Bryant leads All-Star selections

Kobe Bryant received the most votes in balloting by the fans and was selected as a starter for the Western Conference All-Star team for the 13th consecutive time. He will be joined by Chris Paul of the New Orleans Hornets, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder, Carmelo Anthony of the Denver Nuggets and Yao Ming of the Houston Rockets. Yao is injured and can’t play, so NBA commissioner David Stern will select a replacement.

The Eastern Conference starters: Dwight Howard of the Orlando Magic, LeBron James of the Miami Heat, Amare Stoudemire of the New York Knicks, Derrick Rose of the Chicago Bulls and Dwyane Wade of the Heat.

The game is Feb. 20 at Staples Center.

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Looking back, looking ahead

Before they play host to their ancient and hated rivals, the Boston Celtics, on Sunday afternoon, the Lakers have a game against the lowly Sacramento Kings on Friday night at Staples Center. Last time they overlooked a team, the Milwaukee Bucks routed them, which led to a three-game losing streak that included their Christmas Day debacle against LeBron James and the Miami Heat and called into question their fitness as three-peat champs. Last time everyone in the known basketball universe hammered them without mercy for being too fat and happy with themselves. Since that three-game skid, the Lakers have won 12 of 15 games, including Tuesday’s 29-point rout of the Utah Jazz.

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Lakers 120, Jazz 91

The Lakers beat the Utah Jazz for the ninth consecutive time at Staples Center and for the 19th time in 22 games since their downtown arena opened. Tuesday’s game was close only for a few minutes early in the game. The Lakers never trailed and led by as many as 38 points. Kobe Bryant scored 21 points, Pau Gasol had 20 and Andrew Bynum added 19. Deron Williams scored 17 for Utah, which lost for the fifth time on its five-game trip.

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Half: Lakers 66, Jazz 38

The Lakers looked like a team tuning up for their bitter rivals, the Boston Celtics on Sunday, and the Utah Jazz looked like a team playing the final game on a five-game cross-country trip. The Lakers shot 63.2 percent in the first half and the Jazz didn’t. it was that simple. Kobe Bryant scored 15 points on 5-for-8 shooting for the Lakers. The Lakers outscored the Jazz, 22-12, in the paint and had 20 assists to only 12 for the Jazz. Utah shot 32.6 percent.

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Gasol honored

Pau Gasol has been named the European Player of the Year for 2010 by the Italian sports journal La Gazetta dello Sport, the third consecutive year the Spaniard has been honored. Gasol beat out Dirk Nowitzki of Dallas (Germany) and Juan Carlos Navarro of FC Barcelona. Gasol and Nowitzki are the only players to win the award three straight times.

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Too old to play D?

Jerry West took a couple of shots at the Lakers’ defense last week in a chat with a bunch of Orange County car dealers, saying they were told old and wondering when the last time anyone saw them hit the floor to chase a loose ball. Asked today about West’s comments, Lakers guard Derek Fisher declined to answer. He did say this, however:

“You won’t get me to respond negatively to anything said by Jerry West. I probably wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for him (West drafted Fisher while he was Lakers GM). But anybody else who has anything to say about how we’ve been playing defensively, it’s just unfounded. “Statistically, the numbers are there in the last 10 or 11 games. Teams are not shooting the ball as well. Our opponents’ points are down. We’ve had some slip-ups, including the Clippers game (a loss Jan. 16). … We’re working hard at it.”

Indeed, the numbers are favorable to Fisher’s argument rather than West’s. The Lakers have have given up 100 points or more only three times in their last 17 games. They also are giving up an average of 96.4 points this season, which is slightly better than the average of 97.0 they gave up en route to winning the title in 2009-10.

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A role for Ratliff?

Theo Ratliff returned to the practice court today, making the Lakers look whole again. He gives the team four centers, which is probably about two too many. But that doesn’t mean he can’t have an impact if he remains healthy in the season’s second half. When he is ready to play, the Lakers will send rookie forward Derrick Caracter to Bakersfield of the D-League to give him some playing time. Ratliff also will give Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum some work during scrimmages and if they get into foul trouble he can give the Lakers a few minutes now and again. Joe Smith is the fourth center. Lakers coach Phil Jackson was reluctant to guess when Ratliff might be ready to play in a game.

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Lakers 107, Nuggets 97

DENVER — The Lakers ended their four-game losing streak at the Pepsi Center with a balanced and brawny effort tonight. Ron Artest and Pau Gasol scored 19 points each and Kobe Bryant and Lamar Odom added 18 apiece for the Lakers. Andrew Bynum scored 17 for the Lakers, who outrebounded Denver by an astounding 47-27.

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Half: Nuggets 52, Lakers 49

DENVER — Pau Gasol and Ron Artest scored nine points each for the Lakers in the first half tonight. Gasol also had nine rebounds. Artest might have scored more, but went to the bench after picking up his second foul with 2 minutes, 10 seconds left in the first quarter and did not return to the game. Luke Walton replaced him and did a fine job of Denver’s Carmelo Anthony, who had 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting in the half. Arron Afflalo, a former UCLA standout, led the Nuggets with 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting.

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Jeanie talks contraction

DENVER — LeBron James got kicked in the teeth when he suggested the way to improve the NBA’s bottom line might be to contract a few money-losing teams. Jeanie Buss, the Lakers’ executive vice president, the daughter of team owner Jerry Buss and the girlfriend of Coach Phil Jackson, told the Wall Street Journal it might be a good idea.

“I would hate to see us lose teams, but I think contraction is something we have to consider,” Buss said. “We may be in some markets we shouldn’t be in.”

Buss is serving this season on the league’s labor relations committee and has gained insight into the struggles of some teams, including the New Orleans Hornets. The NBA assumed ownership of the Hornets earlier this season, and there a possibility the team will re-locate. Additionally, the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the players association runs out June 30 and there are fears of a protracted labor impasse.

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