Lakers 115, Warriors 113, Kobe 43

With every victory, the Lakers look more and more likely to open the playoffs as the No. 6 seed in a first-round series against San Antonio. You can see the lead storyline starting to develop as well with Kobe Bryant and Bruce Bowen doing battle.

Bryant is the games unquestioned top scorer after his run of 50-point games. Bowen is the player Bryant has credited with being the toughest defender he faces. That in itself is remarkable because Bryant rarely gives any defender credit.

In fact, Bryant called the Spurs “the perfect storm when he stopped by his old high school earlier this month, for having the top defender in Bowen and playing the best defense as a team. It would all come together in a must-watch series.

Which brings me to Sundays game and the end of Bryants streak, which might have been a good thing with a dozen games left in the season. I think Bryant and Phil Jackson both know how small their chances would be of beating the Spurs with Bryant alone.

The first, second, third and fourth orders of business for the Lakers is finding any way to shore up their defense. Theyve given up 100 points or more in the last 10 games, including 113 to the Warriors on Sunday.

Which team do you think has the edge in this series: The one giving up 83.5 points per game in the past month or the one giving up 110.3 points per game in that same time? Well see just what the Spurs hold the Warriors to when they play Monday.

Thats why its so important for the Lakers to do what they did in the fourth quarter, which was fill in around Bryant, grab offensive rebounds, block shots and generally do all the little things they needed to win.

Bryant didnt score a basket in the final four minutes of a win. Thats a good sign looking ahead. He said so himself: “Its always a team effort, even though I scored 40 points or 50 points, whatever it is. You have to have your teammates playing well in such a case.

Lamar Odom came up with the big rebound and made the key free throws at the end. Even though he had two turnovers in the fourth, he also stripped Al Harrington and took it the other way for a basket with 4:05 left.

The Lakers searched all game for a big man and Ronny Turiaf came through in the fourth. He had seven points, four rebounds and two blocks in the fourth and dove to the floor after his own missed free throw late.

Walton assisted on two of Turiafs baskets and Shammond Williams knocked down a big 3-pointer after Monta Ellis coughed up the ball in the backcourt. Jackson went with Williams the whole fourth quarter with the unit playing well and Smush Parker still hurt.

Whenever Bryant talks about San Antonio, he uses his favorite word “execution to suggest that everything must be done perfectly. The more contributions the Lakers get from players other than Bryant, the deeper they might be able to push the Spurs.

* * *

As Odom predicted in the locker room, the Warriors would say afterward that they did a good job holding Bryant to 43 on Sunday. (If thats not the definition of a Most Valuable Player, by the way, I dont know what is.) Heres Al Harrington afterward:

“For the most part, we did a good job, Harrington said. “I mean, he had (17) in the first quarter and finished with 43, so obviously we did some type of a job on him.

If you subtract his burst in the first two minutes, Bryant would have had 34 points on 11-of-29 shooting. From my seat, Stephen Jackson put up a good fight in overplaying Bryant to deny him the ball. The Warriors also took away a couple of early lobs over the top.

Well see how Memphis plays Bryant on Tuesday after the 60 he unloaded on them last week.

* * *

Its an admission of how much his shoulder is causing problems for him, but Lamar Odom said of the two free throws he hit with 18.1 seconds left, “They were luck. As soon as he falls out of rhythm, Odom says he can feel his shoulder tightening up.

Perhaps more impressive were the two free throws he hit at the end of the second quarter. Odom was clobbered trying to follow up his own miss in the lane and got hit in his left arm by both Josh Powell and Matt Barnes.

Jackson called a 20-second timeout and Odom extended only his right arm for his teammates, who were trying to help him back to his feet. He made 8 of 10 free throws for the night and had 24 points.

* * *

Bryant was called for his 12th technical foul of the season in the first quarter. Another four technicals in the final 12 games and Bryant would serve a one-game suspension under the NBAs unofficial Rasheed Wallace rule.

“No more suspensions for me, Bryant said afterward.

He played the first quarter in a fury and was irate after he thought he was hit in the face by Jason Richardson on a jumper. Bryant later was assessed the technical by referee Michael Smith after he argued that Richardson made contact with his arm on a jumper.

* * *

I dont know if Chamberlains 100-point game ever will be equaled, but I think everyone in Staples Center thought Bryant had a chance after the first two minutes. It would take a start like that and multiple overtimes for Bryant (or anybody else) to even have a shot.

Bryant scored 17 of the Lakers first 24 points in Sundays game. Its been barely mentioned recently but Jackson is going to have to cut down Bryants minutes somehow leading up to the playoffs. He played another 46:22 against the Warriors.

As for those missed free throws in the last 20 seconds, Bryant said he changed the release on his shot – - how he flicks his wrist – - in recent games and went back to his old form. He had made 63 of 67 free throws before that, which computes to 94 percent.

* * *

Here’s the list of the most consecutive 40-point games in NBA history. Bryant’s not through in the record book department yet.

1. Wilt Chamberlain 14 games (twice) 1961-62
3. Wilt Chamberlain 10 games 1962-63
4. Kobe Bryant 9 games 2002-03
4. Michael Jordan 9 games 1986-87
6. Wilt Chamberlain 8 games 1961-62
7. Wilt Chamberlain 7 games (twice) 1962-63
9. Kobe Bryant 5 games 2006-07
9. Allen Iverson 5 games 1996-97
9. Elgin Baylor 5 games 1962-63

* * *

You had two four-point plays in Sunday’s game, one from Sasha Vujacic and another from Bryant. The Warriors also set what I believe is a record for a Lakers opponent by taking 15 3-pointers in the fourth quarter.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

At the end of the night, Lakers coach Phil Jackson could joke about Kobe Bryant having an “off game, Lamar Odom could remind reporters that “43 aint bad and Wilt Chamberlain could rest a little easier, wherever he was. [ep

If the Lakers were wondering what would happen when Bryants streak of 50-point games came to an end, they got the answer Sunday night when Bryant scored a mortal 43 points in a 115-113 victory over the Golden State Warriors at Staples Center. [ep

The run of 50-point games came to an end at four – - although Bryants streak of five straight 40-point games is tied for the ninth-longest in history – - and the Lakers still stretched their season-best winning streak to five games.

“I think it energized us as a team, it energized the city, and I think thats great, Bryant said. “Before that, it seemed like we were kind of dead in the water in terms of energy, in terms of belief in the city of what we could do.

“It seemed to kind of do a 180. Were playing with a lot more energy now.

The Lakers had to come from 10 points down in the fourth quarter, after squandering a 19-point lead in the first half, and survived despite committing a season-high 26 turnovers. They also stayed two games in front of Denver for sixth in the playoff race.

As proof of how much Sunday was a team victory, however, consider that the biggest play was made not by Bryant but by Odom instead. It was Odom who grabbed the rebound after Bryant missed a free throw with 19.6 seconds left.

And it was Odom who stepped to the line and sank both free throws to give the Lakers a 114-110 lead. That was enough of a cushion for the Lakers to survive as Golden States Al Harrington couldnt get off a potential winning 3-pointer at the buzzer.

Odom finished with 24 points and matched a career-high with 19 rebounds. Bryant joked that Odom lost a bet by coming one rebound short of a 20-20 game. Yet Odoms play with a torn labrum in his left shoulder was remarkable.

He took a blow to the shoulder at the end of the first half, a frightening reminder of an injury that likely will require surgery this summer. Free-throw shooting also has been anything but easy for Odom since his return.

“I always tell people, when the game is going and the adrenalines pumping, the ball gets swung, I can shoot it from anywhere, Odom said. “But when it kind of stops, I have to refocus and it tightens up.

Bryant had made 63 of 67 free throws before he missed two in the final 20 seconds. He finished with 43 points on 15-of-33 shooting with seven turnovers in 46 minutes, in addition to starting the comeback with a 3-pointer and fast-break jumper in the fourth.

The Warriors, who had won seven of nine games before Sunday, did everything in their power to stop Bryant. Stephen Jackson and Baron Davis spent the most time on Bryant, overplaying to deny him the ball and double-teaming at every turn.

The Lakers opened the fourth quarter with a series of three turnovers, as Bryant stepped out of bounds, Andrew Bynum couldnt hang onto a pass and Ronny Turiaf forced a pass to Bryant, a classic example of what Phil Jackson calls “Kobe-dar.

But the Lakers regrouped and scored 14 unanswered points. Turiaf finished with seven points, four rebound(s) and two blocks in the final quarter, grabbing the offensive rebound off a Bryant miss with 1:02 left and blocking Monta Ellis in the final minute.

During the streak, Bryant bristled at the suggestion that the other Lakers were his “supporting cast. Odom said the hardest thing was not to watch the one-man show and continue to stay aggressive. They did just that in the fourth quarter Sunday.

“It was a pretty good team effort and I think it shows that we are multi-dimensional, Turiaf said. “We have Kobe in the forefront and we have the soldiers in the back.

Even the most memorable of Bryants games never started with the thunderclap that Sundays did. Bryant had the crowd on its feet and roaring as he hit his first four shots and scored nine points in barely two minutes.

Bryants determination was evident with his first basket, in which he grabbed the offensive rebound after a Luke Walton miss, then drove baseline and pushed in a hanging shot with his left hand. He came back and hit a 27-foot 3-pointer after that.

After the game, Bryant said he would wait until the summer to put his streak in perspective. He still has a game Tuesday against a Memphis team that he lit up for 60 points last week.

