staples Center – - made just 3 of 11 shots and finished with only 10 points.

With one game left on this road trip, the Lakers also must consider that they face an uphill climb just to match last seasons 45-37 record. They would need to win 12 of their final 20 games to reach what seemed like a modest goal entering this season.

“All the teams are jockeying for position right now, Evans said, “and we have to figure out what our identity is going to be and what we want to accomplish out of this season.

“You just dont go on a 10 out of 13 slid with little or no resistance. Its frustrating. We started off too good and we showed too much potential at home to give it up like this.

With Ronny Turiaf out with back spasms, the Lakers were left with six guards and three big men for Wednesdays game. Jackson opted to start Sasha Vujacic in a lineup with Smush Parker, Brian Cook, Andrew Bynum and Evans.

Jackson tried various combinations, playing a zone defense at times, pairing Bynum and Kwame Brown in a lineup and starting the second half with rookie Jordan Farmar on the floor after not playing Farmar in the first half.

“It looked like we only had one half in us, Jackson said, adding about his four-man bench, “I was just looking down there for help and there was nothing there.

The Lakers “collapsed, as Jackson put it, in the third quarter, turning what had been a four-point game into an 18-point runaway. Charlie Villanueva hit six 3-pointers on the way to 26 points, Andrew Bogut added 22 points and Charlie Bell had 20 points.

With Bryant, Lamar Odom and Luke Walton all out of the lineup, the Lakers were missing three of their four double-figure scorers, who average more than 57 points between them. Evans led the Lakers with 22 points while Cook added 20.

“Certainly, when a guy like Kobes not going to be on the court, either subconsciously or consciously, its going to have an effect, Milwaukee coach Terry Stotts said.

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Timberwolves 117, Lakers 107

For everyone who has waited two seasons to see just how Andrew Bynum and Kwame Brown would play in the same lineup, the moment arrived at the end of the first half. It was over after just 3:37 but might have been a glimpse into the future.

After navigating the first half with Brown and Bynum each picking up two fouls, Lakers coach Phil Jackson opted to bring Brown in for Brian Cook with Kevin Garnett returning to finish the half.

Brown matched up against Garnett while Bynum guarded Mark Blount. There were only two plays of real significance during that time, the first coming as Kobe Bryant drove and flipped a behind-the-back pass to Bynum for a dunk.

The light-hearted moment of the game came a little later. Bryant stripped Ricky Davis and found himself alone of the fast break with Brown, far from the most sure-handed player in the NBA.

Bryant kept the ball even as Brown ran alongside, taking it in for a dunk. Jackson opted to start the second half with Cook and Bynum as his big men; Brown and Bynum got on the court together only for rebounding purposes in the first overtime.

Bynum didnt help himself by picking up his third and fourth fouls in not even four minutes to start the second half. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds while Brown struggled to finish around the basket, making just 1 of 5 shots, and was blocked by guard Marko Jaric on a key play late in regulation.

With Ronny Turiafs back spasms costing the Lakers another big body, Jackson might be forced to play Bynum and Brown together out of necessity. The Lakers are down to Bynum, Cook and Brown. You start the first two and bring Brown off the bench. I guess Maurice Evans is your emergency power forward in this situation.

It’s worth noting that Vladimir Radmanovic’s snowboarding accident grows more costly as Odom and Turiaf go down. Even with the fine, Radmanovic is still making more than $27,000 for each game he misses. Not bad work if you can get it.

* * *

Jackson is going to have to walk the fine line between giving the Lakers the chance to win games and not running down Bryant with an eye toward the playoffs. In the second game without Lamar Odom, Bryant played 53:27 of a possible 58:00.

Bryant sat for all of 66 seconds in the first three quarters. He went to the bench to start the fourth and the Lakers were outscored 10-2 without him. So Bryant returned and played the final 18:33. Keep in mind this was the first game of a back-to-back set.

If youre keeping score at home, Bryant is now averaging 49:09 in playing time since Odom went down. Unless the Lakers play three overtimes Wednesday at Milwaukee, that numbers going to be coming down.

