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There was a welcome break for some of the Lakers, a full weekend for several others, and a trip down memory lane with Shaquille O’Neal thrust upon everyone who was in Phoenix for the All Star game or paying attention to the events out of that city over the weekend.

Ready and rested or not, the rest of the season lay in front of the Lakers Monday afternoon as they reconvened for their first practice after the All Star break with the NBA’s best record (42-10) and 30 games standing between them and the playoffs.

Though they cruised to victories over Cleveland and Boston, their two main challengers for the league’s best record, on their recently completed road trip, the road ahead will not be easy.

Seventeen of the Lakers final 30 games will be played away from home, including another monster trip. This time they’ll make a seven-game excursion through the Midwest at the end of March.

“It’s going to get tough, and we’re going to have to push because teams are gunning for us,” said forward Lamar Odom. “There’s going to be a target on our back, so we expect for games to be really hard and competitive.

“But I feel rejuvenated. I had a nice break. It was fun coming back today, seeing my brothers and getting back to work.”

Odom though, actually had a few days off.

Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol were in Phoenix to play in the All Star game, coach Phil Jackson was there to coach the Western Conference, Derek Fisher competed in the Shooting Stars competition and Trevor Ariza and Jordan Farmar were there as the Lakers union reps.

“It wasn’t much of a break,” Gasol said. “But I did have the opportunity to catch up on some rest and to see my family. They keep you pretty busy, there’s a lot of attention, but it’s an honor to be an All Star and I had a great time.”

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Fisher’s thoughts

Before I begin this note, I thought I’d relay a conversation I had with a couple of other writers in the press room in Phoenix. The topic? Whether there was any better player in the league to interview than Derek Fisher.

One nationally focussed scribe, who talks to just about everyone around the league, felt like Fisher was the most articulate, intelligent player in the league to interview. Another felt like he and Ray Allen were the two best.

Here in Los Angeles, we’ve been spoiled by having Fisher around these last few years, and during the Lakers championship runs earlier in the decade. He’s always thoughtful, polite and willing to connect emotionally to whatever he’s asked.

In the fall, at the height of the presidential campaign, a bunch of his teammates –Kobe Bryant included — started calling him “Barack.”

Anyway, I caught up with Fisher the other day at the All Star game and asked who he thought this game meant the most too: Phil Jackson, Kobe Bryant or Shaquille O’Neal.

Fisher’s response, as always, was thoughtful and on point.

“I think Shaq,” Fisher said. “At this point in his career, so many people didn’t think that he’d be at this point again, so I think you’ll see him –even though he always has fun — I think this is a different kind of All Star weekend for him.”

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Phil’s plans at the All-Star game

Leave it to Phil Jackson to make lemonade out of lemons. (Wow, never thought I could work that cliche into the same sentence as Phil Jackson, who I’ve begun to notice is something of a wordsmith himself)

Anyway, instead of whining about having to coach the All-Star game this year, Phil invited his children and grandchildren to Phoenix and is turning the weekend into something of a family reunion. Only Jackson, like most good writers, averse to any cliche, called it something else.

“Well, I have four of my five children coming to the game and three of my grandchildren coming to the game, so I’m using as a point of reference for my family,” he said.

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Jackson could see a future for Shaq

PHOENIX — It certainly wouldn’t be the first NBA All Star game where a bit of craziness broke out.

Whenever the NBA’s finest get together in early February, zaniness is often next to Godliness.

But on this day, it was the 63-year old coach in the corner of the room shaking up the desert sands as Lakers coach Phil Jackson implied that he wouldn’t be averse to seeing Shaquille O’Neal take a final dance in a Lakers uniform one day.

“We know that there’s always a chance you’ll have an opportunity to have a player like that,” Jackson said, a wry smile coming across his face. “I was thinking about Robert Parish coming and playing one season with the Chicago Bulls. Playing a limited role, but being an influence on a team when he’s 40 years old.

“So, we always say these old crocodiles, these alligators that patrol the lanes, have a long life span.

“So it would be great to see him back someday and, you know, coaching him.”

For months, O’Neal has been writing a rosy revision to his history with the Lakers, sending glowing compliments to Jackson and Kobe Bryant through the media, then chalking up their notorious public feuds to “marketing.”

When told of Jackson’s comments, O’Neal laughed heartily and said, “He’s right,” then sent another compliment Jackson’s way.

“He (Jackson) was great. He let us do what we did. His thing was, we’re wining and we won the championship so he’s not going to mess with it. That’s what it was about.”

There is a chance of course, this is just another marketing campaign. Or, that Jackson was a bit weary from the Lakers recent travels.

He was never wild about the idea of having to be part of the party during this four-day break after all.

Asked how he felt about signing up for another season after the Lakers played eight games in 13 days, with seven of them on the road, Jackson chuckled a bit, then shook his head.

“You come home from a two week road trip and you pack your bags for the last time, haul them out to the door and the guy’s taking them down and you wonder, `Can I go thru this thing again next year?,’ ” Jackson said.

“That crosses your mind, there’s no doubt about it. So that’s why I’ve asked the owner to let me do one year at a time.”

Meanwhile, across the room, Jackson’s two current All Stars were holding court for the assembled media, causing much less stir.

Well, except for the fact that Kobe Bryant showed up considerably late due to a delay on his morning flight.