But Bryant was able to laugh when asked if he wished he could have matched Chamberlains record of seven straight 50-point games from December 1961, a season in which Chamberlain averaged a record 50.4 points per game.

“He just seems to be a guy thats not human, Bryant said. “The records and the things that hes accomplished are beyond miraculous. For me to be in the same breath with him, even if its just a short little breath, is pretty cool.

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Lakers 121, Grizzlies 119, Kobe 60

It would have been interesting to talk to Jerry West after Thursdays game about the run that Kobe Bryant is on. Its unthinkable to watch a player average 58.3 points on 54 percent shooting while scoring more than half his teams points in three games.

Bryant has single-handedly restored the Lakers momentum. Just consider the history they were making on that seven-game losing streak, which included the worst home loss since the Lakers moved to Los Angeles 47 years ago.

(On a personal note, Im not even through three seasons on the Lakers beat and Ive covered 81-, 65-, 62- and 60-point games out of Bryant and a 60-point game from Gilbert Arenas earlier this season. Thereve been only 60 such games in NBA history.)

The Grizzlies came into Thursdays game as the NBAs second-worst scoring and worst field-goal percentage defensive team. They played a soft zone much of the first quarter, then let Tarence Kinsey, Dahntay Jones and Rudy Gay each take a turn on Bryant.

Bryant scored every way imaginable, which led to a good quote from Memphis coach Tony Barone. He cut backdoor for an alley-oop dunk, buried deep 3-pointers, got to the foul and hit a jumper in the face of two defenders to end the third quarter.

“Hes not bad, is he? Barone said. “What he does is play with an intensity level that doesnt . . . the intensity level rises. Some guys drop, but his starts off at a level and gets better and better from there. He proves you have to score more than one way.

“He got to the basket and he got fouled. I thought there were about five baskets that we gave him. But for the most part, I thought we challenged him pretty well. We wanted to double him at the beginning but he got rid of the ball so quickly that we couldnt.

“He can score inside, he can score outside, and he can score at the foul line. So youve got a problem guarding him. If he can only score inside or only shooting jump shots, then hes easy to guard. He just goes out and plays.

“I hope our young guys were watching because he really put on a clinic.

Well ignore the fact that the Lakers have now given up 100 points or more in eight straight games – - they have one of the NBAs feeblest offensive teams Friday in New Orleans – - in favor of Bryants brilliance.

“If hes hot, were going to keep riding him, Luke Walton said. “One thing about Kobe Ive noticed playing with him for four years is he doesnt get tired. Hes an amazing athlete, has an amazing mental ability to not let himself get tired.

“Were going to try to keep getting better as a team, but we need to win right now, too, so were going to try to find a nice balance of both.

Bryant said he hasnt kept much in the way of memorabilia from his run of 50-point games. The Lakers saved the ball from his 65-point game Friday; maybe it can go on display at his house with the jersey he wore in his 81-point game.

Another record that didnt make it into the game story: Bryants 60 points were a franchise record against the Grizzlies. He had 56 in three quarters against Memphis back in January 2002.

* * *

Youre not going to see a lot of games where the losing team shoots 55 percent. Kwame Brown was overmatched against Pau Gasol (35 points) and the Lakers were slow to rotate to Mike Miller, who hit four 3-pointers and scored 17 of his 33 points in the third quarter.

Two of the Lakers showed their defensive frustration in the second quarter. Sasha Vuajcic gave up a three-point play to Miller and then threw the ball against the basket standard to draw a technical foul. Vujacic got an earful from coach Phil Jackson.

Brown complained to referee Courtney Kirkland after a Gasol basket and received a technical as well. Of course, Kirkland later called the Grizzlies for a second delay of game warning in the fourth quarter, a questionable technical in a four-point game.

Vujacic found redemption when he sneaked in to rebound a missed free throw by Shammond Williams and then connected on a key 3-pointer in the fourth quarter. Talk about plays that dont show up in the box score when Bryant has 60.

I also liked the way the Lakers played in the first quarter, when they picked apart the Memphis zone and scored 22 of their 34 points in the paint. Memphis actually outscored the Lakers inside 50-48 for the game.

* * *

Jackson was nearly on the mark last season when he picked UCLA to win the NCAA Tournament before it began. Hes seen less college basketball this season but likes USC to at least cover the spread Friday against North Carolina. [ep

“USC, I think is going to be a surprise team, Jackson said. “I think theyve got a chance to upset North Carolina, even more than the point spread. I know Pinky Floyd (Tim Floyd), hes got a real good defensive mindset and he can screw up some games against them.

“I think Tims got a team thats willing to listen and work hard. I dont know if they have enough talent to do it or not but theyre pretty good.

Floyd was the hand-picked choice of Jerry Krause to succeed Jackson as coach of the Chicago Bulls.

* * *

Jackson expects forward Vladimir Radmanovic to resume practicing in about two weeks. Radmanovic suffered a separated right shoulder in a world-famous snowboarding accident over All-Star weekend.

Although the strength of his game is his 3-point shooting, Radmanovic likely will have to find other ways to contribute once he returns.

“Hes probably not going to be hoisting up 30-foot jump shots with a lot of ease because of that shoulder, Jackson said. “Thats going to be a little bit different for him.

Jackson added that he expects Radmanovic to build on his injury-plagued first season in the triangle offense. Radmanovic was the Lakers top free-agent signing last summer but has yet to pay dividends on the five-year, $30.2 million deal he received.

“Now we say youd better pay the damn rent, Jackson said. “When youve got a guy thats making that kind of money, you want him to be successful.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn.–Who would have guessed when Kobe Bryant made the jump to the NBA out of Lower Merion (Pa.) High back in 1996 that he would redefine March Madness all these years later?

The comparisons for Bryants scoring binge might have run out after the Lakers 121-119 victory Thursday night over the Memphis Grizzlies, when the superstar guard could only joke about the man he calls “the human video game.

That would be Wilt Chamberlain, in whose company Bryant once again finds himself keeping. His 60-point game at FedEx Forum was his third straight of 50 or more and his three-game total of 175 points is the most by any player except Chamberlain.

That he reached 60 against a Memphis team with the NBAs worst record (17-52) and flimsiest defense made Bryants milestone no less spectacular. He scored 36 points in the second half as the Lakers extended their winning streak to three games.

“For him to reach these feats, if you know him its not surprising because hes really focused and his will to win is incredible, Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. “So when anybody has the will to win like that, anythings possible.

Bryant made 20 of 37 shots, played the entire second half and hit his first 16 free throws in going 17 of 18 at the foul line. He joined Michael Jordan, Elgin Baylor and Chamberlain as the only players ever to score 50 or more in three straight games.

Jordan was the only player in a generation to do so before Bryant, scoring 53, 50 and 61 points in April 1987, leaving Lakers coach Phil Jackson to joke that “I think I was in high school at that time.

Somewhere Jerry West, the man responsible for bringing Bryant to the Lakers and now the Grizzlies president of basketball operations, had to be watching in amazement.

It was Bryants highest scoring road game ever and marked the fourth 60-point game of his career. Chamberlain holds the record with 32 career 60-point games; Bryant and Jordan now share second place with four each.

“Im doing my part and other guys are stepping up and doing theirs as well, Bryant said. “I just feel like guys are finding me. Its not like Im taking difficult shots outside of a couple of them, but Im already in rhythm by the time I take those, so I feel pretty good.

“But to get in rhythm, I have to get great picks, great looks, great passes. You cant do that without the help of your teammates, particularly because theyre sending double- and triple-teams.

The records hardly ended there. Chamberlain held the first 16 spots on the list of the greatest three-game point totals in NBA history before Thursday. Bryants 175 tied for 11th; Chamberlains record of 226 includes his immortal 100-point game.

“Hes in a zone right now, Lakers forward Luke Walton said. “Most people get in zones for one game. Hes been in a zone for about a week straight now. Its been a pretty amazing display that hes put on.

After Bryants 65- and 50-point games against Portland and Minnesota, the Grizzlies had to know what awaited them Thursday. Yet the Grizzlies were powerless to stop Bryant, who is shooting 54 percent these last three games.

Bryant missed his first three shots but got in rhythm with a revere dunk and scored 13 points in the first quarter. He reached halftime with 24 points after burying a 29-foot 3-pointer over rookie Tarence Kinsey from somewhere on Beale Street.

The third quarter saw Bryant mix it up twice with Dahntay Jones, drawing a double foul and later a double technical. It took Bryant scoring 19 points in the third for the Lakers to withstand the Grizzlies run-and-gun 37-point quarter.

The Lakers finally made their push at the start of the fourth as Sasha Vujacic hit a 3-pointer and Ronny Turiaf drained a jumper. Bryant scored his 50th point with 8:09 left as he popped out for a jumper and drew a foul from rookie Rudy Gay.

“Hes in a league all to himself, Jackson said. “What you admire in Kobe is that hes going to attack, hes going to be in that mode and hes going to continue to go at a team until either you take him out of ballgame or else they stop him.

The Grizzlies closed to 111-109 with 4:29 left but Shammond Williams hit a 3-pointer set up by Bryant. The rest of the fourth quarter belonged to Bryant, who finally missed a free throw with three minutes to play.

“Its special because its coming off of three straight wins, Bryant said. “This is a stretch where we really need to make up some ground and get some rhythm back.

