Easy Street

Having drawn even with Phoenix for the Pacific lead and within a game of New Orleans for the best record in the Western Conference, the Lakers have a yawning opportunity to jump to the head of the class in the race for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs.

They begin a nine-game stretch on Saturday against the Clippers in which they’ll play just one team that would be in the playoffs if they begin now — Dallas. The others are home-and-away with the Clippers, Portland and Sacramento, at Seattle, and Miami.[ep

Meanwhile, Phoenix and New Orleans won’t have it easy. The Hornets play smokin’ hot Houston tonight, then San Antonio, Washington, Phoenix, Utah, Washington — all playoff teams. And the Suns play Boston tonight, then Detroit, Memphis, New Orleans.

So, it’s a good opportunity for the Lakers to put some distance between themselves and the Hornets and Suns. Of course, in the West, you always have to keep an eye on the rear-view mirror. San Antonio is a half-game behind and as hot as the Lakers are, they’re only four games ahead of ninth-place Golden State.

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So, LeBron, are you happy?

Well, nothing like blowing up your team at the trading deadline.

It sure looks like that’s what Cleveland did in the 11-player deal with Chicago and Seattle. Here’s what everybody gets:

Cleveland: Ben Wallace, Wally Szczerbiak, Delonte West, Joe Smith and a 2009 second-round pick from Chicago.

Chicago: Larry Hughes, Drew Gooden, Cedric Simmons and Shannon Brown.

Seattle: Ira Newble, Donyell Marshall and Adrian Griffin. (Translation: cap space, cap space, cap space).

While getting Wallace and Szczerbiak may generate the most headlines, Smith and West should be a big help. Smith gives Cleveland someone who has been playing very well of late and in the playoffs can at least pretend to defend Kevin Garnett and Rasheed Wallace away from the basket. West — who looked like a promising prospect in Boston before languishing in Seattle — may be invigorated and help a suspect backcourt with his perimeter shooting and defense.

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What would Christopher Columbus do?

The Spurs dealt Brent Barry, their leading 3-point shooter who hadn’t played since Jan. 24 because of a calf injury, to acquire Kurt Thomas from Seattle.
Would the Spurs have dealt a healthy Barry?
“If the world was flat, would you fly around it?” Spurs general manager R.C. Buford told the San Antonio News-Express. “Brent was playing really well early in the year. There’s been a 25-game period where we’ve missed him throughout. Had he continued to play well, would we have probably considered different circumstances? Maybe so. But I don’t know how you could say.”
Speculation is that Barry could be back in San Antonio soon anyway. The Sonics could waive him, taking advantage of his expiring contract, and then in 30 days he could re-join the Spurs.

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About last night

Random thoughts . . .

For all the havoc he’ll create on offense with Shaq around, if the Suns are going to get anywhere Amare Stoudamire better demonstrate at least an interest in playing defense. . . .

How’s this for an acid test on the Big Cactus experiment: First, the Lakers. Then three of the Suns’ next four are against Boston, Detroit and New Orleans. . . .

Nobody’s worried about Kobe’s finger anymore. But what happens over the next six weeks? . . .

Lamar Odom sure is looking a lot like Scottie Pippen . . .

Shaq, with an inadvertant elbow, wasn’t the only one to give Raja Bell a headache. Kobe’s old foil not only gave up 41, he was shutout himself — missing all three 3-pointers he took. . . .

Stat of the night: as breakneck as the pace was, the teams combined for only 21 turnovers (Lakers 9, Suns 12) — or two less than the Knicks had last night. . . .

Sasha Vujacic, who hit a pair 3-pointers and contributed 15 points off the bench, had better get used to hitting open shots. Same goes for Radmanovic, Farmar, and others members of the supporting cast. Phoenix allowed Bryant, Gasol and Odom to take about 70 percent of the Lakers’ shots (61 of 92) and free throws (18 of 26). Don’t expect that to happen in the playoffs.

Sasha Vujacic

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Rounding up the usual suspects

Here’s what was written on last night’s Game of the Year that actually might have been. . . .


Teaford in the Daily News/Daily Breeze

Bresnahan in the Times

Ding in the Register

Turner in the Press-Enterprise


Oberjuerge on what looked like a Throwback Shaq

Elliott on Shaq in transition:

Miller hopes this isn’t the last we see of Suns and Lakers


Reax to Kurt Thomas deal

More reax to Thomas deal

Shaq on Kobe

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Ooooooh, domino

One trade goes down a couple weeks before the trading deadline — Pau Gasol to the Lakers — and the dominoes continue to fall like, well, dominoes. Wednesday, about 24 hours before the deadline, the Spurs are about to finalize a deal to obtain Kurt Thomas from Seattle for Brent Barry, Francisco Elson and a 2009 first-round pick, a league source told Yahoo.com.[ep
Thomas isn’t Gasol, Shaq or Jason Kidd, and is strictly a role player at this point in his career. But this move shouldn’t be underestimated. Thomas is a tough post defender and has always had an excellent 15-foot jumper, which should take some heat off Tim Duncan at both ends of the floor.
Looks like a typical Spurs move: more smart than sexy.

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The O’Fear Factor

It sure looked like Bill O’Reilly who was sitting courtside near the Lakers’ bench, but it probably wasn’t. It’s hard to imagine O’Reilly would have been caught taking a position to the left of Phil Jackson.

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Detente in the desert?

The sarcasm should be thick this afternoon and evening when Phil Jackson and Mike D’Antoni step before the microphones and recorders, but Jackson actually rolled out a compliment toward the Phoenix coach when he was talking about Shaquille O’Neal’s role in the Suns’ offense.
“D’Antoni is a real technican,” Jackson said. “He’s real good at figuring out the strengths of guys’ games. I’m sure he’s going to find something for Shaq that will be difficult to defend against.”
Such as . . . making an inbounds pass?

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