Lakers 113, Clippers 92

A nice victory for the Lakers, and one that was even easier than the 21-point final margin would suggest. Once the Lakers took a 23-11 lead with more than four minutes left in the first quarter, it was essentially over.

Some quick postgame thoughts…

– Kobe Bryant was hurt? He scored 32 points in 37 minutes and did not appear limited, in the least bit, by the groin muscle he hurt Friday night in Oakland. Best of all for Bryant and the Lakers, he got to rest for the latter part of the fourth quarter, with the Lakers in control. A good night for Bryant, who was able to draw fouls with pump-fakes. That’s something not every team falls for, but the Clippers certainly did tonight.

– A look at the numbers will suggest that Chris Kaman (18 points, 16 rebounds) outplayed Andrew Bynum (14 points, nine rebounds) but look closer. Bynum dominated Kaman in the first quarter, and that’s essentially when the game was decided. Laker fans have to be pleased with the progress of Bynum, who is showing the aggressiveness that could lead to him being an elite center in the NBA before long.

– Welcome back, Luke Walton. He made all six of his shots from the field, for 15 points. If he can go back to being a consistent 12-to-15-point scorer for the Lakers, that’s huge. Best of all, Walton seemed to regain his confidence from the perimeter, and that will be important going forward.

– The Lakers won despite an off night from Derek Fisher, who had a foul-plagued four-point, five-assist effort in 15 minutes. Jordan Farmar had seven points and Sasha Vujacic had 14 points.

– We should learn a lot about the Lakers this week. A four-game trip takes them to Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia and New York. There’s no reason the Lakers can’t win at least three of those games. Will they finally show some consistency and get on a nice run before Christmas?

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Looking ahead

With this game seemingly in hand for the Lakers, it’s time to look ahead to this week’s road trip, which includes games in Chicago, Cleveland, Philadelphia and New York. Given the struggles of those teams, for the most part, it’s not ridiculous to predict a 3-1 trip for the Lakers. Here’s what Phil Jackson had to say about the trip:

“It depends upon what kind of momentum we can bring on the road. It’s very important to go out with some energy. Chicago has notoriously had slow Novembers on the road and then come out in December after a homestand and played very well for the rest of the year. Then we’ll just deal with whatever comes up from there. We’re not looking past Chicago. The other three games are later in the week, and it’s three (games) in four nights.”

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Ariza fitting in

The Lakers’ second unit is on the court, three minutes into the second quarter, and Trevor Ariza is included. Ariza has been slow in fitting in since arriving from Orlando, mostly because coach Phil Jackson has wanted to find the right place for him and not disrupt a second unit that has been strong. Ariza has been impressive in limited action. His defense is strong and he’s a versatile player who isn’t afraid to attack the basket, especially on the baseline. Here’s what Jackson had to say about Ariza, and his acclimation to the Lakers, before tonight’s game:

“There was a little hesitation that I felt he had in the offense. He didn’t feel real comfortable out there offensively and I set his minutes a little different. I wanted him to play with the group that he felt most comfortable with offensively. and keep that second unit intact because of the way they move the ball.”

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Kwame Brown setback?

Kwame Brown, still recovering from his ankle and knee injuries, will not accompany the Lakers on their four-game road trip this week, as previously expected. Coach Phil Jackson didn’t term it as a setback, even though it’s hard to see it any other way. It seems as though Brown won’t be able to play until Christmas Day, at least.

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Kobe will try to play

That’s the word from coach Phil Jackson, who arrived at the training facility at 9 a.m. to find Kobe Bryant in the gym shooting jumpers. Obviously Bryant’s groin isn’t healed, since he hurt it just 48 hours ago, but Jackson said he put Bryant through some “defensive sliding” drills to test the groin and Bryant passed the test, it seems. As for tonight’s game, Jackson took the attitude that Bryant will play unless he’s hurting the team.

“We were surprised, pleasantly,” Jackson said. “If he can help the team because of the presence he has out there, then it’s all right. That becomes the critical mass of that situation.”

