HOUSTON — There was no repeat tonight of the Lakers’ feeble first half Friday against the Oklahoma City Thunder. For starters, the Lakers had almost twice as many assists in the first half against the Houston Rockets (13) as they had in the entire game against the Thunder. Kobe Bryant had six to go with 10 points in the half. Pau Gasol led the Lakers with 15 points. Lamar Odom had a team-leading 10 rebounds. Jermaine Taylor led the Rockets with 13 points. Former Laker Trevor Ariza had only four points on 2-for-7 shooting.
HOUSTON — Color me skeptical, but here’s the key paragraph from Ken Berger’s blog at CBSsports.com: “There’s a greater chance he crosses the country and goes to New York than he crosses the hallway and goes to the Clippers,” one (NBA) executive said. “He can use the Clippers all he wants, but he’s not going to the Clippers — unless he gets to pick his own coach and GM or something like that. I had no inkling that he would leave the Lakers last summer. Now, New York could be a legitimate option. I wouldn’t rule it out.”
First of all, I believe Phil Jackson will return to coach the Lakers next season, whether they win a second straight NBA championship or not. Second, I think Bryant will receive a contract extension at some point in the not-too-distant future, ruling out the possibility that he would terminate his contract July 1 and become a free agent. Third, why the Knicks? It would be like going back in time for Bryant, back to the days when he was surrounded by a lackluster supporting cast. Why would he do it?
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Lakers’ seven-game winning streak came to a crashing end tonight. Their 12-game winning streak against the Oklahoma City Thunder/Seattle SuperSonics also ended. The Lakers avoided the franchise record for fewest points in a game (70 set Nov. 5, 2002 against the Cleveland Cavaliers). But they set a low for points in a game this season. They had only 13 points in the third quarter, but rallied with 28 in the fourth quarter. On the plus side, the starters should be well-rested for Saturday’s game against the Houston Rockets. Only Ron Artest played in the fourth quarter tonight. Lamar Odom led the Lakers with 15 points. Kevin Durant had 26 for the ThunderSonics.
OKLAHOMA CITY — The Lakers were no-shows in the first half tonight and the young, energetic and frenetic Oklahoma City Thunder made them pay. Russell Westbrook, a former UCLA standout, scored 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting. Kevin Durant added 13 points on 6-for-11 shooting. Lamar Odom led the Lakers with 12, and Kobe Bryant had 11. The Lakers shot 15 for 40 in the first half (37.5), which was an improvement on their 6-for-20 shooting in the first quarter (30 percent). The Lakers have won 12 in a row over the Thunder/Sonics, a streak which seems destined to end tonight.
OKLAHOMA CITY — Phil Jackson said this afternoon he’s open to returning to coach the Lakers after his contract runs out at the end of this season. His health, which has been good this season, and the Lakers’ success, which also has been pretty good, are the key factors in his decision to sign a new contract. Here’s more of what he said:
“No decision. No leaning at all. I’m leaning against a wall. Health-wise it’s fine. I serve at the behest of the Buss family, and Jeanie I serve all the time. I think it’s the best way to approach it right now. The way the team is, the way it’s built, the way it’s going this season, the direction the NBA is going right now. A lot of these things fit together.
“If we win, it’s almost imperative we give it another shot, but that’s a lot of ifs. Winning is a big problem. There are four playoffs you have to get through before we can say we’ve won and now we have a chance to do something special again, something unique. That’s a long shot. I think how we make it through the year has a lot to do with it.
“I think Dr. Buss said he put a lot of things on the line by re-signing Lamar (Odom). Some of it is financial. This team has never lost money since he’s owned it. We all pushed him to sign Lamar. We have to get this guy back. At a time when it’s tough financially in this league, he took the step (to keep the team intact).
“I’ll do a whole physical checkup at the end of the year … and then I’ll make a decision. It’s pretty easy. It’ll go pretty quick. It’s a two-day thing and then I’ll be back and say what happens.”
OKLAHOMA CITY — Some days are funny. Going by my boarding passes, it’s only about 600 miles from San Antonio to Oklahoma City. Actually, it’s less if you drive directly along Interstate 35. Several beat reporters flew from San Antonio to Oklahoma City with a change of planes in Houston. No big deal. There are many cities that require a change of planes. But when we got to Houston after a mere 32 minutes in the air from San Antonio, we arrived at our gate to discover there was no flight attendant to work our flight to Oklahoma City. We scratched our heads. Has this ever happened to anyone else?
P.S. The airline found someone to work the flight and after a short delay we were on our way to Oklahoma City, arriving a little late.
SAN ANTONIO — How about Ron Artest blowing kisses to Lakers fans in the crowd tonight at the AT&T Center? Artest scored 16 points, grabbed eight rebounds and added three assists, five steals and one blocked shots in 36 minutes, 36 seconds. If you didn’t know it before tonight, this was why the Lakers signed him last summer and allowed Trevor Ariza to move to the Houston Rockets as a free agent. There were lots of other reasons why the Lakers extended their winning streak, but Artest’s play was one of the big ones. Pau Gasol’s defensive play against San Antonio’s Tim Duncan was another. Gasol and Duncan essentially neutralized each other, which was fine with the Lakers. Gasol had 10 points and 12 rebounds and Duncan had six points on 2-for-11 shooting plus 12 rebounds.
SAN ANTONIO — The Lakers couldn’t guard George Hill in the first half tonight. Hill, filling in for the injured Tony Parker, scored 20 points on 8-for-11 shooting. Tim Duncan had only four points on 2-for-7 shooting. Lamar Odom scored 12 points and grabbed six rebounds for the Lakers. Kobe Bryant added 10 points. He made a jump shot midway through the first quarter and passed Alex English for 12th place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list.
SAN ANTONIO — Nothing new to report, but ESPN’s Los Angeles website had a lengthy sit-down interview with Lakers owner Jerry Buss. Here’s the key question and answer from Buss about Coach Phil Jackson’s future with the team beyond the end of his contract:
Q: There was a claim in a recent Internet story that, because of the failure of the Lakers to offer Phil Jackson a contract extension to this point, there is a tension among members of the Buss family. Is that true?
A: We really want to get through the year and then take a deep breath and see where we are. If I were to go to Phil right now and say, “Will you coach next year?” he’d say, “Well, let’s wait until the end of the year and see how I feel.” So, I don’t think it causes any tension. I know I have to wait until season’s end before a discussion begins.
SAN ANTONIO — The Lakers headed for Texas today looking more like a M*A*S*H unit. Let’s see if we have the complete list of the injured. Ron Artest, Shannon Brown, Kobe Bryant and Jordan Farmar have broken fingers or sprained thumbs. Lamar Odom has an injured finger and an injured shoulder. Andrew Bynum has a strained left Achilles tendon. Sasha Vujacic is still wearing a T-shirt with a protective pad sewn inside because of a shoulder injury. Derek Fisher has a jammed hip. Luke Walton has a back injury. Am I forgetting anyone?