* * *

Jackson had framed Smush Parkers foul-shooting problems earlier this season as being more about his fundamentals than anything in his head. He changed his tune slightly after Tuesdays game.

“Its both, Jackson said. “Smush is a guy who makes foul shots in practice and in the game has some difficulties.

* * *

It was amazing to see just how empty the upper deck was at Target Center. The Lakers are the biggest draw in the NBA, leading the league in road attendance, and yet the Timberwolves announced a crowd of just 15,197.

You have to wonder just where the Wolves would be attendance wise if Garnett left. Its hard to imagine a crowd smaller than Tuesdays for a Lakers game. Kobe Bryant, after all, only makes two trips here a season.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS–No two players in todays NBA have worn the jersey of the same team longer than Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, who might as well have been kindred spirits Tuesday night at Target Center.

It is the duty of Bryant and Garnett to find a way to overcome the shortcomings of their respective teams from game to game, a job description neither superstar probably ever envisioned for the second half of their careers.

When the final horn sounded on a marathon game, Garnett and the direction-less Minnesota Timberwolves had a 117-107 double-overtime triumph over Bryant and injury-ravaged Lakers, who dropped to 0-2 on this four-game road trip.

All Lakers coach Phil Jackson asked with Lamar Odom and Luke Walton out was for his players to give themselves a chance to win. But the Lakers couldnt close out the game or outlast a Minnesota team that lost in two overtimes Sunday to Boston.

The Wolves led exactly once in regulation and once in the first overtime yet wound up winning for only the second time in eight games since the All-Star break, improving to 7-13 since Randy Wittman replaced Dwane Casey as coach.

Bryant finished with 40 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in 53 minutes but the Lakers could point to Smush Parkers four missed free throws at the end of regulation and the first overtime as the reason they lost.

“Its frustrating because its the little things that beat you, Bryant said. “Youve got to step to the line and knock down the free throws, make sure you dont give guys open looks at the basket and things of that nature.

“Its just the little things that weve got to figure out how to close games out with. That being said, we played a good game. All the way up until the end, we played a good game. We did the things defensively we wanted to do. We just didnt close it out.

Although he didnt mention Parker by name, Jackson was blunt in saying, “The reality is we missed free throws at the end of regulation and overtime that cost us the game.

The Lakers also lost forward/center Ronny Turiaf to back spasms in the second quarter. Turiaf did not return and is listed as day-to-day for tonights game at Milwaukee, possibly leaving the Lakers with only 10 available players.

Parker, who got off to a blazing start in scoring 11 first-quarter points, wilted at the end of the night. He was in position to be the hero for the Lakers when he stole Marko Jarics inbounds pass with 5.7 seconds left in regulation.

But Parker missed the first of two free throws, leaving an opening for the Wolves to send the game to overtime when Ricky Davis drove and was fouled by Kwame Brown. Davis sank both free throws to tie the score at 98-98.

Parker, who finished with 24 points, has been the Lakers second-worst free-throw shooter (62.8 percent) aside from Brown this season. All he could say after the game was “Needs work.

“I was confident, Parker added. “I want to step to that line. I want the ball down the stretch to get fouled. Ive just got to knock them down when I get there. . . . I strive to be better. If I was a 90 percent free-throw shooter, Id want to be 100 percent.

The Lakers also were unable to get the ball to Bryant at the end of either regulation or the first overtime for a final shot. Jackson had Sasha Vujacic inbound the ball the first time, Aaron McKie the second, and lamented not having Odom or Walton in that situation.

In addition, the Lakers committed three 24-second violations in overtime against Minnesotas zone defense and gave up two critical putbacks. The first was to Davis with 3.3 seconds left in the first overtime as he followed up Garnetts miss.

The second was to Randy Foye and put Minnesota ahead 111-107 in the second overtime. Davis finished with 33 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and played 56 minutes while Garnett totaled 26 points and 17 rebounds in 51 minutes.

