Saturday report

However you rank personality traits, the ability to laugh at yourself has to be high on the list. In Vladimir Radmanovic’s case, it’s good to see that he didn’t lose his sense of humor in addition to the $500,000 subtracted from his bank account after his snowboarding mishap over the All-Star break.

We know this from an exchange at the end of Saturday’s practice. Radmanovic was one of the last players off the floor as he worked on his shooting in the hopes of returning from his separated shoulder Thursday. He stopped to answer a couple of questions about how things were going in the recovery process.

I told Radmanovic that we missed him in Seattle, where he spent the first 4 1-2 seasons of his career. Not surprisingly, Radmanovic said he didn’t really miss making the trip. The only thing Radmanovic can count on more than the rain in Seattle are the questions about the $42 million extension he turned down with the Sonics.

Radmanovic was told that it was a rare day of sunshine and record temperatures in Seattle. Alex McKechnie, the Lakers’ athletic performance coordinator and a British Columbia native, then added that the views of snow-covered Mount Rainer were spectacular.

To which Radmanovic didn’t miss a beat in saying, “Didn’t you see me coming down?” As in snowboarding down the side of another mountain. After missing seven weeks with the injury, Radmanovic probably needs to make a joke or two at his own expense.

As for his return, Radmanovic still has yet to take part in contact drills. He hopes to do that Tuesday and/or Wednesday depending on the Lakers’ practice schedule and return Thursday against the Clippers.

A couple of weeks ago, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said he thought Radmanovic might have some problems launching his patented “30-foot 3-pointers,” as he described them, with the separated shoulder. Radmanovic was asked Saturday if he was having any trouble shooting the long ball.

“I think Ill be able to do that,” Radmanovic said with a grin. “Ive been working hard the last almost two months. Its not going to be easy but its definitely not going to prevent me from doing what Im supposed to do on the court.

We’ll see how quickly Radmanovic can get back into rhythm with four games left before the playoffs. He was wearing a shoulder pad underneath a compression shirt at practice Saturday.

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Whether the result of Kwame Brown’s injured ankle or Andrew Bynum’s ineffectiveness, Ronny Turiaf has been the Lakers’ fourth-quarter center in recent games. He plays well with Kobe Bryant and brings an energy to the floor but Jackson said he wasn’t considering starting Turiaf ahead of Bynum.

Jackson of Bynum’s starter minutes: “Those kind of minutes are important for us to have early to set a tone for an interior game, get something inside, see if we cant get something accomplished in there in the post early in the game. We havent been able to lately.

Kwame Brown said of Bynum’s lackluster play: “I dont think its anything else but his confidence. He had all sorts of confidence at the beginning of the season when I went out. I dont know where that went. I dont know what hes got to do to get it back. Thats what he needs. Its not his game, its his confidence.

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Smush Parker’s streak of consecutive starts is still alive. Parker is going to start his 158th consecutive game against Phoenix despite sitting the entire fourth quarter of the last two games. Jackson said he thought Parker had enough of a positive history against the Suns (I guess except for the 2006 playoffs) to warrant the start.

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Updated after Denver’s victory Saturday against the Clippers

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–As far back as December, Lakers coach Phil Jackson can remember talking to his assistants about how the final full week of the regular season would play out for his team. Every game seemed to bring with it playoff possibilities even then.

He couldnt have been any more right as the Lakers will open a set of four games today that likely will determine their playoff direction. The Lakers will play Phoenix twice as well as Denver and the Clippers in the next six days.

“Its a great opportunity for us, Kobe Bryant said. “This is like a playoff atmosphere type of games.

The Lakers no longer sit alone in sixth place in the Western Conference standings after Denvers victory over the Clippers on Saturday night. The Nuggets and Lakers share an identical 40-36 record with the Clippers 2 1-2 games back in eighth.

The other question is which of the conferences three powerhouses – - Dallas, Phoenix or San Antonio – - the Lakers would draw in a first-round playoff series. As the sixth seed, the Lakers have been on track to face the Spurs for the better part of a month. [ep

At the same time, the Lakers could fall into seventh and meet the Suns in a rematch of last seasons first-round series. The Suns hold a two-game lead over San Antonio for the Wests No. 2 seed.

Jackson was able to joke about the conventional wisdom that the Spurs could catch the Suns because Phoenix has the more difficult schedule.

“Those people that thought they had a tougher schedule included us in the schedule, Jackson said. “I said, `Youve got to remember who we are right now. We havent beat teams over .500 in a long time. This is our challenge right now.

The Lakers will play host to Phoenix today and then play at Denver on Monday. They will meet the Clippers in a home game Thursday before traveling to Phoenix for the second game of a back-to-back set Friday.

Brown back? Jackson joked about the coaching staff setting odds that Kwame Brown would be able to overcome his sprained left ankle and play today. The consensus was that Brown would sit out his third game since re-aggravating the injury.

Brown made quite the fashion statement after Saturdays practice, wearing a pair of Gucci shoes but with a web of athletic tape wrapped around his ankle.

“I havent counted myself out yet but it still hurts, Brown said. “Ive been playing with the pain the whole time. If it improves a little more like it did (Friday) night, I can try to play (today).

Record keeping: The Lakers would have to win five of their last six games just to match last seasons 45-37 record. That was the worst record of any Jackson-coached team, which led to a question about whether this season has been his most trying.

“It hasnt been the kind of season where everythings a downer for us, Jackson said. “We had a really good three months when we started the season. We played well. We felt good about ourselves.

“My goal is to get them back playing where they were the first 40 games. Theyve still got an opportunity to do that, so were trying to be real optimistic about it.

Also: Jackson will keep Smush Parker in the starting lineup despite benching him in the fourth quarter of the last two games. Jackson said Parker was “responsive at practice . . . Jordan Farmar will pull double duty and play in the development league again Thursday . . . .Vladimir Radmanovic is hoping to return Thursday from his separated shoulder.

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