The only blemish came with 10.3 seconds left when Bryant caught Jones with an elbow to the face as he went for an inbounds pass. Bryant twice has been suspended and assessed a retroactive flagrant foul by the league for striking players in the face.

Bryant was called for an offensive foul by wasnt concerned afterward, saying of Jones, “He flopped. He knows he flopped. If he says he didnt flop, hes a liar.

Jackson said beforehand that he hoped the Lakers would be able to get back up to speed in about a week with Odom and Walton still playing their way back from injury. Until then, Bryant will follow his coachs instructions to shoot early and set the tone.

He asked to stay in the game the entire second half and Jackson obliged, with Maurice Evans sitting out with a sore knee. Even Odom, who finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds, could only marvel afterward.

“Its a blessing to be on the court when hes feeling it like that, Odom said. “To be a part of history.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn.–Even with Kobe Bryant looking to extend his streak of 50-point games to three, Thursday nights game hardly was the featured attraction in town with Memphis playing Texas A&M in the NCAA Tournament on television.

The two games intersected midway through the third quarter, leaving Lakers coach Phil Jackson exasperated as the tournament game was shown on the video board at FedEx Forum with Lamar Odom shooting free throws.

Odom appeared rattled as the crowd erupted in cheers as Memphis Tigers guard Antonio Anderson made two last-second free throws. Odom missed three of four free throws, spanning a timeout in the NCAA game, as the locals celebrated.

Jackson walked down the scorers table to complain to the Grizzlies operations staff. He later fumed to referee Bob Delaney, who ordered the tournament game turned off, much to the displeasure of the crowd.

“That was awful, Jackson said. “I went to the scorers table, I said, `Thats not right. You know thats not right. This is the game thats happening here. I know these fans are into it, but they came to this game and we have to play this game.

It was a momentary distraction for Odom, who had his strongest game since returning from a torn labrum. He got inside for dunks early against the Grizzlies zone defense and finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds.

Playoff picture: The Lakers moved a game in front of Denver in the race for sixth place in the Western Conference. The Nuggets lost 109-108 to Chicago on Thursday.

Evans hurting: Maurice Evans sat on the ledge of his locker with his right leg propped up on a chair before Thursdays game, an electric stimulation machine sending currents into his sore knee.

Unable to shake the swelling in his knee even after having it drained for a second time, Evans opted for a different course of action Thursday: He sat out the Lakers game against Memphis with an eye toward the bigger picture of the season.

“Ive been playing like this for three weeks now, Evans said. “Ive been trying to treat it every way except this. I know if we go into the playoffs this isnt going to work. Im looking ahead to the real thing, to what really matters.

The swelling has been a problem for Evans, who had the knee drained a second time March 11 and also received a cortisone shot. Evans said he has been playing at about 30 percent, unable to change directions or get lift on his shot.

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The Durant story

It’s not even 11 a.m. but Kobe Bryant apparently is “furious” with a story in the Dallas Morning News claiming that he called Texas star Kevin Durant on behalf on Nike. A team spokesman said Bryant “vehemently denies” the story and will be addressing the subject after practice Wednesday. The Lakers are going to confront the story aggressively because they’ve seen the fines Boston, Charlotte and Golden State already have received from the NBA when it comes to Durant.

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Saturday report

We’re trying to streamline things as much as possible to accommodate the most inches in Sunday’s paper following up on Kobe Bryant’s 65-point game. It’s not going to get the attention it deserves on a busy NCAA Tournament weekend (and because Bryant scored 81 only last season) but consider that it was one of the top 20 scoring games in NBA history.

There are so many things that will be overlooked from that game, such as the fact that Bryant scored the Lakers’ first 15 points of the second quarter. Or that he banked in a half-court shot that didn’t count after a clear-path foul. Or that he mixed it up with Zach Randolph and drew a technical foul. Or that he did it in the second game of a back-to-back set after the Lakers lost their previous two games by a combined 63 points.

All you needed to see was the 3-point barrage that Bryant unleashed in the last two minutes of regulation and overtime to get the Lakers to the finish line. If you opened up the paper in Portland this morning, the game story in the Oregonian had a Los Angeles dateline followed by a two-word lead: “Kobe Bryant.” Maybe nothing more needed to be written.

Here’s your Luke Walton’s update: Walton said his ankle was feeling “60 times” better than it did Friday, when he had to sit out what would have been his second game back from the injury. He went through layup lines but couldn’t get the ankle to loosen up. He told coach Phil Jackson that he could run the offense “but I couldn’t drive or I couldn’t pull up and do anything like that.”

Walton, who missed six weeks with the injury, said he would play Sunday against Minnesota. It also didn’t help Walton that the Lakers were up all night after Thursday’s game against Denver because of the problems with their charter flight. There also was a question about whether the ankle would be a game-to-game thing going forward.

“All week before, I practiced and when it would get sore, I’d go ice it. By the end of the day, or the next morning, it’d feel great again,” Walton said. “Hopefully, a couple more games, it’ll get strong enough to where I won’t need to take a day off.”

Walton also had a good quote when he was asked if he sees Bryant regularly hit the kind of 3-pointers in practice that he did at the end of Friday’s game.

“He’s got such great body control and balance,” Walton said, “that when he does it, by the time he ends up shooting the ball, he’s just shooting like a fadeaway 3-pointer. He was doing it before practice today, and he was making not all of them, but he was making enough to where you’re like, `That’s pretty impressive.”’

Jackson also talked about Kwame Brown, who left for the locker room to treat his ankle before halftime. Brown returned to start the second half and gutted out the rest of the game. Brown’s ankle was so bad that Lamar Odom had to jump center at the start of overtime instead of the center.

“It’s was like, `Let’s see if we can’t fuss our way through this thing because he makes such a difference for us,”’ Jackson said. “If we don’t have to double-team or stunt defensively, suddenly our whole defensive game becomes better.”

Maurice Evans also had a good quote after Friday’s game: “Nothing’s coming easy for this Lakers team right now. We’ve got guys out there, Kwame was on one leg, I was on one leg. Ronny’s back’s spasming, Lamar’s shoulder’s out, Luke can’t go because his ankle’s stil messed up. We’ve got to fight through a lot of adversity right now. A little sunshine comes in every once in awhile.”

Don’t look now but Bryant is closing in on Carmelo Anthony for what would be his second consecutive scoring title. After his 65-point game, Bryant is averaging 29.7 points per game to Anthony’s 29.8. If Anthony maintains his average the rest of the way, Bryant would have to average 30.5 ppg these last 16 games to pass him.

* * *

When he was breaking down tape of the Portland game, Jackson said he was talking to his players about making the extra effort. He was disappointed to see the Lakers slow to rotate on defense and giving up a 3-pointer to Ime Udoka. Maurice Evans also left Martell Webster to help on a drive and gave up a 3-pointer to the young guard.

It made the hole that Bryant had to dig the Lakers out of that much deeper. One example of a play where the Lakers did make the extra effort came in overtime, when Smush Parker lost his dribble but dove to the floor after the loose ball. It led to a Lamar Odom dunk. Jackson also cited Odom’s block of Brandon Roy with 30.9 seconds left.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–Theres only 3 feet of room to operate between the 3-point arc and the sideline in the deepest corners of an NBA court. Yet Kobe Bryant found space enough in the final minute of overtime Friday night to hit a shot that stretched the imagination.

More than that, Bryants turnaround 3-pointer from the corner, while seemingly boxed in by Portlands Brandon Roy and LaMarcus Aldridge, might have cracked open a window of opportunity for the Lakers at the end of a seven-game losing streak.

The first step was to end the skid, and the Lakers have Bryant to thank after he hit three 3-pointers in the last two minutes of regulation, plus his mind-bending 3-pointer in overtime, on the way to 65 points and a victory over the Trail Blazers.

The second step is to build on whatever confidence that created. Even Bryant noticed a change at Saturdays practice, saying, “Guys seemed to be in much better spirits today. Hopefully, itll be something that can kind of carry us for a while.

It was the second-highest scoring game in Bryants career and fourth-highest scoring game in franchise history, after Bryants 81 against Toronto last season, Elgin Baylors 71 in November 1960 and Wilt Chamberlains 66 in February 1969.

In fact, Bryant said he felt hotter in Fridays game than his 81-point masterpiece. He made 11 of 13 shots and all five 3-pointers he took in the fourth quarter and overtime.

“Every shot that left my hand just felt absolutely good, Bryant said, “like it was going to hit the bottom of the net.

Bryants 65 points tied for the 19th highest scoring game in NBA history. The list of players ever to reach that number in a game is a short one: Chamberlain, Bryant, David Thompson, David Robinson, Baylor, Michael Jordan and Pete Maravich.

If the Lakers had taken their team picture after Fridays game – - as opposed to before Saturdays practice – - Bryant might as well have stood alone. A one-man band rarely hits the right notes, but Bryant delivered a victory the Lakers had to have.

“We dont want to have to force him into that kind of a need situation night after night, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, “but when were going as bad as we are now, we welcome that.

Bryant led the Lakers back after Lamar Odom missed two free throws with 2:25 left in the fourth quarter and the Trail Blazers took a seven-point lead. The degree of difficulty only increased with each 3-pointer, until the last with 44.1 seconds in overtime.

“If he would have missed one of those, Luke Walton said, “it would have been game over.

With the score tied 108-108, Bryant spun free from Roy, then buried the shot from the corner over Aldridge. He hadnt seen a replay until Saturday morning, but was able to share a laugh with owner Jerry Buss about it.

