Kobe Bryant says this season is “the best I’ve played in a while”

Kobe Bryant doesn’t need many New Year’s resolutions.

He enters the Lakers’ (15-15) game against the Philadelphia 76ers (14-17) tonight at Staples Center averaging a league-leading 30.1 points per game, his highest output since the 2006-07 season. Bryant’s shooting percentage (47.8 percent) marks a career-high assuming he can sustain it.. And he said he’s “extremely healthy” after losing 16 pounds this summer.

“I’m sure if he wanted,” forward Metta World Peace said of Bryant, “he could go out there and get 50 some nights or maybe even 60 or maybe more.”

“This is probably the best I’ve played in a while,” Bryant said. “I’ve had years the last few years where I’ve felt pretty good but we kept my minutes down so the numbers didn’t look the same, but this year I feel pretty good.”
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Pau Gasol describes plantar fasciitis as “sore”

Pau Gasol’s New Year’s resolution involving staying healthy goes beyond a cliched platitude.

The Lakers forward described the plantar fasciitis in his right foot “as sore,” though he vowed again it won’t detract him from playing.

“Hopefully it won’t increase and it won’t be painful where I can’t jump and move around and it will force me to miss games,” Gasol said. “It’s a pain in the [rear].”
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Chris Duhon a game-time decision vs. Philadelphia

Lakers reserve guard Chris Duhon will be a game-time decision in the team’s New Year’s Day game vs. Philadelphia because of back spasms.

He sat out of Monday’s practice in favor of receiving treatment and also missed the second half of Sunday’s practice once his back flared up.

Duhon, who has averaged 4.1 points on 42.7 percent shooting in 26 games, has mostly played the backup point guard spot while Steve Blake rehabs from a lower abdominal injury. Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni has paired second-year guard Darius Morris to accommodate his speed, 6’7″ frame and Steve Nash’s return.

Would Duhon’s possible absence spur D’Antoni to play Morris more minutes at the backup point guard spot?

“Not really, but it could,” D’Antoni said. “But look at him, [Darius] can play some minutes. He’s strong and he’s young.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Lakers view Clippers’ success as benchmark to reach

What in the name of 16 NBA championships has happened to the Lakers?

After spending so many years looking at the crosstown Clippers as a punchline and an inevitable double-digit benchmark, the Lakers are suddenly admiring them.

“They’re good,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni gushed about the Clippers and their 17-game winning streak. “They’re real good and they’re having a great streak, so we’ll have to reckon with them and they’re kind of setting the bar of where we need to get to.”

That’s because the Clippers own the Western Conference’s best record at 25-6 and a one-game cushion over Oklahoma City (23-6). The Clippers’ 17-game winning streak eclipses the Lakers’ 15-15 record.

“It’s impressive to put together win streaks that are that long, it shows a lot of focus,” Lakers guard Kobe Bryant said. “It shows a lot of unity and a lot of depth because they can beat you multiple ways. If you’re going to have a winning streak that’s that extensive, you have to have guys coming in from all aspects of the game.”

Part of that success involves plenty of people with Lakers connections.

The Clippers feature the league’s best bench, which includes several former Lakers, including Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes, Ronny Turiaf and Caron Butler. The Clippers’ reserves remain top in the league in points per game (42), third in assists (11.3), efficiency (50.3) and minutes played per game (21.6). Jamal Crawford’s 16.5 points per game average off the bench has impressed Bryant so much that he argues he should win the NBA’s 6th man of the year.

“They have a lot of guys who have played together before,” Bryant said, referring to the former Lakers. “They’re very familiar with each other, so even if it seems like they slapped a lot of talent together, which they did, but a lot of those guys have been together before and they understand how to play together.”

That’s why the Lakers seemed more than willing to look ahead of their New Year’s Day game against the Philadelphia 76ers and talk about the upcoming matchup against the Clippers Friday in what will be a destinated road game for the Lakers at Staples Center. The Lakers have a chance to snap the Clippers’ winning streak, but Bryant downplayed that storyline.

“I really don’t give a [bleep],” he said.

D’Antoni, however, acknowledged caring already about the Western Conference standings

The Lakers sit in 10th place in the West and are a half game behind Portland (15-14) and Minnesota (14-13) for the eighth playoff spot. The Memphis Grizzlies (19-8) and Golden State Warriors (21-10) have 5 1/2 game leads for the respective fourth and fifth seeds. There’s 52 games remaining to find solid ground, but the Lakers already face the strong likelihood they won’t have home court advantage even in the first round of the postseason.

