Lakers’ Steve Nash “definitely hopeful” he will play Friday vs. Clippers

PORTLAND — As he hobbled toward the locker room, Lakers guard Steve Nash brought another painful reminder on how the team’s fortunes largely rests on health.

Nash suffered a lower contusion in his left leg during the Lakers’ 116-106 loss Wednesday to the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden after colliding with point guard Damian Lillard. Nash said he’s “definitely hopeful” he will play when the Lakers host the Clippers Friday at Staples Center. But it’s not guaranteed. The Lakers plan to reevaluate Nash during Thursday’s practice.

“I’ve had contusions before but not necessarily in this spot,” Nash said. “It’s kind of frustrating.”

Nash clutched below his left knee during the collision that he said hit his shin with 2:26 left in the first half. Nash returned wearing a protective yellow sleeve to open the second half. But he then went back to the locker room with 10:44 left in the third quarter.

Nash then spent the remainder of the game receiving treatment and icing his left leg.

“It was sore,” Nash said. “But I went out and tried to play and then I planted on it. I gave out on it. I couldn’t function or plant on it or push off or accelerate.”

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Lakers lose 116-106 to Portland

PORTLAND – The Lakers traveled nearly 1,000 miles north eager to escape the demons that haunted them back home.

A season-opening clunker filled with little defense, confusion over the Princeton-style offense and sub-par free-throw shooting suddenly put Los Angeles on high alert on whether the Lakers’ so-called Super Team warranted the hype.

But as the Lakers discovered in their 116-106 loss Wednesday to the Portland Trail Blazers at the Rose Garden, no amount amount of progress will assuage concerns until it better influences the bottom-line result. The Lakers opened the season with an 0-2 record for the second consecutive year under Coach Mike Brown. The Lakers also dropped their 17th game in the past 21 contests in Portland.

The Lakers looked more fluid and comfortable running their sets, resulting in multiple contributions from Dwight Howard (33 points, 14 rebounds), Kobe Bryant (30 points), Pau Gasol (16 points) and Metta World Peace (10 points). The Lakers also shot 50 percent from the field. But Portland nullified those efforts with double-digit performances from Nicolas Batum (26 points), Wesley Mathews (22) Damian Lillard (23), LaMarcus Aldridge (19), and J.J. Hickson (13). The Trial Blazers went 9 of 20 from three-point range. And the game soon broke away when Portland went on a 9-0 run en route to a 92-76 lead to end the third quarter.

After posting only nine points on 3 of 9 shooting and four assists in the Lakers’ debut Tuesday against Dallas, Nash fared even worse against Portland with two points on a 1 of 3 clip with four assists. He also missed the entire second half after suffering a lower contusion in left leg after colliding with Lillard.

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Dwight Howard’s Halloween costume

As talk centered on Halloween in the Lakers’ locker room, Dwight Howard soon divulged a costume he wore last year. He said he went to Universal Studios in Orlando dressed as a homeless person. As proof, Howard showed this newspaper a cell phone photo where he sported a thick and graying beard and held a sign. It said: “will dance for food.”

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Lakers remain a work in progress with offense

The moment the doors opened at the Lakers’ practice facility nearly a month ago, reporters saw the first glimpse on how the Lakers’ so-called Super Team will look.

But Dwight Howard wasn’t throwing thunderous dunks. Steve Nash wasn’t zipping passes all over the place. Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol weren’t using their amazing footwork to find an open mid-range jumper or drive to the basket. Instead, the Lakers repeatedly stopped practice and went over concepts.

Lakers assistant coach Eddie Jordan, whom Mike Brown hired this offseason to teach elements of the Princeton offense, frequently shrilled his whistle. At times, Jordan instructed Nash where to set up the play. Other times, Jordan demonstrated where Bryant should move off the ball. Jordan told Gasol and Howard how to space properly in the paint and high-post. Jordan showed Metta World Peace where to fill in the gaps.

Granted, the Lakers weren’t playing against an actual defense. Because of his ongoing rehab from back surgery, Howard paced himself with his movement. And with it being the first day of practice, the Lakers valued processing information than actually executing it.

That was the first sign the Lakers weren’t going to enter the 2012-13 season by simply rolling the basketball on the floor and letting four future Hall-of-Famers sort it out. Brown wanted to add structure to an offense that many of his players lacked in his first season.

A month later, the Lakers’ 99-91 season-opening loss Tuesday to the Dallas Mavericks show they’re still wondering where to go. In this case, however, the Lakers played against an actual team. They didn’t have the benefit of stopping the game so they knew where to go.

“We just have to flow,” Howard said. “Once you think too much out there, you tend to mess up. We want to make sure the offense flows. Sometimes you tense up. You have to relax.”

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Jordan Hill says back is “getting better”

Very few bright spots came out of the Lakers’ 99-91 season-opening loss Tuesday to the Dallas Mavericks.

The Lakers went 12 of 31 from the free throw line. Even with a full training camp, the Lakers looked mostly lost running their revamped offense that included elements of the Princeton system. Against a team lacking Dirk Nowitzki and Chris Kaman, the Lakers allowed Dallas to muscle them inside with 46 points in the paint. Don’t even get started about the bench. That unit was outscored 37-17.