“I told him, `I got a good look, Bryant said. “He said, `Good look? The guys hand was in your face. I said, `I didnt see his hand. All I saw was the basket.

Jackson has framed the rest of the season in terms of getting players back and building momentum for the playoffs. Its a process that could take the final 16 games. Or it could have been accelerated by one spectacular night from Bryant.

There were signs in overtime that the Lakers were riding shotgun with Bryant, as opposed to piling in the backseat to ride out a game he would win or lose: Odom and Smush Parker knocked down jumpers; Parker dove to the floor after a loose ball.

“Theyre continuing to be aggressive, and a lot of that has to do with Lamar and him being assertive, Bryant said. “Me taking over games but him still being able to continue that offensive thrust, and I think the other guys just kind of followed suit.

The Lakers rode Bryants scoring into the playoffs last season before coming together as a team and pushing Phoenix to seven games in the first round. They hoped the days of Bryant having to score 50 to win were behind them but injuries changed that plan.

“We dont have the same core that we had last year thats healthy right now, so its tough to rely on that, Bryant said. “Youve got to do what youve got to do until we get that rhythm back.

There was still some unfinished business for Bryant at Saturdays practice, namely a bet forward Ronny Turiaf made with him after the game. He would give Bryant five shots to hit two turnaround 3-pointers from the corner.

Did he deliver?

“What do you think? Bryant said. “I just needed to make two, so I was goofing around for the first three.

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Nuggets 113, Lakers 86

If you listened to Kobe Bryant and Phil Jackson talk after Thursday’s game, you never would have guessed the Lakers lost their seventh consecutive game, the last four of which have hardly been competive. Those losses have come by 20, 16, 36 and 27 points, if you’re keeping score at home.

You could tell, though, that the stakes are higher for Lamar Odom. He’s not out risking further injury to his shoulder to watch the Lakers take an 11-point lead in the second quarter and then get outscored 77-39 the rest of the game.

“The way to get out of slumps or to get out of not playing well is when you’ve got teams down, when you’re hitting them, just don’t stop,” Odom said. “Just keep doing the small things right. It seems like we can’t do that. We had them right where we wanted. Carmelo (Anthony) was a little off in that first half.

“It’s like we don’t understand how to take advantage of things we need to take advantage of. It’s March.”

The Lakers squandered that lead so quickly, it was hard to figure out exactly how it happened. Allen Iverson started getting to the basket, J.R. Smith knocked down a 3-pointer and the Nuggets got a couple of fast break baskets. Smush Parker also picked up a key third foul late in the half.

“We didn’t make them burn a ton of energy to get it,” Luke Walton said. “We just turned the ball over, let them get layups and at halftime it was tied up again.”

Nobody expected the Lakers to experience immediate success with the returns of Odom and Walton. You had to expect, though, that the Lakers might push the Nuggets into the fourth quarter of a game that had implications for their playoff positioning. Now they have to beat a rested Portland team in the second game of a back-to-back set.

* * *

The worst thing that happened to the Lakers might have been Kobe Bryant’s fast start. The Nuggets started Steve Blake on Kobe Bryant but brought Linas Kleiza off the bench less than five minutes in to use his size (6-foot-8, 245 pounds) on Bryant.

Kleiza was the difference maker for the Nuggets in the first half, which he finished with 16 points. He hit 10 of 13 shots for the game, including five 3-pointers, and sent me to NBA.com to look up his bio. He’s a Lithuanian-born forward, 22 years old, who played in college at Missouri. He also had 24 points Sunday against Sacramento.

Bryant left Kleiza on defense more than a couple of times and paid the price. Jackson said after the game: “We told the guys he was a straight shooter and a long shooter and played hard. He got all those things accomplished tonight in short order.

* * *

Stop if you’ve read this before: Smush Parker had another lost night for the Lakers. Parker obviously had a difficult matchup with Allen Iverson but the Lakers are going nowhere when they get four points on 1-of-8 shooting with five fouls in 20 minutes from their starting guard.

As soon as he finally hit a jumper in the third quarter, Parker picked up his fourth foul when Iverson drew contact on a drive. Jackson opted to keep him in the game but Parker had no choice but to commit his fifth foul with the Nuggets running back on a fast break with 5:11 left in the third.

“That’s a tough game for him,” Jackson said. “When you play against Iverson, he’s always going to create contact. You’re going to be at the mercy of the referees, what they want to call or not. He did a really good job on Iverson but it was the other guys, Kleiza, that got us tonight.”

Iverson finished with 15 points and 13 assists but made only 4 of 15 shots. He did punctuate the fourth quarter by serving up a lob for an alley-oop dunk by Carmelo Anthony that put the Nuggets ahead 107-82.

One thing I thought about tonight was how Jackson defines stars and role players in the NBA. He’s said it before that stars deliver seven games out of 10 or four out of five. You hope that your role players do their job, like knocking down open jumpers, in two or three out of five games.

If you’re lucky, you’ll get that consistency out of them. That quality of that effort is what the Lakers are trying to get out of Andrew Bynum right now. Then you watch Parker and he hasn’t been able to get anything going in the better part of two weeks. Forget three good games out of five. Jackson would settle for one right now.

* * *

Had to ask Kobe Bryant at the end of his postgame session about the seeming disconnect between the optimism he is expressing and the slide the Lakers are on. Here was his answer:

“We’re built on chemistry,” Bryant said. “That’s why I’m not really fretting or depressed because I feel like, we get these guys back, we start building on that rhythm again, I feel like we’ll be OK. Then the players that were forced to play 38, 40 minutes, now have more of a supporting role, which is a role they can flourish in.

“They were asked to do so much when guys went down in a system that they knew nothing about. It’s difficult for anybody to handle. But I feel like, we get these guys back who’ve been in this system, have those (other) guys come off the bench and make contributions, I feel like we’ll be OK.”

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

DENVER–There was the confidence voiced by Kobe Bryant, who preferred to block out what happened in the second half and talk about the “flashes the Lakers showed in the first half of Thursday nights 113-86 loss to the Denver Nuggets.

There was the pessimism voiced by Lamar Odom, who questioned whether his return from a torn labrum made a difference for a Lakers team in need of “soul searching after its seventh consecutive loss.

And there was the reassurance voiced by Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who watched his team squander an 11-point lead in the first half and take another step back in the playoff race, yet pledged that things would be fine going forward.

Maybe all three were correct as the Lakers matched the third-longest losing streak in franchise history. They fell into a tie with the Nuggets for sixth in the Western Conference standings yet spoke with encouragement about the playoffs afterward.

“We saw flashes of some of the things that were capable of doing in the first half, Bryant said. “We just have to build on that and understand that thats the team we really want to make some noise with in the playoffs.

Jackson took stock of Odoms return, as well as that of Luke Walton, and saw light at the end of the tunnel for the Lakers. This even though his team has lost its last three games by an average of 24.8 points.

“That starting group looks like theyre going to be fine, Jackson said. “Theyre back there again ready to play and I think well be OK. We just have to get our legs underneath us now and well be fine.

Linas Kleiza scored a career-high 29 points off the bench for the Nuggets while Carmelo Anthony (26 points) took over in the third quarter. What had been a tie game at halftime saw Denver take an 87-72 lead into the fourth quarter at Pepsi Center.

It was a dark finish to a day that saw both Jackson and the Lakers fined $50,000 for comments Jackson made on Tuesday charging that the league was conducting a “witch hunt in disciplining Bryant this season.

“Any response I make to that is going to be inflammatory, Bryant said, “and I really dont want to add fuel to that fire.

The Lakers were playing with their top starting five – - Smush Parker, Bryant, Walton, Odom and Kwame Brown – - for only the seventh time this season and the first time since Dec. 12, when Odom suffered a sprained knee ligament against Houston.

They showed maybe theres a reason why the Lakers were 5-1 in games with that starting lineup earlier this season. The connection between the five was apparent as the Lakers broke to a 13-6 lead in the first quarter.

The Lakers ran their offense through Bryant inside and the star guard was at his dynamic best. He finished the first quarter with 10 points and six assists, finding Walton and Shammond Williams for 3-pointers and feeding Brown for a dunk.

“I was actually surprised by how well we clicked in the first half considering we havent played together all year, said Bryant, who finished with 25 points on 9-of-19 shooting with nine assists.

With the Lakers facing a Everest-like climb just to match last seasons 45-37 record, Jackson talked in recent days about trying to get as many players back healthy and build some momentum heading into the playoffs.

Odom finished with nine points, seven rebounds and three assists in 32 minutes but made just 4 of 11 shots. Walton totaled 13 points, seven rebounds and six assists before Jackson thought he ran out of gas.

Odoms comments after the game reflected the investment he has made in these final 18 games. He is playing with a shoulder injury that likely will require surgery after the season.

“I felt all right, Odom said. “I dont think it made a difference, though. We need soul searching as a team. Weve got to all be aiming for the same thing. If were not, this is going to be hard to overcome.

The losing streak is now the Lakers third-longest; they also dropped seven consecutive games in the 1991-92 season. If they lose tonight against Portland, the Lakers would match the eight-game skid from the dark days of the 2004-05 season.

Once upon a time, Jackson coached a Chicago Bulls team that lost only 10 games all season on the way to posting the best record in NBA history at 72-10. Now the losing knows no end, with the Lakers falling for the 13th time in 16 games.

After watching the Lakers give back their second-quarter lead, Jackson said, “We knew that momentum would kind of ride them the second half and it did.

