Lakers 112, Sonics 109

Even if he is playing his final games as a Laker, Smush Parker is still going to be much-needed come playoff time. He’s going to draw (most likely) either Tony Parker or Steve Nash in a seven-game series, and I highly doubt Phil Jackson would entrust a rookie guard in Jordan Farmar with those minutes in his first taste of the playoffs.

So the fact that Parker’s spending fourth quarters on the bench isn’t a positive development. It’s on Parker to find a way out of this funk . . . and he’s shown he’s not exactly the best at “resetting himself,” as Jackson puts it, whether that’s in a game or falling into a black hole against Phoenix in last season’s playoffs.

Here was what advice Kobe Bryant said he would give Parker: “You’ve just got to stay with it. Everybody goes through ups and downs but you’ve got to stay with it. You’ve got to get in early, work on your game, work on your shots, try to get your ryhthm back by working extremely hard on the practice floor.”

Parker’s comments giving up trying to read Phil Jackson in the wake of his fourth-quarter benching against the Clippers also caught Bryant’s attention. His response might have been one of the most dead-on things he has said all season.

“At this point in time in the season, you want to focus on what’s really important, which is us,” Bryant said. “It’s not a particular individual or not getting minutes or whatever it may be, but understanding that what Phil’s going to do, he’s going to do what’s right for the team.

“That’s what he’s going to do. It’s his job as a coach to make sure the ship is moving in the right direction. Us as players have to understand that it’s nothing personal. We’re on the same team. We’re in this thing together.

“He’s going to make decisions that are appropriate for us to win ballgames. If we can understand that and put our egos aside, we’ll be fine.”

Jackson was irate in the second quarter when the Lakers came out of a timeout trailing 53-43 and Parker simply lost his handle on the ball and watched it skip out of bounds in front of the bench. Total mental lapse. The Sonics got a Mike Wilks jumper at the other end to go up by 12 points, which was their biggest lead of the game.

“I wanted Smush to come out, get an opportunity to prove himself and to play tonight,” Jackson said. “Things didn’t go well for him either shooting or the playmaking aspect of it. So I figured it was time to make a change out there and Jordan came in and played well.”

Parker said after the game that winning was the only thing that mattered and that he and Jackson talked a little before the game. “Jordan did a great job off the bench,” Parker said. “He came in and gave the team a spark and coach played him because he deserved to be out there.”

* * *

Jackson was less than pleased with the Lakers play near the end of the second quarter. He brought Bryant and Parker back with 4:49 to play (Cook was forced to play center with Andrew Bynum and Ronny Turiaf in foul trouble) and the Lakers promptly gave up a 16-4 run to fall behind by 12.

The Sonics did a good job of hitting the 3-pointers and running out for the dunks that energize their team. The Lakers couldn’t even get a timeout called to stop the run; Lamar Odom was stripped by Earl Watson as Jackson walked on the court in anticipation of the dead ball.

All Jackson could do was stand there as Watson flipped the ball of the backboard to Chris Wilcox (32 points, 18 rebounds) for a dunk. “We had about a three-minute breakdown in the end of the second period that changed that ballgame,” said Jackson, who had talked to his team about burying themselves with big deficits.

* * *

Odom hit a couple of long jumpers to start the game and went on to finish with 20 points and seven assists. Jackson cited Odom’s play on defense in holding Rashard Lewis to nine points (which is 13 below his season average) on 4 of 14 shooting.

Odom also was part of a funny moment four minutes into the first quarter when he scored as part of a three-point play. He lost his gum, however, at the line to shoot the subsequent free throw. It was scooped up by one of the referees and tossed to the sideline before any player could ruin a pair of Nikes.

A less funny moment: Odom bricked two free throws at the end of the first quarter, which prompted Jackson to yell, “Jesus!” from the bench. Did I mention that there is a convention of athiests at my hotel in Seattle? Today’s featured event was a keynote speech: “Does it matter if Americans hate athiests?”

* * *

You wouldn’t want to overlook the shots Brian Cook hit early in the fourth quarter to give the Lakers their first lead of the second half. Cook actually wound up shooting a technical free throw when the Sonics were called for defensive three seconds and Bryant was sitting on the bench.

Cook, a 75 percent free-throw shooter this season, missed the shot in the unfamiliar role. He came back, though, to hit two big 3-pointers and finished with 11 points. Cook had to play some center because of foul trouble and shook off a 2-of-8 first half.

* * *

Two areas of concern for the Lakers: They did give up 109 points to a Seattle team playing without Ray Allen. The Lakers went zone late in the third quarter and watched Damien Wilkins hit a 3-pointer against it. They jumped a screen-and-roll with Farmar and Odom and still wound up watching Earl Watson hit a 3-pointer.

But the Lakers were able to come up with the stops they needed late. They also found a way to win despite getting outrebounded 50-31. You could see Jackson screaming for anyone to just grab the ball.

