Gasol out with strep throat

Pau Gasol came down with a case of strep throat Monday night and could not play in the Lakers’ game Tuesday against the New York Knicks. He arrived at Staples Center at 5:45 p.m., but was sent home by 6:30, team spokesman John Black said.

Lamar Odom replaced Gasol at power forward, his first start in 24 games after moving to a reserve role for the first time in his career.

“I’ll do whatever needs to be done, start or come off the bench, cheerlead, coach, sweep the floor,” Odom said. “You want me to sweep the floor, I’ll sweep the floor. It would be a nice campaign, a Nike campaign. I am versatile.

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Record pace

The Western Conference-leading Lakers and the Eastern Conference-leading Boston Celtics each are on pace to surpass the NBA record of 72 victories in a season set by Phil Jackson’s Chicago Bulls in 1995-96, the greatest of the Michael Jordan-led teams.

The Lakers went into Tuesday’s game against New York with a 20-3 mark and were on pace for a final record of 71-11. The Celtics, who were off Tuesday, are 23-2 and on pace for a final mark of 75-7. Our friends at ESPN.com are charting the progress of the Lakers and Celtics and comparing them to the Bulls. It’s worth a look.

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Notes from practice

Here are a few tidbits from Monday’s practice:

–Andrew Bynum is considering taking off the brace he’s worn to protect his left kneecap since training camp began. His kneecap is feeling better than ever and there’s little need to wear the brace. He was injured during a Jan. 13 game against the Memphis Grizzlies and missed the rest of the season.

–Sasha Vujacic has been nursing a painful bone bruise on his right hand since he was injured in a collision with Amare Stoudemire of the Phoenix Suns last Wednesday. Vujacic missed both shots he attempted and did not score in Sunday’s victory over the Timberwolves.

–The Lakers are willing to trade Vujacic, according to a report over the weekend on the Web site of a New York newspaper. That was news to Vujacic, who signed a new three-year contract worth about $15 million during the offseason and often says he wants to be a Laker for life.

–Luke Walton did not attend practice because of personal reasons. He was inserted into the starting lineup in place of Vladimir Radmanovic for last Wednesday’s game against the Suns after hardly playing in the season’s first 20 games. Walton is expected to start again tonight against New York.

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Lakers 98, Wolves 86

Maybe this is as good as it gets right now.
Maybe this is the best the Lakers can do.
Maybe winning ugly games against bad teams is their method of
operation.
That certainly seemed to be the case again Sunday night, when the
Lakers rumbled, bumbled and stumbled their way past the Minnesota
Timberwolves, 98-86, in front of a sellout crowd of 18,997 at Staples
Center.
“When you’re striving to be perfect like we are, and not just
playing to make the postseason but playing to be a great team, after games
like this you just feel you could have played better,” Lakers sixth man
Lamar Odom said. “A win is a win. It’s not like we lost, but we could have
played better.”
Perhaps the Lakers simply can’t do any better against the dregs of
the league. After all, the Timberwolves represented the Lakers’ eighth
consecutive opponent without a winning record. The Lakers improved to 7-1 in
that stretch and are 20-3 for the season.
Only the Boston Celtics (22-2) have a better record than the Lakers.
It also seems only the Celtics can capture the Lakers’ attention at the
moment. The Celtics are, after all, the team that defeated them in the NBA
Finals last June.
So, forgive the Lakers if they are secretly counting the days until
they play host to Gang Green on Christmas Day.
Clearly, the Lakers are not dazzled by the likes of the lowly
Timberwolves, who fell to 4-19 after losing their ninth consecutive game.
How else to explain the Lakers’ struggles?
Or more to the point, how else to explain the Lakers’ run of
lackluster play? After all, that’s really been the bottom line over the last
few weeks.

Continue reading

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Scouting the Wolves

Here comes the new boss, same as the old boss? Kevin McHale and the Wolves fired coach Randy Wittman last week and replaced him, himself … but so far the results have been exactly the same.

Minnesota is 0-3 since McHale took over and has lost eight straight coming into tonight’s game.

Minnesota is shooting just 41.8 percent during its losing streak. There have been a few bright spots though. Power forward Al Jefferson continues to put up big numbers. Jefferson, the centerpiece of the deal that sent Kevin Garnett from Minnesota to Boston before last season, recorded his 11th double-double of the season in Friday’s loss to the Spurs.

The T-Wolves have also been getting a nice contribution from rookie Kevin Love (UCLA) who h has four double-doubles in the last seven games and is averaging 12.1 ppg and 11.6 rpg in that span.

Sharp-shooter Mike Miller is back from an ankle injury that cost him four games over the past few weeks. Miller returned to action on Friday and is expected to start tonight.