The picture of the third quarter was Allen Iverson twirling his arms, exhorting the crowd to its feet as the Nuggets started rolling. They got two 3-pointers from Kleiza and Steve Blake as well as dunks by Nene and Marcus Camby.

Then there was Anthony, the player Bryant counseled during his 15-game suspension for fighting earlier this season. Anthony was brilliant in the third quarter and Odom was all but powerless to stop him.

Anthony scored 10 points with four assists in the quarter. Even when the Lakers switched Bryant onto him, Anthony hit a turnaround jumper over him. The Nuggets flattened the Lakers 36-21 in the third quarter and 62-35 in the second half.

“We just have to win games, Jackson said. “Its not about Denver. Its not about anybody. Its just about us. Right now we just have to play basketball and find a way back. Im confident this team will be fine. Theyll be OK.

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Open mouth, remove wallet

Phil Jackson’s comments about the NBA’s “witch hunt” and “vendetta” against Kobe Bryant proved to be costly to the Lakers. We just got the e-mail Thursday afternoon from the NBA that Jackson was fined $50,000 for his comments and the Lakers were fined another $50,000 as an organization for them.

Jackson was fined $25,000 earlier this season for disparaging the referee crew that worked a loss in Utah. That brings the total of fines Jackson has incurred to $150,000 in two seasons. He was fined $25,000 last season for violating the NBA’s anti-tampering rules by making comments about Toronto’s Chris Bosh.

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Tuesday report

My only question walking out of practice Tuesday was $25,000 or $50,000. Its hard to imagine how Phil Jackson doesnt get fined for painting the picture of a league that has a “vendetta against Kobe Bryant and twice using the term “witch hunt.

Jackson certainly had his feelings on the NBAs decision to assess Bryant a flagrant foul penalty 1 for catching Philadelphias Kyle Korver in the face with an elbow in Fridays game. If you want to play David Stern, here are Jacksons unedited comments:

Q: Were you happy about the league just giving Kobe a flagrant 1?

Jackson: It shouldnt have even been a flagrant 1. Thats crazy. Thats a vendetta. They have a witch hunt going on. Thats nuts. A guys riding somebody. Everybody does that in this league. Its just becoming a witch hunt now.

Q: Do you have any idea why?

Jackson: I think that obviously once something happens like that and a lot of videotape starts floating around and people are making cuts of things that are happening, theres a lot of focus on him.

Q: Have you guys sent in tape to the league of him doing the arm motion on his shot?

Jackson: Not that I know of, unless Mitch (Kupchak) has asked our video guy to do that. Were just collecting things right now.

Q: Is it worrisome when these incidents involving Kobe have been no call, loose ball foul and no call on the court and you end up with two one-game suspensions and a flagrant foul?

Jackson: It is an after the fact type of thing. That is bothersome. They have (the) advantage of looking at videotape. We wish that they would correct some of the mistakes they make in ballgames the same way. Theres a couple games that probably could be swung, won or lost, by some of the calls if theyd correct them after the fact. But you cant do that in the game.

Q: Stu Jackson said after the second suspension that he didnt need to consult with the referees because he could watch the video replay. Do you think they should talk to the actual referees before they do something?

Jackson: Youd think that would happen, just off-hand. Even the details of the (Marko) Jaric foul, from what I understand, Jaric got on his arm before he got to the ball. So the shots coming, he hits his arm. Kobes reacting to his hand. The whole play ensues.

If a referee sees that, he might have called the first foul and not the second. A lot of referees will let a touch of the arm go if a guy pulls his hand back when his shooting motion begins. I mean, thats how our games become.

In those situations, the referee might have said, `Hey, he hit his arm first and Kobe reacted to that first arm touch and tried to draw the foul. But it doesnt look like theyre making that accommodation at all.

* * *

Luke Walton took part in most of practice but removed himself at the end to avoid any setback in returning from his ankle sprain. Walton is 99.99 percent sure hes playing Thursday at Denver but Jackson said his minutes will be limited for now.

What that computes to remains to be seen. The Lakers either played five on five or conducted full-court drills for the better part of two hours. Walton got through most of it, although he concedes that pain sets in when the ankle starts getting fatigued.

Walton also had a pretty good state-of-the-team quote in the wake of a six-game losing streak: “We need some shock therapy or something to get us going again because were dead right now.

Or this when asked about Sundays loss to Dallas: “Its one thing if youre losing, but if youre getting beat by 20 and theyre still out-hustling you, thats not right.

* * *

Jackson made a pretty stunning statement, I thought, about what the Lakers goals are here with barely a month before the playoffs begin. In essence, all the Lakers want to do is stay in the top eight and see what kind of momentum they can generate.

“I basically told them it doesnt really matter about our record, Jackson said. “At this point, were not searching for 55 wins, obviously. Were searching for an opportunity to make the playoffs and get healthy.

I asked Walton whether Jackson has changed his approach or his tone in the wake of the teams second six-game losing streak in a little more than a month. Jackson never had known a skid longer than five games before this season.

“Hes always very calm about it, Walton said. “I think were having a lot more conversations about self-checking ourselves now. Normally he lets us work our way out of it without saying much and then once we do, thats when we talk about it.

“Right now, were kind of talking about it a little more. Hes been very successful, so I dont think hes out there trying to change his ways.

* * *

The Lakers can look on the bright side in one respect: They came into Tuesday with the Western Conferences most favorable schedule the rest of the season.

The Lakers will play three games against teams with a .500 or better record and 15 games against teams with losing records.

They also have 10 home games and eight road games left. Thats a lot friendlier than Denver (8 home, 13 road) and the Clippers (8 home, 12 road). The Nuggets, however, could pull within a game of the Lakers if they beat Portland tonight at home.

The Lakers have three games left against Denver and two games remaining against Memphis, Sacramento, Phoenix, Seattle and the Clippers. If it comes down to it, the Lakers play their final game of the regular season at Sacramento.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–Even as Kobe Bryant was forced to serve two one-game suspensions for striking opposing players in the face, Lakers coach Phil Jackson maintained that he didnt believe the NBA powers-that-be were singling out his star guard.

He wasnt saying the same thing Tuesday, however, after the league office assessed Bryant a flagrant foul penalty 1 for elbowing Philadelphias Kyle Korver in the jaw while trying to dribble free for a shot late in the first half of Fridays game.

In comments sure to reach the desk of Stu Jackson, the NBAs executive vice president in charge of all disciplinary matters, Jackson twice referred to a “witch hunt against Bryant.

“It shouldnt have even been a flagrant 1, Jackson said. “Thats crazy. Thats a vendetta. They have a witch hunt going on. Thats nuts. (Korvers) riding somebody. Everybody does that in this league. Its just becoming a witch hunt now.

An NBA spokesman said the league would review Jacksons comments today. Jackson was fined $25,000 earlier this season for referring to the “dubious referee crew that worked the Lakers Nov. 30 loss at Utah.

Bryant did not talk to reporters Tuesday but the flagrant foul marked the third time this season that the league has used video replay to punish Bryant after the fact. The NBA does have explicit rules regarding contact made above the shoulders.

No foul was called on the play from Fridays game. Korver was keeping step with Bryant on defense when Bryant threw his left elbow backward and caught him in the face.

On the plays for which he was suspended, Bryant was not called for a foul when he struck San Antonios Manu Ginobili in the face. He was called for a loose ball foul on a nearly identical sequence involving Minnesotas Marko Jaric.

“Obviously, once something happens like that, Jackson said, “and a lot of videotape starts floating around and people are making cuts of things that are happening, theres a lot of focus on him.

There are two degrees of flagrant fouls and Bryant was assessed the less severe of the two. Bryants contact was deemed to be “unnecessary as opposed to “unnecessary and excessive and worthy of immediate ejection.

Another ankle: The Lakers couldnt even get through their first full practice with Lamar Odom and Luke Walton back on the court before watching Brian Cook land awkwardly on a fast break drill and suffer a moderate left ankle sprain.

Cook, who has started 24 games this season, will be listed as doubtful for Thursdays game at Denver. The Lakers wont know the extent of his injury until today, Jackson said.

“Its out of control right now, Walton said. “Every time someone starts getting healthy again, someone else goes down. Hopefully, it is just moderate and hell be able to get back soon because weve got to get something going to make a run for the playoffs.

Odom update: Odom tested his injured left shoulder again in practice and could be seen shaking out the pain in his arm at times. As he told reporters, “Im going to be in situations where you might see me grimace or grab it, but its time to play.

There also will be situations when Odom will be forced to use his right hand on the court. He has used his left hand almost exclusively throughout his career.

“Ill try to do more things with two hands on the ball, Odom said. “That way Im a little stronger. I dont want to get on there and get it wrenched. Ill have to use it a little bit, pull it out. Theyve been saying, `Force him right since I was like 10 years old.

Also: Maurice Evans (sore right knee) didnt practice bit is expected to play Thursday. . . . Kwame Brown will start at center against the Nuggets, Jackson said.

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Monday report

Assuming that nine championships and 910 career coaching victories are enough, Phil Jackson’s election to the Basketball Hall of Fame will be announced in three weeks as part of Final Four weekend. With that in mind, it’s worth considering the toll these twin six-game losing streaks must be taking on him.

Jackson joked before Sunday’s game about considering retirement a couple of weeks back before deciding that Pat Riley had beaten him to it with his leave of absence. The Lakers then held practice Monday without Jackson, who went to the dentist. Kobe Bryant and Brian Cook also were given the day off.