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Kobe update

After further review, the Lakers’ initial diagnosis of Kobe Bryant stands: strained groin. Not sure whether that’s better or worse than a strained quadriceps, but regardless, Bryant is expected to be a game-time decision for Sunday’s game against the Clippers. He did not practice today and wasn’t made available to reporters. The comment on the previous item, by Sam, nailed it. Kobe got hurt when he was down on the baseline with Stephen Jackson. So we’ll see how he improves with about 48 hours’ rest. Strained groins can be tricky. To a certain extent, players can play through the pain, but they also don’t want to risk injuring the muscle more and possibly tearing it.

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Kobe’s injury

Kobe Bryant injured some part of his leg in the fourth quarter tonight. Depending on the source being asked, it’s either his quad (Bryant) or his groin (the Lakers). Regardless, as you’ll see in the game story, Bryant missed the crucial stretch of the fourth quarter. Given the time constraints — the NBA bows to thee, oh mighty ESPN — I wasn’t able to get Kobe quotes in the story, but here’s what he told The Associated Press:

“It felt like a little tweak, and I tried to shake it off and stretch it out,” Bryant said. “As soon as I took off running, it felt like I was shot in the leg.”

Bryant said he would play Sunday against the Clippers. One other good quote…somebody asked Kobe whether this loss meant the Lakers now had a real rivalry with the Warriors.

“This is nothing. This is like slap-boxing,” Bryant said. “For a real rivalry, you have to match up in the playoffs. The regular season is nothing.”

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Kobe loves L.A.?

A new article on ESPN.com describes, perhaps a bit strongly, how Kobe Bryant is happy to be a Laker and glad he didn’t get traded. That’s ESPN’s spin on it anyway. You can read the entire story here and judge for yourself.

Bryant told ESPN in the interview, “I’m happy to be here. My guys and I — we have such a tight bond. Business and basketball sometimes can cloud things, but when you get here in your element and you’re around your teammates and just having a good time with them and thinking about them and not about the business of the game, that’s when it becomes fun.”

As for the turnaround in his attitude, Bryant credited…well, himself.

“Sometimes you have to kind of put a fire to them a little bit so that they understand that we’re playing for higher stakes,” Bryant said of his teammates. “Once they understood that and saw me come into training camp saying ‘Look, I’m tired of playing for the playoffs. I’m not playing for that. I don’t know what you guys are playing for, but I’m not playing for that.’ Once they understood that ‘Hey, this guy’s head is on a championship level, this is where we need to get,’ then it kind of ignited another side of them and they started looking at this thing a little differently.

“I think it changed their perspective a little bit and kind of shifted their focus to ‘Okay, he’s playing for a championship so this is what we need to do.”

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Phil’s contract

The Lakers announced Phil Jackson’s contract extension today, which wouldn’t be news except for this twist: the second year (2009-10) is actually an option year for Phil, meaning he could choose to decline it and be finished with the Lakers after the 2008-09 season. Which, perhaps not so coincidentally, is when Kobe Bryant can opt out of his contract. The drama just never ends with the Lakers, does it?

Here’s what some of the Lakers’ brass had to say:

Mitch Kupchak: Nobody has been more successful from the sideline in the history of this game than Phil and his record obviously speaks for itself. Were excited to have a coach of his experience, stature and ability leading this team for the foreseeable future.

Jerry Buss: In the opinion of most people in basketball, and certainly in our opinion, Phil is the greatest coach in the history of the NBA, and were very pleased that hes decided to stay with the Lakers for an extended period of time. Simply put, hes the best coach in the business and he will be a valuable part of the development of our team as we continue to improve.

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Monday (12/3) practice

Not much good news out of El Segundo today. Ronny Turiaf, who suffered a slight concussion Sunday night courtesy of Dwight Howard’s elbow, did not practice today and did not travel with the team to Minnesota. If Turiaf shows improvement tomorrow, he might join the team in Denver on Wednesday.

Chris Mihm also missed practice with what Phil Jackson called inflammation in his foot. Mihm’s status for tomorrow’s game remains uncertain. Kwame Brown is certain to miss both games on the trip.

As for the team in general, lots of talk today about mindset, and it’s not good. Jackson didn’t like the practice today and both he and Derek Fisher took some time to discussion the issues, both offensively and defensively, that are hampering the Lakers these days.

Here’s some quotes from today’s practice…
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