During his 18-minute media session, Bryant deflected just about every question pertaining to O’Neal, except to joke that O’Neal “never really knew the triangle.”

The Lakers current center, Pau Gasol, spent most of his time being interviewed by the Spanish media and talking about how excited he was to watch his younger brother Marc Gasol play in the rookie sophomore game on Friday night.

Already this All Star experience is shaping up better than his previous trip to Houston in 2005, when Gasol got the flu and spent most of the weekend in bed.

“So far so good,” Gasol said. “I’m a little sick, but it’s just a little cold. Nothing like last time. The trip was tough. Freezing cities and a lot of games. It kind of wears you down. But it’s exciting to be here. I’ve was able to get some rest last night, and hopefully some more (today).”

Bryant, who was keeping a noticeably lower profile this year, said his main joy this weekend would come from seeing his friends from the Olympic team again.

“It’s a chance to get to see my guys,” Bryant said. “Chris Paul, LeBron, and D-Wade. We all formed a relationship over the summer so it’s a good opportunity to kind of catch up and just hang out with them.”

As for his reunion with his old friend?

“It should be fun,” he said. “I think it should be fun.”

It already is.

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Where do they stand?

SALT LAKE CITY The Lakers reached the All-Star break tonight with a 42-10 record, which puts them percentage points ahead of the Boston Celtics (43-11) for the NBA’s best overall record. They lead the third-place Cleveland Cavaliers by 1 1/2 games in the fight for home-court advantage throughout the playoffs. What’s more, they lead the San Antonio Spurs by 6 1/2 games in the Western Conference standings and have a whopping 13 1/2-game lead over the Phoenix Suns in the Pacific Division race.

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Winning streak ends at seven

SALT LAKE CITY — The Lakers fell with a thud in the closing moments tonight, losing to the far more energetic Utah Jazz, 113-109. Kobe Bryant scored 37 points, Lamar Odom had 19 points and 19 rebounds, his third consecutive game with a season high for rebounds. Pau Gasol had 16 points and Derek Fisher scored 13. Deron Williams had 31 for Utah.

The Lakers lost for the first time in eight games and for only the 10th time in 52 games this season. They remained percentage points ahead of the Boston Celtics (43-11) for the best overall record in the NBA at the All-Star break.

They were not happy after the game, however.

Coach Phil Jackson: “We played a lethargic first half. The bench came in and played good and kept us going in the ballgame. I think our starters tried to rally at the end of the half and did a good job doing it. I didn’t like the way we started in the second half and had a lot of missed opportunities and they took advantage.”

Odom: “They just beat us. We could do a better job of playing without the referees and not worrying about calls. If we do have a problem with an official, let Kobe talk to them. We usually are a little tougher at the end of games mentally. Tonight, I think we coudl have done a better job. … It’s tough on the road.”

Bryant: “(The Jazz) play extremely well here at home. They always play us tough here. … We just didn’t play well defensively. We didn’t play hard enough defensively. We played lazy.”

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Halftime: Lakers 63, Jazz 61

SALT LAKE CITY — Maybe it was the altitude, but the Lakers didn’t play a lick of defense in the first half. Not sure what was up with the Utah Jazz since they should be used to the thin air. Kobe Bryant scored 20 points on 8-for-13 shooting in the first half. Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher had 11 apiece and Lamar Odom had 10 points and nine rebounds as the Lakers shot 56.5 percent. Deron Williams had 14 points for Utah, which shot 62.5 percent. No way the scoring pace will continue at this rate in the second half, will it?

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Kobe hits milestone (updated)

When Kobe Bryant made a free throw with 3:21 remaining in the first half tonight, he reached 23,000 points for his career. He hit the milestone faster than any other player in NBA history at 30 years, 171 days. Wilt Chamberlain did it in 30 years, 176 days.

Bryant jumped to the NBA from Lower Merion (Pa.) HIgh School. Chamberlain made two stops before leaping from Overbrook HIgh in Philadelphia to the NBA. He went to Kansas and also played with the Harlem Globetrotters before joining the league.

Oh by the way, Bryant had 34 points on 13-for-26 shooting at and the Lakers defeated the Oklahoma City Thunder, 105-98. Pau Gasol added 22 points and 14 rebounds and Lamar Odom had 12 points and a season-high 18 rebounds.

“You know, it’s always fun,” Bryant said of reaching his milestone. “Whenever you talk about the history of the game, it’s always a tremendous honor.”

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Morrison, Brown sit out against Thunder

Adam Morrison and Shannon Brown, the newest Lakers, were not on the active roster for tonight’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder. It was not a surprise since they were acquired from the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday and practiced for the first time with their new teammates Monday. Neither is familiar with the triangle offense and Lakers coach Phil Jackson would like to get them used to it before they play in a game. it probably won’t happen until well after the All-Star break this weekend.

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Radmanovic apparently thrilled to be in Charlotte

I know, this one caught me by surprise too. But Vlad Radmanovic is apparently thrilled to be in Charlotte.

Not so much for the cities’ southern comforts, but for the chance to get out from under Phil Jackson’s thumb it seems.

“Here I’ll do what I do best. Being a Laker was a great experience, but it was also frustrating not knowing when and how I’d play,” Radmanovic told the Charlotte Observer on Sunday.

“Phil’s system, great as it is, doesn’t give a role player much opportunity. For Kobe Bryant, it’s great. For Paul Gasol, it’s great. But role players don’t do much.”

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