It seemed like a good time to ask Kurt Rambis, who filled in for Jackson, exactly how the coach was holding up. Here was Rambis’ answer.

“It’s hard on all of us,” Rambis said, “and I think the perspective that we take as coaches is that if we’re losing ballgames and our guys are playing hard, they’re playing together, but the other team just plays better or they’re more talented or they’re deeper, whatever, that’s stuff you can handle.

“But right now, we don’t feel like our guys are playing hard and we certainly don’t feel like they’re playing together. With the amount of injuries that we’ve had, there’s just no way our team is going to be able to get around those two aspects.

“They’re going to have to play together. They’re going to have to play hard in order to even challenge other teams, let alone expect to win ballgames. So that’s the frustrating part is that we don’t have the guys right now doing those two things. That’s what I think is more frustrating to him than the fact that we’ve lost these games.”

Although he said everyone from the players and coaches up to owner Jerry Buss is frustrated, Rambis also noted, “We are in a situation where we’re still in the playoffs right now. But we’re going to have to start playing much better now if we expect to do anything.

“We feel like we’re capable of turning things around and we feel like we’re capable of getting back to a level of playing playoff basketball.”

Rambis went on to say that Jackson told his players after that loss that they were still looking at a favorable playoff pairing as long as they reversed course soon. That’s an interesting perspective from the coach who told reporters after the game that “Jesus Christ” couldn’t save the Lakers the way they’re going right now.

* * *

Leave it to Luke Walton to provide the perfect words after watching the Lakers finish the Dallas game with 13 assists and 18 turnovers while making just 2 of 16 3-pointers.

“I think if we get out there and just start passing like earlier, passing just like shooting becomes contagious,” Walton said. “When everyones just gunning shots, that gets contagious. When everyones passing, that becomes contagious. So thats what Im going to try to help the team get back to.

* * *

The portion of practice open to reporters is pretty short, so all we can report from watching Lamar Odom was that he missed about three jump shots but did block a shot on defense and finished a drive with his right hand. He did not appear to be in any discomfort.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–As if the questions about their second six-game losing streak of the season and their 36-point drubbing by Dallas werent enough, the Lakers also have to wonder just what player they will be getting back this week in Lamar Odom.

Odom returned to the practice court Monday – - along with forward Luke Walton – - and is hopeful of playing Thursday at Denver. That would be less than two weeks after suffering a torn labrum that likely will require surgery after the season.

There were positive reviews for both players, whose return undoubtedly will help stabilize a team that has lost 12 of its last 15 games. Whether Odom, though, will be an attacking player or one who is protecting his left shoulder remains to be seen.

“Im going to go out there and play at full throttle, Odom said.

When he is at his aggressive best, Odom is one of the NBAs most dynamic players, capable of using his speed to take a bigger forward off the dribble or using his size to post up a smaller forward inside.

When he is at his passive worst, Odom is largely a jump shooter who takes up residence on the perimeter. Far from putting up triple-double numbers, Odom sometimes goes long stretches without even touching the ball.

Odom was the first player before he injured his right knee in December and the second player after he returned. The Lakers won just six of 17 games with him back; Odom averaged 15.2 points, 10.4 rebounds and 4.3 assists but shot 41.7 percent.

Now the question is which Odom will return for the final 18 games of the season. How Odom goes likely will determine whether the Lakers can make something out of this injury-ravaged season.

Assistant coach Kurt Rambis, who ran Mondays practice while Phil Jackson went to the dentist, acknowledged that Odom would be putting himself in position where he could aggravate his shoulder just by trying to secure a rebound.

“You put that shoulder in a situation where youre reaching back and somebody grabs it, you know its going to hurt, Rambis said. “So its something that hes going to have to continue to fight through and play.

“We hope that like he showed today, that he can play through that and he can block it out and be aggressive and thats what we need from him.

Odom has been vague about the state of his shoulder, although he reported no pain after practice. He would not commit to requiring off-season surgery and said of his first day back: “Im just taking my time. Ill mix it up a little bit more tomorrow.

Rambis said the Lakers forced Odom, who uses his left hand almost exclusively on the floor, to test his shoulder in practice by playing him at a wing spot instead of the backcourt.

“He was in rebounding, he was attacking the basket and he was getting inside, Rambis said. “That let us know that at least at some point in time mentally, that hes ready to go with that and ready to challenge his shoulder.

Walton, meanwhile, remained on track to return against Denver. He said he started feeling weakness in his injured right ankle only at the end of practice, after he had become fatigued from playing in three full-court games.

The Lakers have gone just 6-15 without Walton. Not that Walton expected his return (along with Odoms) to provide any guaranteed relief from the Lakers collective misery. Their last three losses have come by an average of 24 points.

“Its not that simple, Walton said. “Were not playing like a team right now. Just throwing guys back in there is not going to make it happen. Itll help, because I think Lamar and I are both very unselfish players, but weve got to do it as a team.

“We have to all start buying into the offense again, and our defense, were not even playing any defense. Weve got to as a team come together and decide we want to start stopping people.

Rambis also provided some insight as to how Jackson is handling this unending stretch of losing. Jackson had known only two five-game losing streaks as a head coach before this season.

According to Rambis, Jackson told the Lakers after Sundays loss to Dallas that they still were looking at a favorable first-round matchup in the playoffs as long as they could recapture the spirit with which they played earlier this season.

“We dont know if we can beat those teams, but we can certainly challenge all of those teams and make it tough on them in the playoffs in a seven-game series, Rambis said. “So he still has that confidence, he still has the belief in the team and the guys.

Also: The NBA assessed Kobe Bryant a flagrant foul type 1 for an elbow he delivered to the head of Philadelphias Kyle Korver late in the first half of Fridays loss. No foul was called on the play; Bryant was trying to dribble free for a shot.

Bryant and Brian Cook both were excused from Monday’s practice. The Lakers played five on five with 40-something assistant coaches Brian Shaw and Craig Hodges on the floor.

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Mavericks 108, Lakers 72

How great would it have been if Dallas and Detroit could have played in the varsity game at Staples Center and the Lakers and Clippers played in the afternoon JV game? There were two championship teams in L.A. on Sunday and neither one calls this city home.

It would have proved more compelling than the 36-point dismantling the Lakers suffered. If you take the second half of Fridays loss to Philadelphia and all of Sundays game, the Lakers have now been outscored 165-107 their last three halves of basketball.

The biggest question, in my opinion, for Phil Jackson is how hes going to pull Smush Parker out of this quagmire. If you think back to last seasons playoffs, Parker dug himself a hole so deep against Phoenix that he never found his way out.

And Jackson admitted after Sundays game that Parker has the starting job by default right now.

“No one came out and played well enough for me to say, `Theres someone else right here to take his job, Jackson said. “There was no one else that did a better job, so I guess not. Smush has been able to hang onto this job because hes done an adequate job and nobody else has been able to replace him.

Im not sure if Jackson quite has an idea of how to get Parker turned around. In his post-game comments, Jackson referenced Parkers play three games ago in the double-OT loss to Minnesota. Maybe theres been some hangover from those four killer missed free throws.

“He played really well in Minnesota, Jackson said. “I thought he had a terrific game . . . He missed some foul shots down the stretch. I told him those foul shots were in and out. Some of it was bad luck and some of it was just the touch on the ball or whatever.

“He made a great play to take the ball away on a steal. There was every reason for him not to be despondent after that game. But the last two games have not been good and tonight was obviously triple that up.

Part of me wonders what would happen if Parker did go to the bench. His attitude is obvious to anybody whos bought a ticket or watched the game on TV . . . and thats after starting 146 straight games. His ejection Sunday was inexcusable with the Lakers desperate for any hope.

* * *

There were some horrific turnovers there in the second quarter as the Mavericks turned the game into a runaway. Start with Ronny Turiaf throwing a pass to Maurice Evans that Jerry Stackhouse was able to take the other way for an easy dunk.

You had Kwame Brown with the ball four feet from the basket . . . and deciding to force the ball even more inside to Evans. Even after the Mavericks missed a shot late in the quarter, Farmar rocketed an outlet pass out of Evans reach for a turnover.

The Mavericks converted nine turnovers by the Lakers into 14 points in the quarter. They should have had a 10th turnover as well because Brown missed three free throws (short, long, airball) with Kobe Bryant out.

* * *

Lamar Odoms return obviously will make a difference to the Lakers but just remember that they won only six of 16 games after he returned from a sprained knee ligament earlier this season.

Odom was in good spirits talking to reporters Sunday – - he said he could do chin-ups and push-ups – - but its hard to imagine him swooping to the basket with his left hand on that torn labrum.

* * *

Sometimes its easy to forget the heart some guys show in just suiting up for games. Turiaf played Sunday even though he had what he described as a “terrible time on the six-hour flight home from Philadelphia.

Turiaf was forced to lie on the floor of the charter plane with his feet on a seat for the final 2 1-2 hours. It was the only way position that brought any comfort for his aching back.

Turiaf scored seven points in 14 minutes before his back flared up. Jackson said it was good just to get him on the floor.

* * *

There was a funny moment in the first quarter when Bryant sized up Devean George with a couple of between the legs dribbles before faking a shot and drawing contact from George. Bryant made both free throws for a 20-13 Lakers lead.