The Wolves rallied from six points down in the last 2 1-2 minutes of regulation as unheralded Mark Blount connected on three 3-pointers. They also got the defensive stop they needed with 7.9 seconds left when Jaric blocked Brown inside.

There will be no sure victories for the Lakers on this trip, even with games against sub-.500 Minnesota, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. That fact was all too apparent as they twice gave back a 13-point lead as well as a nine-point lead in Tuesdays game.

It was instructive just what happened when Bryant and Garnett went to the bench in the game. The Wolves gave up a 12-0 run and fell behind by 13 after Garnett checked out in the second quarter.

The Lakers werent much better without Bryant at the start of the fourth. They gave back what had been a seven-point lead entering the quarter, were outscored 10-2 and trailed 81-80 when Bryant returned for the final 8:33.

Bryant scored the Lakers first eight points out of halftime and finished with 17 points in the third quarter. He also hit what could have been the games biggest shot, a 3-pointer with 43.8 seconds left in the first overtime. It wasnt meant to be.

“I think we were despondent in that situation, Jackson said. “In both regulation and the first overtime, we had the lead and lost the game or lost the chance to win the game. I was trying to rally them and keep their spirits up. It was tough.

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Suns 99, Lakers 94

With the Lakers on their last long road trip of the season, Phil Jackson reached his last chance to hand out books to his players. He said he has delivered a couple of books so far, has a couple of books with him and still has to buy a couple of additional books.

My informal survey of two players before Sundays game found that Ronny Turiaf has received his book and Andrew Bynum has not. Im most interested in learning what book Jackson selected for Vladimir Radmanovic but hes not on the trip.

Turiaf couldnt remember the exact title but said it was similar to the movie “Life is Beautiful and was a tale about the Germans and the French in World War II. He was about 55 pages into the book and thought it was a good choice for him.

“Personally, it makes me feel like part of the family, said Turiaf, who grew up in Martinique and played the equivalent of high school basketball in France. “He sees us as basketball players but he tries to learn where were from, what our backgrounds are.

* * *

This is going to pain a lot of Lakers fans, but Raja Bell showed why hes one of the most undervalued NBA players Sunday. Not only did Bell defend Kobe Bryant all game, with an assist from Shawn Marion, but he was a difference-maker with his shooting as well.

Bell buried three 3-pointers in the last five-plus minutes of the third quarter as Phoenix built its first real cushion of the game. Bryant was screened on a couple of them and tried to collapse to help on drivers on the others.

In addition, Bell stepped to the line and sank two free throws with 18.1 seconds to play. You dont have to like Bell at all after the clothesline he delivered to Bryant in last years playoffs but hes a great value making midlevel exception money.

* * *

Itll be interesting to see just how the Lakers organize their offense without Lamar Odom. They started a lot of sets with Bryant alone at the top of the floor or on the wing and ran a screen-and-roll from there.

Bryant said hed prefer not to operate that way, which gives the defense a better chance to load up against him. He finally got his wish to move to the wing in the fourth quarter, when Jackson used Sasha Vujacic and Smush Paker/Shammond Williams at guard.

Bryant hit a couple of turnaround jumpers and backed down Bell for a layup with 2:45 left. He joked after the game: “I was begging like a dog to get into the post. Its also worth noting that Bryant played all 24 minutes in the second half.

* * *

It was hard to watch Brian Cook in Sundays game and not think that hed be perfect for the Suns. Cook is a lethal shooter as is, but its hard to imagine just what he could do camping out behind the 3-point arc for Phoenix coach Mike DAntoni.

“Thats the game that Brian can play is open shots, Jackson said, “and when teams go to double team Kobe, Kobe knows where hes at.

* * *

For all the cheers that Bryant has heard in visiting arenas this season, it was almost novel to hear him booed Sunday. There were a ton of Lakers fans (as always) in Phoenix but the “MVP chants also were reserved for Steve Nash instead of Bryant.

* * *

Nash made two spectacular plays in the first half that I noticed didnt make the nightly highlight shows. They were a much higher degree of difficulty, at least, than the layups Smush Parker conceded in the second half.