Aside from Kobe Bryant scoring 22 points on a strained right foot, there was one other bright spot.

Lakers reserve forward Jordan Hill posted nine points on 4 of 9 shooting and five rebounds in 14 minutes after sitting out Monday’s practice because of the herniated disk in his back.

“It’s getting better,” Hill told this newspaper. “It’s hard when you go out and play hard and when you sit on the bench without doing anything, it will stiffen up on you. I have to stay active, riding treadmills and try to do something to keep it loose.”

Hill originally hurt his back in the Lakers’ preseason opener Oct. 7 against Golden State in Fresno. It prompted the Lakers to keep him out of the lineup for six preseason games. Yet, even when he returned in the Lakers’ preseason finale last week, Hill said the Lakers kept him out of Monday’s session just as a preventative measure.

Still, once Hill returned to the court in the Lakers’ season opener, he held nothing back. Hill provided endless amounts of energy. He was one of the lone players trying on defense. For a bench lacking much of an identity, Hill at least showed consistency.

AS with everything regarding the Lakers, though, Hill’s effort wasn’t perfect. He shot one of six from the free-throw line.

“It was just an off night,” Hill said. “We have to take our time next time, aim for the back rim and let it go. That could be a part, definitely on my part. I missed five or six that were in and out. You have to keep shooting, take your time and aim for that rim.”

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Kobe Bryant expresses concern with foot on back-to-back

With his feet in a bucket full of ice, Kobe Bryant could finally relax.

The Lakers’ star didn’t let his strained and bruised right foot sideline him from playing in the Lakers’ 99-92 season-opening loss Tuesday to the Dallas Mavericks. Nor did he allow the injury to temper his aggressiveness. Bryant posted 22 points on 11 of 14 shooting in 35 minutes by primarily driving to the basket.

Yet, once the game all ended, a harsh reality awaited him. The Lakers have another game Wednesday night at Portland, giving Bryant an immediate answer on how much his strained right foot will respond to the on-court wear and tear. How concerned is the Lakers’ star?

“A little bit,” Bryant said. “We’ll have to see how it feels.”
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Dwight Howard admits frustration, fatigue in season opener

The Lakers hoped to see Dwight Howard’s dominance. But they mostly saw exhaustion. The Lakers hoped to see plenty of points. But they mostly saw missed free throws. The Lakers hoped to see Howard showcase his three-time NBA Defensive Player of the Year credentials. But they mostly saw Howard showing frustration over the physical play.

The Lakers’ 99-91 season-opening loss Tuesday to the Dallas Mavericks may have featured Howard posting 19 points on 8 of 12 shooting and 10 rebounds. But there’s plenty that represented Superman’s Kryptonite. His 3 of 14 mark from the free-throw line. His timing as he continues to rehab from back surgery. And most importantly, his frustration.

Staples Center featured a goofy promo where Howard touted his love for surfing, staring at the stars at night and taking long walks on the beach. But nowehre did Howard appear joyful on the basketball court.

“There were some moments I was upset,” Howard said.

Howard seemed upset about many things.

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Kobe Bryant to play in Lakers’ season opener

The entire Lakers fanbase can exhale.

Kobe Bryant will suit up in the Lakers’ season opener tonight against the Dallas Mavericks despite nursing a strained and bruised right foot.

“Feeling good enough to play tonight!” Bryant posted on Facebook. “I’ll use my strong midsoles for added cushion on the foot for more protection. Looking forward to this journey as I’m sure you are.”

After the Lakers’ morning shootaround, Bryant penned his chances to play tonight at 85%. Even though he ran for 45 minutes without any pain and noticed his foot getting stronger, Bryant still wanted to see how it would respond for the rest of the day.

Bryant’s had a well-documented history in playing through injuries. But he sounded cognizant in not wanting to play if added pressure on the foot would worsen his condition.

Lakers embark on one of the most-awaited seasons in franchise history

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Michael Cooper predicts Lakers will four-peat

Surveying the NBA landscape, Michael Cooper laid out a bold prediction that will both please Lakers fans and raise the seemingly infinite amount of expectations surrounding this team.

“The Lakers are about to win the championship four years in a row,” Cooper said in a phone interview with this newspaper.

Cooper, who played for the Lakers from 1978-90, let out a hearty laugh when reminded that former Lakers Coach Pat Riley guaranteed a Lakers’ three-peat during the 1987 NBA championship parade. One year later, Riley appeared clairvoyant.

Cooper, currently USC’s women’s basketball coach and a Lakers analyst for Channel 7, recalled Riley’s message also helped set a tone for the 1997-88 season.

“We knew what Riles was trying to do, but we didn’t think he was bold enough to say it,” Cooper said. “We talked about it in our personal and private meetings. But for him to go out there and say it, it showed our coach had a lot of faith in us and knew we could get it done. That statement started us working that next day. Usually after winning a championship, guys take two or three weeks off and lay up somewhere in Hawaii and don’t do anything. I went away for eight days and came back and started work. That enabled us to turn it on that following season.”
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