George might laugh last come June. If the Mavericks win a championship, George will join Robert Horry and Shaquille ONeal in winning a ring after leaving the Lakers.

* * *

Dallas improved to 52-9 and needs to win 18 of its final 21 games to join the Jackson-coached 1995-96 Chicago Bulls (72-10) as the only team to win 70 games in a single season.

“The last six weeks are tough, playing all your conference, division rivals, Jackson said before the game. “They have nine losses. If they get through the season with 14 or 15 losses, its an unbelievable season.

* * *

The Lakers were going to hold a practice Monday the likes of which I’ve never before seen. Kobe Bryant and Brian Cook have the day off. Kurt Rambis is going to run practice in place of Jackson. Everybody else is supposed to be there. We’ll see how things go for Odom once he’s on the floor.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

Wasnt it only last season that Kobe Bryant scorched the Dallas Mavericks for 62 points in only three quarters, outscoring the eventual Western Conference champions all by himself in a game the Lakers led by as many as 37 points?

The contrast couldnt have been any greater Sunday night as the Lakers suffered their worst home loss in history against those same Mavericks. All Bryant could do was watch as the clock ticked away and the 108-72 drubbing went in the record books.

Bryant sat at the end of the bench, talking with injured forward Lamar Odom, and there was a glimmer of hope in that. Odom was cleared to practice today with his torn labrum and guaranteed that he would play Thursday at Denver.

Not that Lakers coach Phil Jackson was about to claim that Odoms return – - as well as that of Luke Walton – - would be enough to stabilize the Lakers, who suffered their sixth consecutive loss, the last three by an average of 24 points.

“The way theyre playing now, it doesnt matter who comes back, Jackson said. “Jesus Christ could come back and we still wouldnt have a chance because weve ruined the mix by not playing together, not doing the right thing.

The 36-point loss was the Lakers worst at home since they moved to Los Angeles and matched the sixth-worst loss in franchise history. The Lakers worst loss ever came in 129-83 blowout at Portland in January 1995.

They were saved from matching the lowest-scoring game in their history only by Jordan Farmars jumper with 6.9 seconds left. The Lakers scored just 70 points in a 19-point loss at Cleveland in November 2002.

It also was the seventh loss in the last eight home games for the Lakers and the second-worst loss in Jacksons coaching career. His Chicago Bulls lost by 37 points at Madison Square Garden in November 1992.

“We were embarrassed today, Jackson said. “That was an embarrassing loss for us. Theres no excuse for the way we played. I dont care if its the first day of Daylight Savings Time. Its still not a good enough excuse.

It was the predictable result from a game that matched the NBAs unstoppable force – - the Mavericks won their 17th consecutive game and improved to 52-9 – - and the sinking ship that is the Lakers, who lost for the 12th time in 15 games.

Bryant made just 4 of 16 shots in the first half and finished the game with 25 points. Kwame Brown was the only other Laker to finish in double figures with 10 points. The Mavericks were led by Josh Howards 24 points and Dirk Nowitzkis 19.

“I told Kobe at halftime that I thought he was trying to take it all on himself, Jackson said, “and in the process he didnt give the other guys a chance to get started and get things going. He felt the urgency in that regard.

After Jackson referenced the “unbelievable energy that brings together teams like the Mavericks, the coach could only watch as guard Smush Parker was ejected in the second quarter after his second technical foul.

Just like last seasons playoffs, Parker has fallen into a black hole. He was benched by Jackson at the end of last Sundays loss to Phoenix and missed four free throws at the end of regulation and overtime in Tuesdays loss to Minnesota.

That paled in comparison to what happened against the Mavericks. Parker was called for two fouls in the first 3:53 and then was assessed a technical foul by referee Eddie F. Rush as he complained from the bench.

Parker returned to start the second quarter and tried to throw a 1-foot bounce pass to Ronny Turiaf that was stolen. It led to a clear path foul and five-point swing for Dallas on two Howard free throws and a Jerry Stackhouse 3-pointer.

Barely a minute later, Parker was gone. He lost the ball on a drive and drew a technical for protesting that he was fouled. Thus Parker was tossed at 9:28 of the second quarter, joining Odom as the only Laker to be ejected this season.

Jackson said Parker thought he had not been called for the first technical, though the coach was skeptical of the claim, saying, “I find that hard to believe. What did Jackson say to him afterward? “There was nothing to say, he said.

The Lakers hold on sixth place in the Western Conference is down to a tenuous 1 1-2 games after Denvers victory Sunday over Sacramento. They still have a four-game cushion when it comes to falling out of playoff position altogether.

Not that the Lakers (33-31) can feel even remotely comfortable: The Nuggets could pull even in the standings this week if they can win at home against Portland on Tuesday and the Lakers on Thursday.

The Lakers were outscored 31-11 in the second quarter, made just 3 of 15 shots and committed nine turnovers. Dallas closed the half on a 13-0 run, capped by Austin Crosheres 3-pointer for a 59-35 lead.

“This team that we played against tonight is a great team, Bryant said. “Theyre playing with a lot of momentum. We caught them at a bad time. They caught us at a good time.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

What once looked like a potentially season-ending shoulder injury will wind up keeping Lamar Odom out for less than two weeks, a critical development for the Lakers as they attempt to regroup with 18 games left in the regular season.

Odom saw team doctor Steve Lombardo before Sundays game and was cleared to practice. It was feared that Odom would need surgery to repair the torn labrum he suffered in a March 2 game against Sacramento.

“The strength is good, so the strength will protect the shoulder, Odom said. “I regained strength really quick, so the rehabs going well right now, and Im looking forward to getting on the court.

“I will play on Thursday (against Denver), Odom added. “No doubt about it.

The Lakers are 0-5 since Odoms injury. He saw specialist Lewis Yocum last week, at which time the Lakers said Odom would defer a decision on surgery for two to three weeks to see whether he would be able to strengthen his shoulder enough to play.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson conceded that Odom, who needed surgery to repair a similar injury at the end of the 2004-05 season, would be limited in some ways once he returns. Odom still hadnt done any shooting yet, to the best of Jacksons knowledge.

“I think hed have to understand what he can do and what he cant do, Jackson said. “Theres some things, maybe going to the basket and dunking the ball, that right off the bat is something hes going to have to watch because that extension is the problem.

Injury report: Jackson said Luke Walton reported no pain and increased mobility in his ankle and was hopeful of returning Thursday. Walton was in uniform for Sundays game but did not play.

The coach also has given Vladimir Radmanovic (separated shoulder) the nickname of “Count Dracula as he watches practice from the sidelines. Radmanovic was injured in a snowboarding incident for which he was fined $500,000.

He is not expected to play until sometime in April but Jackson did say, “Hopefully, hell get back in time to play a couple games.

Center of attention: A combination of factors led to teenage center Andrew Bynum staying in the starting lineup and Kwame Brown coming off the bench Sunday. The first came with Brown showing up late to Sundays shootaround.

Brown celebrated his 25th birthday Saturday – - there were no cake-throwing incidents – - but didnt make any excuses to Jackson.

Jackson also said he “liked (Bynums) attitude after Fridays loss to Philadelphia. Bynum had another lackluster game, making just 1 of 4 shots and scoring two points, in what Jackson considered a favorable matchup against the Mavericks.

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Sixers 108, Lakers 92

There was a great story waiting to be written Friday about Kobe Bryant visiting Lower Merion High in the afternoon and finding the inspiration in the place where his career was launched to score 50 points and lead the Lakers to victory over the 76ers.

I guess it wasnt meant to be. Bryant made just 3 of 14 shots in the second half, the Lakers dropped their fifth consecutive game (remember when they went 12-9 without Lamar Odom earlier this season?) and the trip back to Lower Merion gets overshadowed.

That shouldn’t take anything away from what Bryant did. For starters, he spent two hours – - that’s more than just making an appearance – - at his old school and got around to a bunch of places, which was remarkable given the crush of students that followed him everywhere.

He did a 15-minute question and answer session with the boys and girls from all levels of Lower Merions basketball program. Bryant, in fact, has done everything from outfit the teams in Nike gear to offer a pep-talk (via Internet video) before a big game this season.

When he was back in Philadelphia this summer, Bryant put on a clinic that several of the schools varsity players attended. To say Bryant got to know them might be an understatement.

His last stop at Lower Merion was to huddle with the varsity boys in advance of Saturdays state playoff game. Bryant walked into the cramped locker room and asked one of the players: “Are you using that in-and-out move I gave you?

How cool is that for a teenage kid? Here’s a little of the background story:

“That clinic this summer, he spent a full day just sweating and working with the kids, said Doug Young, who was one of Bryants former teammates and now works at the school and is an assistant coach. “They gained a lot and he got to know them.

“So when he calls and asks about the team, its `Hows this guy doing? Is he going hard to the rack? Is he finishing his lay-ups? Is he working on his 3-ball? All that is really important to him. He wants to see these guys develop.

Young made the point that Bryant has no alma mater other than Lower Merion because he made the jump to the NBA straight out of high school. He told the players: “I always keep track of how were doing. Always. When we have a bad season, it upsets me.

The Q-and-A was particularly insightful. Bryant was asked which of his teammates was the hardest worker (Sasha Vujacic), which player was the toughest for him to guard (Clyde Drexler and Michael Jordan) and which player is the best at defending him (Bruce Bowen).

He also talked a little trash upon learning that the ninth-grade team had gone undefeated this season. “I heard if the ninth-grade team played the varsity team, Bryant said, “the ninth-grade team would win.