The Suns ran one pick-and-roll with Marion in which Nash was almost a blur coming off the screen, flicking the ball behind his back on the dribble, before finding Kurt Thomas for a jumper.

With 1:48 left in the half, Nash circled around the basket and hung in the air long enough to draw the defense into thinking he was shooting before gunning a pass to Amare Stoudemire for a dunk.

* * *

One play that was probably overlooked Sunday was Marion’s offensive rebound basket to beat the third-quarter buzzer. It enabled the Suns to take a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter instead of five. Sasha Vujacic’s 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter might have made it a two-point game as a result.

* * *

The Lakers continue to sit in no mans land in the Western Conference standings. They trail Houston by 3 1-2 games for fifth and lead the Clippers and Denver by 3 1-2 games for seventh and eighth.

Even though the Spurs have won eight games in a row, they still lead Utah by just a game for third. The Lakers most favorable path to the second land goes through Salt Lake City, so theres modest hope even with Lamar Odom out.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

PHOENIX–The last time they walked onto the court at US Airways Center, the Lakers were handed a 31-point loss in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, bringing a decidedly unceremonious end to a feel-good season.

That also might have been the last time the Lakers were close to whole, before the sprained ankles and sprained knees, the separated shoulders and torn labrums, made a medical dictionary a must-have for this season.

Maybe that was why the Lakers felt as if they exceeded expectations in Sundays 99-94 loss to the Suns. With the cloud of Lamar Odoms potential season-ending injury hanging over them, the Lakers nevertheless pushed Phoenix to the final horn.

“A lot of people watching the game, considering all the guys that we have out, probably expected us to get blown out, Kobe Bryant said. “But I believe that we can win these games. We have a lot of guys out but were still going to be competitive and were going to be all right.

Now all the Lakers can do is hope for the best as Odom (torn labrum) and Luke Walton (sprained ankle) both see specialists today in Los Angeles. Walton could return on this four-game trip; Odom is waiting to learn if and when he will need surgery.

“We just have to unite and just play well together, Bryant said. “Thats the key. Hopefully, well get Luke back and thatll help out a lot because of his triangle recognition . . . and just continue to plug away.

In the first glimpse of life without Odom, Bryant finished with 31 points but was hounded into 11 of 28 shooting. He played nearly 45 minutes, including the entire second half, and also led the Lakers with six assists.

Brian Cook started in place of Odom and hit 8 of 15 shots in totaling 22 points and a career-best 14 rebounds. Yet the game was not without discord for the Lakers, as Smush Parker had an outburst on the bench in the fourth quarter.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson watched as Parker, who slipped into a black hole in the playoffs against the Suns, picked up three fouls in the first half and responded with a less-than-aggressive performance at both ends of the floor in the second half.

Parker gave up breezy layups to Steve Nash, who hit 7 of 10 shots and scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half. He also passed on a 3-pointer at the start of the fourth quarter, resulting in a 24-second violation for the Lakers.

So Jackson decided to make a change with 5:40 left after Nash staked the Suns to a 10-point lead, their largest of the game. He sent Shammond Williams for Parker during a timeout, a decision with which Parker voiced his disagreement.

“He wanted to play, Jackson said. “I had to take him out because I didnt think he was aggressive enough.

Jackson said he was looking to see what “punch Williams could bring and said he sensed Parker growing “despondent with every Nash layup. The coach went on to describe Parkers fourth-quarter play as being almost “flaccid.

After he was removed, Parker planted himself at the end of the bench the rest of the game and didn’t join the huddle during timeouts. Jackson said he talked to Parker, who finished with three points on 1-of-5 shooting, afterward.

Williams, though, drained a 3-pointer with 3:19 remaining after Bryant drove and found him open. That made it 92-88 but the Lakers would get no closer than three points; Williams and Bryant each missed free throws in the last 1:37.

The Lakers were left to lament Cooks missed 3-pointer with 1:04 to play, a shot that could have made it a one-point game. Cook made 4 of 6 3-pointers after Jackson joked before the game about not knowing whom to start in place of Odom.

