They were up, then they were down before they went up ahead. Finally, the Lakers got ahead of the Orlando Magic and stayed there, winning thanks in part to a 15-0 run to start the fourth quarter tonight. The Lakers reached the midway point of their season with a three-game winning streak and a 32-9 record, best in the NBA. Now, the big question is: Are they ready for their eight-game trip, which starts Thursday in Cleveland?
Said Lakers coach Phil Jackson: “I’m not totally sure about that. I’m not so happy about the way we’re playing. We’ve had some inconsistent games right now. I think we need to play a stronger game. Defensively there are some lapses out there that I’m not happy about.”
Getting Kobe Bryant back to something resembling good health certainly would aid the Lakers as they travel to Cleveland, New York, Toronto, Washington, Indiana, Philadelphia, Boston and Memphis over the next two weeks. Bryant got smacked on his fractured right index finger tonight and scored only 11 points on 4-for-19 shooting.
The Lakers jumped ahead of Orlando right from the start tonight, leading by as many as 13 points in the first half. They never trailed and maintained a double-digit lead for most of the half. Shannon Brown led the Lakers with 11 points in a reserve role. Ron Artest added 10 and Derek Fisher had eight. Kobe Bryant, who went into the game needing 30 points to reach 25,000 for his career, scored only four points in the half. Dwight Howard led Orlando with 18 points and six rebounds. He was the only Magic player in double figures.
Shannon Brown was picked today to compete in the dunk contest during the NBA All-Star Saturday Night on Feb. 13 in Dallas. He joins Nate Robinson of the New York Knicks, who will try for a record third title, and Gerald Wallace of the Charlotte Bobcats. The Clippers’ Eric Gordon and the Toronto Raptors’ DeMar DeRozan (USC) will complete in the dunk-in during halftime of the Rookie Challenge on Feb. 12 to decide the fourth entrant.
Said Brown on his dunking plans: “I’m at the drawing board now. I’ve got a couple of ideas in my head. I won’t give them away. It’s going to be a great time. It’s going to be competitive also. From the time people started saying I should be in the dunk contest, my brain got to working with what I should do. I’ve been thinking about it a little bit.”
He also said: “Thank you to everybody who campaigned for me, everybody who voted for me, everybody who had my back this whole time.”
Pau Gasol said he intends to play Friday night against the Clippers, ending his six-game layoff because of a strained left hamstring. He said he’s ready to play. He also said it was difficult to sit out and watch the Lakers go 3-3 in his absence. “No issues, no pain,” he said. “I trust that I can be out there playing at my best right now without any danger (of a setback). There’s no concern. I’m ready to go out there to have some fun with my teammates. … I feel confident I can be out there with no risk, no danger.”
DALLAS — Here are some of the best and brightest postgame comments after the Lakers beat the Dallas Mavericks, 100-95, tonight for the franchise’s 3,000th victory:
Coach Phil Jackson: “You know, we have had other really good wins. When you have 30 it is hard to recall all of those, especially when you suffer from Alzheimer’s. I shouldn’t make fun of that, that was not appropriate. But, anyway, it was good to have Luke (Walton) in there. … He changed the game for us because we had an answer when he was in there.”
Derek Fisher: “With the injuries we seemed to play with a pace and composure and understanding of what we wanted to accomplish against the (Mavericks). We played a little more chess tonight because of Kobe’s injuries (Bryant had back spasms). … Obviously, we didn’t feel like the season was on the line in any way, but we did take these guys very seriously. … We weren’t going to allow ourselves to use any type of excuse (for) why we couldn’t put ourselves in a position to win.”
Ron Artest: “Our mindset was the same, just go out there and play hard. I asked Kobe before the game, ‘Are you all right?’ He said, ‘No, I might not make it.’ So, everybody said we’ve got to step it up. In the second half, I said, ‘Are you OK?’ He said, ‘Yeah, I’m good now.’ But Dallas didn’t know that, so they played him 1-on-1 and he hit that big shot (a tie-breaking jumper that gave the Lakers a 97-95 lead with 28.9 seconds left).”