Bryant was asked if he ever would have wanted to play for the Sixers and didnt hesitate in answering “Absolutely.

“They drafted (Allen Iverson) instead of me in 96, Bryant added. “Theres nothing I could do. Obviously, Im locked into L.A. for many, many years. Ive been in the league for 11 years now; I dont see myself playing that much longer. But it would have been great to play here.

He was asked about the good and bad parts of being a celebrity.

“The bad thing just off the top is that everybody thinks that your life is an open book – - like they have rights to you, Bryant said.

At the same time, Bryant talked about the platform he has and his work with the Make-A-Wish Foundation and Boys and Girls Clubs. “By you speaking out about those particular causes, it enhances their cause,” Bryant said. “So theres a lot of positive things you can do.

There was a question about being a leader and what is required of him in that role.

“Its about trying to get the best out of (my teammates), Bryant said. “I kind of had to go back to what my role was here in high school. Im trying to do the same thing: I was trying to lead this team to a state championship.

“The essentials of being a leader in a team sport, they dont change. The faces do. Its just about trying to get the best out of them and keep them moving in the right direction.

Bryant was asked about the All-Star Game and what it has become. He said he talked on the Saturday before last months game with Celtics great Bill Russell, who told him there were three fights at one All-Star Game during his playing days.

“They were getting after it, Bryant said, “and Id like to see us kind of get back to that.

Young said he thought the visit was actually well-timed in the wake of Bryants suspension.

“With something like what happened the other night, regardless of whether its right or wrong, hes capable of moving forward, Young said. “I think thats a good message to send to kids, especially a young group like we have.

“Were going into the state playoffs. Theyre going through a lot of these things for the first time. If things dont happen for you, just move forward.

* * *

What was it like to be Bryants teacher? He took the time to visit with Jeanne Mastriano, who teaches English and speaking arts at the school. She told one story about taking a field trip to attend a play and watching as strangers kept coming up to Bryant.

“It would take me by surprise because Id look at him as my student who happens to like basketball, Mastriano said. “Even now, it kind of takes me still by surprise because hes a human being who loves basketball. I was always startled by it.

* * *

There was a big story in the Philadelphia Daily News about Bryant’s relationship with the city’s fans, who have booed him ever since his “cut their hearts out” quote in the 2001 NBA Finals. Yet Bryant heard more cheers than boos during player introductions Friday.

His high school coach, Gregg Downer, said at Friday’s event: “I do know if he played for the Sixers, hed be worshipped. This is a blue-collar town and people would quickly understand his work ethic and his love of winning.

* * *

One thought from Friday’s game…

Shammond Williams had a great second quarter off the bench and was one of the few players who delivered when the Sixers doubled Bryant. Williams hit his first 3-pointer that way and went on to knock down two more 3s in the quarter and score 11 points.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson noted afterward that Smush Parker “has trouble resetting himself when he doesnt get going. But I doubt Jackson will give much consideration to starting Williams instead of Parker because he worries about the matchup against bigger guards.

* * *

By Ross Siler [ep
Staff Writer [ep

PHILADELPHIA–The traffic was so snarled for the bus ride to Wachovia Center for Fridays game that Phil Jackson jokingly claimed it must have been a product of the flower show at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.

Then came the second half of the Lakers 108-92 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers, when Jacksons team gave up a 20-3 run out of the locker room and left the coach to continue with the horticultural theme for the night.

“It was a wilting, Jackson said.

All that was left was for the Lakers to pack up and head home from an 0-4 road trip. They dropped their fifth consecutive game, 11th out of the last 14, and have to wonder if theyll be able to stay in playoff position these final 19 games.

Kobe Bryant returned from his one-game NBA suspension and finished with 30 points but made just 3 of 14 shots in face of double-teams all second half. It was just one factor in an avalanche that saw the Lakers lose the second half 57-35.

“Thats called them going in and making some adjustments and us going and out doing the same thing we did in the first half, Kwame Brown said. “They put that `Kobe-dar on like every team is going to do and nobody else stepped up and made a play.

Bryant said: “Our execution just fails us because we dont have the guys out there that know the intricacies of the offense.

The Sixers won their sixth consecutive game while the Lakers remained winless since Lamar Odom was lost to a torn labrum. Jackson spent the third quarter trying to find any combination that worked and contemplated lineup changes afterward.

Foremost in his mind was 19-year-old center Andrew Bynum, who has started the last 32 games since Brown went down with a sprained ankle Dec. 31. Bynum missed all four shots he took, committed four turnovers and was called for five fouls in 33 minutes.

Jackson said Bynum “didnt get anything accomplished out there tonight, and later added, “He needs to get off the front line and get out of that enemy fire for a while.

The question is if Brown is ready to play heavy minutes only five games after returning from the ankle injury. Brown finished with 11 points and 10 rebounds against the Sixers and said afterward, “Whatever (Jackson) decides, Ill be ready.

The Sixers trailed 57-51 at halftime but started the third quarter on a 12-3 run that saw Brian Cook pick up his fourth and fifth fouls in two minutes. Jackson had seen enough when he called timeout with 8:25 left after Philadelphia scored eight consecutive points.

He sent Shammond Williams and Aaron McKie to replace Smush Parker and Bynum. With only 10 available players due to injury, the Lakers were left at times with McKie playing 7-foot Steven Hunter on defense.

Andre Iguodala, the Sixers third-year guard, finished with a game-high 31 points and punctuated the third-quarter run by burying a 3-pointer while drawing contact from Bryant. He completed the four-point play and scored 14 points in the quarter.

Bryant, meanwhile, spent two hours in the afternoon at his old stomping grounds of Lower Merion High in suburban Ardmore, where he visited with coaches and teachers and talked to the boys basketball team on the eve of the state playoffs.

He also took part in a question-and-answer session with players from all levels of the basketball program. Asked about his suspension for striking Marko Jaric in the face, Bryant said, “Theres too many NBA cameras in this room to say anything.

Bryant returned with a furious first half, in which he scored 21 points and made 9 of 13 shots, including a stunning three-point play in which he spun away from Iguodala, cut back on Hunter and scored while drawing a foul from Joe Smith.

The Lakers arrived at the arena barely an hour before tipoff because of the Friday traffic. They didnt show up at all in the second half, though, losing the third quarter 32-18 and trailing by 16 points with seven minutes remaining.

Cook fouled out in barely 90 seconds in the fourth, depriving the Lakers of both a big man and a shooter to help Bryant. Philadelphia made twice as many free throws (29 of 37) as the Lakers shot (11 of 14) for the game.

We didnt play smart enough, Jackson said. “I think some of the guys felt we didnt play hard enough; I thought we just didnt play smart enough.

The only good news for the Lakers was that Denver lost to Detroit, leaving them with a 2 1-2-game lead for sixth in the Western Conference standings. They also could take comfort in returning home . . . to play a Dallas team that has won 16 games in a row.

With Sundays loss, the Lakers became the first Jackson-coached team ever to suffer two five-game losing streaks in one season.

“You cant feel that pressure about winning or when youre going to win or how youre going to win, Jackson said. “You just go play (the games) and play hard.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

PHILADELPHIA–Every time the Lakers are in town to play the Philadelphia 76ers, Kobe Bryant makes a point of stopping by his old school. Theres something about the smell of the gym at Lower Merion High that just brings back memories for him.

After serving a one-game NBA suspension this week for striking Minnesotas Marko Jaric in the face, Bryant paid a visit to the school on Friday and said taking a trip back in time for two hours might have been the best thing for him.

“I remember coming into this gym at 5 oclock in the morning and working on my skills before class, said Bryant, who was originally given the No. 24 as a freshman by coach Gregg Downer.

He took part in a question-and-answer session with players from all levels of the boys and girls basketball programs. One was about his favorite cheesesteak (Larrys) but another touched on his rebuilt relationship with Lakers coach Phil Jackson.

“I think a lot of it is team dynamics, Bryant said. “Now we have younger players, Im the veteran on the team. Its my 11th year. For a lot of guys on the team, its their second or third year in the league. So he and I have to rely on one another to make sure the message is the same.

Pippen update: The Lakers explored petitioning the NBA for a roster exception involving injured players that would have enabled them to audition free agent Scottie Pippen on a 10-day contract before deciding such a move didnt make sense.

Although the Lakers have a full 15-man roster, Jackson outlined a special case in which the NBA would allow the Lakers to add a 16th player provided that they declared four of their injured players out for at least 14 days.

The Lakers have three players who fit the bill in Chris Mihm, Vladimir Radmanovic and Lamar Odom. When it comes to a fourth player, however, Jackson is hopeful that Luke Walton can return from a sprained ankle next week.

The Lakers could release Mihm, who is out for the season after undergoing ankle surgery, and sign the 41-year-old Pippen. The benefit of keeping Mihm comes in retaining his free-agent rights for this summer.

“We have to assess what has to happen, Jackson said. “Our priority is just to get this team back and righted and getting some winning games again and get back in the playoff hunt. If thats our chance and we have to do something, well have to do something.

As for the Lakers fifth injured player, forward Ronny Turiaf said he was hopeful he could overcome back spasms and play Sunday against Dallas.

“I can actually walk now as opposed to walking like a grandma, Turiaf said.

Also: Bryant couldnt quite keep his elbows to himself in Fridays game, catching Kyle Korver in the face as he tried to dribble into space for a last-second shot in the first half. No foul was called on the play.

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