“Im just trying to fill in and help the team when I can, Cook said. “Phils going to use me how hes going to use me. I trust in him to use me the way he wants to use me. Right now, we just need to be together as a team and fight for the rest of this road trip.

Odom, meanwhile, will visit shoulder specialist Lewis Yocum today and faces the possibility of season-ending surgery. If that is the case, the Lakers hopes of making something out of this season would be greatly diminished.

“Really, its at best I would say anywhere from two to three weeks before well even know, Jackson said of Odoms fate. “Unless (Yocum) says, `Hey, an operations important. Lets get it done. That I doubt.

The Lakers will play the Suns twice more in the regular season and succeeded in holding the NBAs highest scoring team under 100 points. It was an accomplishment for the Lakers after giving up 116 points in Fridays loss to Sacramento.

“I dont think we played particularly well, Phoenix coach Mike DAntoni said. “It seemed like a lack of a little juice. The Lakers do a good job of imposing their style and rhythm . . . and it is easy to fall into that instead of figuring it out and amping it up.

With Phoenix scoring fewer than 28 points in every quarter, Bryant added, “I think we can be proud of the way that we played, especially defensively, considering the way that weve been playing.

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A tough spot for Jordan Farmar

Theres no player on the Lakers other than Kobe Bryant who has the same burning desire to be great that Jordan Farmar does. Its obvious in every quote Farmar gives and every afternoon he stays late after practice to shoot.

That has to make what happened Monday in Utah all the more difficult for Farmar. Not only did he and Sasha Vujacic lose their place in the rotation to Aaron McKie and Shammond Williams but neither played in one of the biggest victories of the Lakers’ season.

Farmar said after Thursdays practice that it was the first time in his career that hed ever been benched for an entire game. If you think about where he was last season at UCLA to now, it shows just how difficult the adjustment to the NBA can be.

“Im all for whatevers best for the team, Farmar said. Its (coach Phil Jacksons) decision. I know its unfortunate that he feels that me not being in there was what he had to do, but that just makes me have to work harder and figure out a way to get back in the lineup.

Only two weeks ago, Farmar was playing in the rookie-sophomore game at All-Star weekend. He was the last player on the practice court Thursday and said he was trying to remind himself of the big picture about being 20 years old and having time to learn.

“Without adversity, people dont achieve greatness, Farmar added. “Sometimes they dont reach their potential if everythings just given to them. It just makes me work that much harder and stay that much more focused and determined. My time will come.

You have to wonder, though, whats going to happen when Luke Walton and Kwame Brown return from injury, possibly as early as this weekend. The Lakers probably will have to decide about putting either Farmar or Vujacic on the inactive list.

No matter how difficult the current circumstances, Farmars rookie season has been a success beyond what most could have imagined back in October. With so many guards in training camp, the question was if Farmar would play at all.

Some had him targeted for the NBA Development League. I thought he would shuttle between the inactive list and active list. Hes played in 55 games so far and averaged 16 minutes, which ranks near the top ever for a rookie on a Jackson-coached team.

(Remember also that Farmar was the No. 26 pick. If you look at the players selected at that spot in the last 10 years – - Jason Maxiell, Kevin Martin, Ndudi Ebi, John Salmons, Samuel Dalembert, Mamadou NDiaye, Vonteego Cummings, Sam Jacobson, Charles Smith – - its hit or miss just finding a player who will stick in the NBA.)

Farmar said the biggest adjustment has come in playing limited minutes. He carried his team at Taft High to a City Section title and led UCLA to the NCAA championship game. Now hes got to maximize a small window of time whenever hes on the court.

“I just have to find a way to come in there and contribute right away, Farmar said. “Its hard but thats what I have to learn how to do because thats my job right now. Thats probably the thing I have to work on the most is just coming in there and making an impact in my five minutes, two minutes, whatever I get out there.

If he can do that, Farmar added, those five minutes might stretch to seven. Those seven minutes might stretch to 10. You have to wonder whether hes putting too much pressure on himself. But you cant question that Farmar wants to be great more than most.

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