SAN ANTONIO — Kobe Bryant did not play in the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ loss tonight to the San Antonio Spurs. He suffered back spams in the second quarter, tried to play through them in the third and finally called it a night in the fourth. He scored 16 points, all in the first half. He said “I think so,” when asked if believed he would play Wednesday against Dallas. Lakers coach Phil Jackson used the word “probably.”
But wait there was more ….
Small forward Ron Artest sprained his right index finger in the first half. Later, after scoring 13 points and grabbing eight rebounds in almost 33 minutes, he denied he was hurt. He also said he expected to play Wednesday against the Mavericks.
Backup guard Sasha Vujacic strained his right hamstring in the first half and could not play in the second. He wasn’t immediately certain how it happened, just that it did and he couldn’t play at full speed. He wasn’t sure if he could play against Dallas.
Backup forward Adam Morrison didn’t play because of a sore throat. His status for Wednesday was unclear. Morrison was the only one of the 12 players who suited up for tonight’s game who did not play.
Power forward/center Pau Gasol isn’t likely to pushed into service for Wednesday’s game. He plans to make his return from a strained left hamstring Friday against the Clippers, according to Jackson.
SAN ANTONIO — Luke Walton was set to dress and perhaps to play tonight against the San Antonio Spurs. He had been sidelined for almost two months because of a pinched nerve in his back. “I told him I feel good,” Walton said, referring to Lakers coach Phil Jackson. “Friday was the target date (against the Clippers). … I told him I would be ready if he called me. I feel good enough to play basketball. It feels a lot better right now than it did before this whole thing (started in training camp).”
UPDATE: Walton scored four points and grabbed one rebound in six minutes in the Lakers’ loss tonight to the Spurs. He took four shots and made two. Later, he said he tried to talk a little trash but was breathing too heavily to be understood. He said an unnamed Spur laughed at him, asking, “Why are you breathing so hard?”
Pau Gasol went for a 10-minute run on a treadmill before tonight’s victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, and if he wakes up without any significant pain or soreness in his strained left hamstring, he said he could practice with his teammates Monday. He plans to accompany the Lakers on their two-game trip to play the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday and the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday. There’s a chance he could play in Texas, but Friday against the Clippers seems more likely.
“I’m very hopeful I’ll be back soon,” he said before heading to the Staples Center weight room to begin his treadmill workout before the Lakers faced the Milwaukee Bucks. “How soon, I can’t really tell. That’s the messed up part about it.”
Meanwhile, Lakers coach Phil Jackson blamed Kobe Bryant’s shooting woes in the last three games to an absence of a protective splint on his fractured right index finger. He said Bryant would wear a sturdy one starting Tuesday. He had been wearing only tape in recent games, including tonight, when he went 4-for-21 and scored 12 points. He was 14-for-37 in the Lakers’ loss Friday to Portland and 10-for-30 in Wednesday’s loss to the Clippers.
Yes, that really was the halftime score tonight. Yes, Kobe Bryant really did miss 13 of 14 shots in the first half. Yes, the Lakers did lead by as many as 18 points despite shooting a woeful 12-for-39 (30.8 percent). Yes, the Bucks really did shoot more bricks than the Lakers, however. They were 12 of 42 (28.6 percent). Milwaukee’s Michael Redd left the game in the second quarter because of a sore left knee. Oh, and Andrew Bynum scored 15 points and grabbed 11 rebounds as the Lakers managed to win the battles down low. The Lakers held the Bucks to eight points in the first quarter.
Luke Walton had a couple of interesting observations about the Lakers’ play today after practice. He has had a good view of things while sitting out because of a back injury. He is getting closer to a return to the active roster, by the way. He could be back in the rotation late next week. Or perhaps by the time the team leaves for an eight-game trip at the end of the month. Anyway, here are a couple of his musings:
“It’s so hard (to sit out because of an injury). It’s always hard. When a team loses, it’s even tougher. The way our system (the triangle offense) works, we’ve got to have everyone playing together. It’s not like a pick-and-roll offense other teams use. If a guy gets hurt, they just stick another guy in there. It’s about timing and passing.
“We’ve got to start playing better basketball…. It’s not just one thing. We’ve got to figure it out because we want to hold onto the best record in the league. I need to keep the offense flowing (when he returns from his injury). When it flows, it’s a beautiful thing.”