* * *

The Lakers’ schedule is absolutely unforgiving the next week with two games against Phoenix and rematches with the Nuggets and Clippers. “We want to go into the playoffs with some type of rhythm, with some type of energy,” Bryant said. “So we’re looking forward to these upcoming games.”

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

SEATTLE–There was nowhere to go but down for the Lakers in the first half of Friday nights game against the Seattle SuperSonics, when they couldnt even call timeout without coughing up the ball and giving up a rim-rattling dunk to Chris Wilcox.

As sunny as it was outside Key Arena, it was grim inside for the Lakers, who fell behind by a dozen points and facing the prospect of ceding sixth place in the Western Conference standings to Denver with six games left in the season.

It took 46 points from Kobe Bryant – - 31 in the second half – - and a pair of grown-up performances from youngsters Jordan Farmar and Ronny Turiaf for the Lakers to escape with 112-109 victory in what might as well have been a must-win game.

There were issues to address for sure – - starting with whether Farmar will supplant Smush Parker in the starting lineup – - but the Lakers were able to move forward after disappointing losses to the Nuggets and Clippers this week.

It was a victory that only grew in magnitude after word circulated in the Lakers locker room that Denver had upset Dallas. The Lakers still lead the Nuggets by a half-game for sixth and are two games ahead of the eighth-place Clippers.

“Were just going to have to keep on going, keep on pushing, Turiaf said, “because the guys behind us, I can guarantee you, theyre getting into fifth gear.

For the second consecutive game, Lakers coach Phil Jackson sat Parker the entire fourth quarter. Farmar finished the game on the floor and was joined by Turiaf as starting center Andrew Bynum went scoreless with four fouls in 12 minutes.

It was hard to argue as Bryant credited Farmar and Turiafs energy with turning around the night. Farmar hit a 3-pointer after entering in the third quarter, took a charge, threw a full-court outlet pass to Luke Walton and came up with a key steal late.

His performance was greater than his final line in the box score – - 3 points, 1-of-2 shooting, 2 assists – - and will force Jackson to consider whether the Lakers might be best served with Farmar starting in place of Parker.

Asked if the job was open, Jackson answered: “I havent said that and I wont answer your question. Parker has started 157 consecutive games, one of the longest such streaks in the NBA.

Farmar, who was sent to play for the Lakers development league affiliate to get minutes this week, said his only goal was to stay on the floor and help his team win. He laughed when asked if he would welcome the chance to start.

“Without a doubt, Farmar said. “Thats what my ultimate goal is to be a starting point guard here. Whether its Sunday, next year, two years, three years from now, however long it takes, Im working to try to get to that goal.

Parker made just 1 of 5 shots and had five turnovers in 24 minutes. Jackson wanted to give Parker the chance to redeem himself after his fourth-quarter benching Wednesday against the Clippers. Instead, Parker sat the last 16 minutes of Fridays game.

In addition, Parkers comments at practice Thursday about giving up trying to read Jackson were not taken well by his teammates, if Bryants words after the game were any indication.

“At this point in time in the season, you want to focus on whats really important, which is us, Bryant said. “Its not a particular individual or not getting minutes or whatever it may be, but understanding that Phils going to do whats right for the team.

“Its his job as coach to make sure the ship is moving in the right direction and us as players have to understand that its nothing personal. Were on the same team. Were in this thing together.

The Sonics tied the game 103-103 with 1:55 left as Earl Watson went crashing into Turiaf and earned a trip to the foul line. Turiaf ended up the worse for wear as Watson caught him in the mouth with an elbow.

Bryant answered with a 20-footer over Damien Wilkins and Watson. Then came a series of defensive plays as Farmar stripped Rashard Lewis, Turiaf came up with a steal and Walton forced Nick Collison into a tough shot with 25.3 seconds left.

Bryant finished with 46 points on 13-of-27 shooting and went 19-of-24 from the foul line. He scored 20 points in the third quarter and was on the receiving end of a flagrant foul by Collison on the fast break.

There was no showdown for Bryant against Ray Allen, his sometime nemesis, as Allen is done for the season with bone spurs in his left ankle and will undergo surgery today. The Sonics also lost Luke Ridnour to a sprained left ankle in the first quarter.

But Seattle took advantage of a mental letdown by the Lakers to build a 12-point lead in the second quarter. Even when Jackson wanted a timeout, Lamar Odom lost the ball to Watson, who raced ahead and set up Wilcox for a dunk with a pass off the backboard.

The Lakers were able to recover, however, and wont find another soft spot on the schedule for a while. They will play Phoenix twice as well as Denver and the Clippers in the coming week, when the games will be played at a fever pitch.

“It all depends upon us winning, Jackson said. “Who (wants) to back into the playoffs? We want to win. We want to do what we have to do to play ball so that were playing well. Its not about who else does what out here, although thats important.

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