“I’m not worried about where we play,” D’Antoni said. “Obviously we’d like to and that’s our goal. We’ll see. We’ll have to have cooperation from other teams. So when it’s not in your hands, it’s not always a thing to worry about. What we have to worry about is play well. We’ll take some steps. The standings will take care of themselves. Obviously we’ll look, do look and act like I’m not worried about it. Yeah, I’m worried about it. But we just have to keep progressing as a team.”

To what degree will home court advantage come into play, though, in determining an NBA championship? How does that match up with the Lakers’ need to stay healthy and establish consistent chemistry?

“Every season is different and every team is different, so you can’t say, ‘Well, that’s never been done,’” D’Antoni said. “Well, we’ve never had this team before so nothing is out of the realm of possibilities if you’re playing well at the right moment. That’s what we can control and that’s what we have to do. I think it’s fun to sit around and look at standings and fantasize and watch games and yell at the other team (playing on television), but we can’t control that so that’s not something we have to worry about too much.”


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Chris Duhon misses part of practice because of back spasms

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Kobe Bryant unsure if he will have permanent Twitter account

Kobe Bryant described using Nike’s Twitter handle from Dec. 25-27 as “cool” and “fun,” but he sounds unsure on whether he will set up a permanent account.

“Maybe,” he said. “The one thing about me is when I’m doing it, I enjoy doing it myself and putting the time into it. I don’t know if I have the time available to give the fans the attention they deserve.”

A reporter then remarked that even the Pope has a Twitter account.

“I don’t know if he’s tweeting himself,” Bryant said with a smile. “It’s hard for me to imagine him up there on his phone tweeting.”

Most of Bryant’s tweets centered on posting pictures of his Nike shoes and family portraits and messages about working hard. Bryant said “the coolest thing about that is the one-on-one interaction.” But Twitter’s settings don’t make it possible to see such interactions unless a user follows both accounts.

Bryant has slowly but surely become involved with social media.

He frequently posts on his Facebook page since this past offseason, including pictures of his time at the London Olympics, links promoting his Nike brand, injury updates and messages mostly about maximizing one’s talent. Bryant said his initial resistance hardly had anything to do with not liking social media.

“I just didn’t know how to use it,” Bryant said. “I decided why not give it a shot and talk to the fans directly and I found it to be enjoyable. I had a good time. I heard a lot of good comments and you’re able to get a lot of great feedback about the game and the product as well, what they like, didn’t like, it’s the best way to gauge reaction.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Chris Duhon misses part of practice because of back spasms

Lakers reserve guard Chris Duhon missed the second half of Sunday’s practice because of back spasms.

“It was a freak thing,” Duhon said in an interview with this newspaper. “I jumped up to pass and my glute kind of locked up.”

The Lakers are listing Duhon as day-to-day. He walked off the practice court wearing an ice pack on his back before entering the weight room to work on core exercises. Duhon has averaged 4.1 points per game on 42.7 percent shooting and 3.7 assists in 28 games, including nine as a starter.

Kobe Bryant and Jordan Hill have also nursed back spasms during the season.

Will Duhon practice tomorrow?

“Yeah,” he said. “I just have to ease up a little bit.”

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at mark.medina@dailynews.com

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Antawn Jamison apologizes for expressing frustration about reduced role

Two days after openly questioning the thought process behind his diminished role, Lakers forward Antawn Jamison apologized.

“I shouldn’t have expressed my frustrations the way I did, especially after a win,” Jamison told reporters. “It derails from what we’re trying to do here.”

The Lakers (15-15) have won six of their last seven games, which has coincided with Jamison sitting out the last five. That reflected a stark contrast to the Lakers’ initial expectations when they signed him this offseason to a one-year deal worth the veteran’s minimum ($1.4 million). Few expected Jamison would reflect his career 19.2 points per game through 15 seasons. But they envisioned him becoming the Lakers’ sixth man and lead the bench with secondary scoring.

Shortly after the Lakers fired Mike Brown, Jamison’s role expanded under coach Mike D’Antoni. He posted a season-high 33 points against Denver on Nov. 30 and then averaged 12.3 points over the next four games. But Metta World Peace’s offensive and defensive consistency, Jordan Hill’s energy and Jamison’s streaky shooting and subpar defense all have contributed toward a diminished role. Jamison even sat in the Lakers’ blowout win Friday over Portland when seldom-used reserves Devin Ebanks, Robert Sacre and Earl Clark played in garbage time, an issue D’Antoni says he made out of respect for the 15-year veteran.