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From the locker room

The beat goes on …

The Lakers beat the Sacramento Kings, 112-103, with more of the same inconsistent play that fans have grown accustomed to seeing of late. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 32 points and Pau Gasol had 18 points and 11 rebounds. Andrew Bynum fouled out with eight points and 10 rebounds.

Here’s Phil Jackson on the Lakers’ inability to put away the Kings until the final seconds: “I told them in the postgame that we found ways to keep this ballclub (the Kings) in the game, in the end of the first half, in the end of the third quarter, and at the end of the game. We did it through a variety of things. We missed foul shots. We gave up fouls at the end of the quarters. Let’s not take anything away from Sacramento, but we really kept them in the game.”

Gasol on the Lakers’ play: “I think it was a lot better. We were more consistent tonight. Defensively, our effort was better. We didn’t turn the ball over as much. We controlled the boards pretty good, and it was overall a much better game for us.”

Bryant on his two-handed dunk near the end of the game: “I rarely have the opportunity, because normally when I’m going through the paint I’m going through traffic I don’t really have the chance to use two hands. You’ve got to use one hand and try to turn your body, so it feels good to have one to just blow it all out.”

Bynum on his play and the play of the team: “We just had a lot more energy tonight, at least I tired a lot harder than I have in the past. I had six fouls. I can’t do anything about that. but we had a better effort out there defensively. If you look at the tape, you see a lot more guys helping each other out.”

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All tied up

The Lakers and Sacramento Kings were tied at 52 at halftime. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 14 points, the same number as Sacramento’s John Salmons. Same old, same old for the Lakers, whose play won’t have anyone thinking about a title just yet. Their biggest lead was eight points. The Kings never led. Luke Walton started again. Josh Powell played almost four minutes in the first half.

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Pregame with Phil

The Lakers went into Friday’s game against the Kings with an 18-3 record, best in the Western Conference and third overall in the NBA, but Coach Phil Jackson admitted he had no idea what to expect from his team.

“Check the moons, check where the stars are and give your best,” he said with a chuckle. “We have too many Scorpio and Capricorn guys on this team. … I’m not nervous about it. I’d like to see them play with a better sense of purpose out there.”

Asked about the team’s lackluster play, he added:

“I thought we had a little down period coming back from the road trip (last week) and then had to go back out on the road again (to play the Kings on Tuesday in Sacramento). Things kind of snowballed and the mood of the team fell along that line.

“(But) we’re back and we’re pointing toward this next road trip as kind of the set up for us to play really well. We have three games before we go on the road. That road trip is extremely important. We need to finish out this month really strong.”

After home games against Minnesota on Sunday and New York on Tuesday, the Lakers hit the road to play Miami, Orlando, Memphis and New Orleans. Then they return home to play the defending NBA champion Boston Celtics on Christmas Day.

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Scouting the Kings

The Kings have been off since their shocking upset of the Lakers on Tuesday, meaning they’re probably still riding high from knocking off the top team in the Western Conference and, ending their eight-game losing streak.

In that game, the Kings were successful at drawing the Lakers post players away from the basket, clearing out the lane, then letting their slashers attack the rim.

Could the same formula work again?

Or will the Lakers be able to make the adjustment defensively?

Having a game, and a full practice on Thursday certainly helped in that regard. We’ll find out shortly.

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Talking ’bout practice

Actually, the Lakers didn’t practice Thursday, but they were a pretty chatty bunch. Here are a few notes and quotes one day after they slogged through a 115-110 victory over the Phoenix Suns and one day before the meet the Sacramento Kings.

–Coach Phil Jackson said he would probably start Luke Walton again at small forward instead of Vladimir Radmanovic. Walton said he had fun while scoring eight points and adding six assists Wednesday. Radmanovic said he didn’t wish to talk about his demotion after starting the season’s first 20 games.

–Walton had this to say about his first start of the season: “It was a lot of fun to be back out there. I missed it from the first game this season. Every game that you sit there is hard. Being back out there, you realize why you miss it because it’s so much fun.”

–Andrew Bynum made another plea for more minutes at the end of games. Jackson said he would play Bynum only when Bynum shows he can stop some of the league’s top centers on a consistent basis with the game on the line.

–Sasha Vujacic said he felt more comfortable than he has in a while, which accounted for his season-high 15 points against Phoenix. He had struggled offensively over the previous four games, but he said his confidence returned.

–Said Vujacic: “It was a great thing to be on the floor. It was a great thing that coach had the confidence in me, especially in the last couple of minutes when the game was on the line. Not only the coach, but my teammates. They found me in the offense and I got some open shots and I knocked them down.”

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