That dynamic prompted Jamison to vent his frustrations to this newspaper.

““It doesn’t make sense at all,” Jamison said. “They’re pretty much telling me my services are no longer needed.” Jamison also wondered why D’Antoni hasn’t explained the demotion to him directly.

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Jamaal Wilkes provides more reflections on his jersey retirement

We’ve provided you an extensive writeup of Jamaal Wilkes’ storied career before the Lakers retired his No. 52 jersey at halftime of the Lakers-Blazers game. We provided you a more extensive Q&A of my interview with him. But at a time where he deserves a dominant spotlight after gracefully ceding it during his whole career, below is Wilkes’ Q&A with the media. Interesting stuff.

On knowing no one else will ever wear No. 52 again

That’s a lot to think about. I’m really humbled by that. Also, the fact that my family is all part of it and they’re saying no one will ever wear No. 52 again. Not only that, but it will be in some lofty company. I’m just having fun and I’m just enjoying it. Months later, it will hit me with the true significance of it all.

How emotional are you?

I’m pretty emotional. At halftime during the ceremony, I don’t know what to expect. But I’m very emotional right now.

Didn’t you expect this to happen though?

Yeah, I did. I’m glad it happened while I’m still alive.

You were always a great player, but you were sort of in the background. Now that you’re full fledged center staged with the Hall of Fame and other jersey retirements, what’s it like for you to be in front? Is it uncomfortable or just different?

It’s different. I prided myself on winning. I learned at a really young age, you can debate who the best player was but you can’t debate who won or lost. That’s where my priorities went and I played with some pretty good players along the way. I like to think that they made me better and I made them better. I was able to adapt to different situations. I was a good influence in the locker room. But it is different being front and center going forward for the rest of my life.

Once you had the highest honor in your sport in the Hall of Fame, yet you still seem worked up for this honor, how do you go from the highest honor to still feeling emotional about this night?

This is pretty high. Elgin Baylor, Jerry West, Wilt Chamberlain…I mean these guys all are in the Hall of Fame. It says a lot about the Lakers tradition that they have awesome basketball players. Now I’m one of them. Being front and center and I look in the mirror, I go wow. It’s cool and yet it’s emotional for me.
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Kobe Bryant jokes Shaq will be presenter at jersey retirement ceremony

Every now and then, Kobe Bryant likes to reopen old wounds and take light digs at Shaquille O’Neal.

So it should hardly be surprising who Bryant quickly came up with on who will accompany him whenever the Lakers ultimately retire his jersey.

“I haven’t given it too much thought,” Bryant said. “But brainstormer right now, I’d probably force Shaq to do it.”

Such an issue came up because the Lakers honored Jamaal Wilkes at halftime for becoming the eighth Laker to have his jersey retired and hanging on the Staples Center rafters.

Bryant’s answer instantly elicited laughs considering the contentious relationship they had despite winning three NBA championships together. As Bryant said those words, he let out a smug grin. That widened even more when I suggested tongue in cheek that it’d be a no brainer that Shaq would agree to such a proposal.

Perhaps Bryant, himself, could accompany Shaq when he gets his Lakers jersey retired this season on April 2, 2013.

Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter.

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Pau Gasol displays versatile skillset in win over Portland

The instant the ball dropped into the basket, Pau Gasol made an airplane motion with his hands. The moment he threw one of his precious lobs to Dwight Howard, Gasol followed through with a series of high fives. The time he sat by his locker stall icing the sore right foot plagued by plantar fasciitis, Gasol showed an amused grin.

His body language during the Lakers’ 104-87 victory Friday over the Portland Trail Blazers told everything you’d need to know about Gasol’s demeanor. That applies to most players, but Gasol’s expressions always seem more profound. During a season where he’s fought frustrations with injuries and a reduced role both under Mike Brown and Mike D’Antoni, Gasol suddenly found joy by adjusting his role without diminishing his versatile skillset. Instead, Gasol enhanced it en route to 15 points on 6 of 9 shooting, a 2 of 3 mark from three-point range, nine rebounds and five assists.

“I think I’m figuring it out where I’m going to get my opportunities and where I can get my looks whether they’re threes or anywhere else,” Gasol said. “I just have to keep working on the positions where I’m going to be mostly during the games and try to be effective from whichever place.”
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