Bucks 110, Lakers 90

What I told people after the NBA suspended Kobe Bryant from the Jan. 30 game in New York was that the play in which Bryant struck Manu Ginobili in the head might as well have been a Rorschach test for what people think of Bryant himself.

If youre a Kobe fan, you saw the league office overreacting to a sequence of events that unfolded so fast in real time that the referees missed it. If youre a Kobe hater, you saw a dirty player going head-hunting after having his shot blocked.

The same thing applies to the play at the end of regulation in Tuesdays game that led to Bryants one-game suspension and the Lakers loss to Milwaukee. One thing I think is important to realize is how different things look live in person instead of ESPN.

Maurice Evans talked about this after the game; Ill include his quote below. I just cant get past the fact that the play seemed insignificant watching it with my own eyes at Target Center. Marko Jaric picked himself up and stayed in the game. End of story, right?

The Ginobili play occurred at the end of a nationally televised ABC game and left the Spurs without one of their star players for the start of overtime. Jaric was hurt so badly he was able to block Kwame Browns shot in the final seconds of regulation.

Thats right, Jaric blocked the shot of one of the NBAs biggest and strongest players only seconds after getting hit in the face by Bryant.

Its just amazing to me how if you watch a replay a dozen times, it can change the way you view an entire event. If you go frame by frame, everything of course looks different.

“I was actually on the floor when it took place and I didnt realize the severity of it until I went back and saw it on ESPN, Evans said, “and I saw them replay the Ginobili incident and there were a lot of similarities.

“So I knew once his nose was kind of bleeding and all that, that most likely it would take place, the suspension.

(As an aside, the NBA office had better be making sure that Ron Artest is at the top of their priority list right now as opposed to Bryants flailing arms. Theres no doubt in my mind which is a bigger black eye for the league.)

Its also worth noting that Jaric apparently didnt think a suspension was warranted. He said as much to ESPN.com. I assume Jaric was interviewed by the NBA security office and told them the same thing.

“I don’t think he did it intentionally, and I don’t think players should be suspended for things that happen unintentionally,” Jaric said. “I think he was trying to draw a foul, and he swung his hand out to make it look dramatic, and he hit me by accident. He apologized right after.”

You also have to wonder if the NBA realizes what its doing when it suspends Bryant for his one game in New York or Milwaukee all season. There was so little energy in the arena for Tuesdays game that it might as well have been played in a library or morgue.

* * *

We present Wednesdays game as Exhibit A in explaining how Andrew Bynum struggles in back-to-back games. Bynum missed his first three shots and never got going against the Bucks. It would have been fun to see Bynum match Andrew Bogut basket for basket.

* * *

Sasha Vujacic (6 points, 2 of 7 shooting) got the start against Milwaukee and was out of control in the first quarter. He managed to make a steal on the defensive end and then dribble out of bounds on the same play for a turnover.

Vujacic also might have taken one of the most inexplicable shots of the Lakers season. He launched a 3-pointer with seven seconds left in the third quarter when the Lakers were supposed to be holding for the last shot. Not a smart play.

* * *

Something I’d never seen before: With 3:26 left, Phil Jackson sent Jordan Farmar, Maurice Evans and Bynum back into the game. Of course, he only had four players on his bench. That left Shammond Williams sitting alone in a sea of empty seats. I think I counted six empty seats between Williams and the nearest assistant coach.

* * *

Funny moment with 2:24 left in the fourth quarter of a blowout game. You’ve probably read or heard about how Phil Jackson last month changed how he operates during timeouts. Instead of standing in the huddle, he now sits in a chair and faces his players on the bench.

Its the job of somebody to get that chair there, as well as to place the special cushion (the approximate size of a New York City phonebook) that Jackson sits on. Chip Schaefer and Alex McKechnie, two members of the training staff, have split the duties so far.

Jackson went so far as to joke to an ABC reporter before Sundays game in Phoenix that Schaefer was getting stronger when it comes to handling the chair.

When McKechnie fumbled the cushion to the floor during the timeout, Schaefer could been seen laughing and motioning with his arms the same way a football referee does when a pass is bobbled. Like all things, the Lakers remain a work in progress.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

MILWAUKEE–As soon as he saw Kobe Bryants arm meet Marko Jarics head late in the fourth quarter of Tuesdays loss to Minnesota, Lakers coach Phil Jackson had a feeling Bryant would be getting another call from the league office.

“In this league, everybodys got a pretty face, Jackson said, “and theyre trying to keep it that way.

Those fears were confirmed Wednesday when the NBA followed the precedent it set in suspending Bryant for one game at the end of January after he struck San Antonios Manu Ginobili in the head on a nearly identical late-game play.

The league suspended Bryant for Wednesday nights game against the Milwaukee Bucks, leaving the Lakers with only nine available players – - six of them guards – - after forward Ronny Turiaf was unable to play due to back spasms.

What followed was a punchless 110-90 loss to Milwaukee in which the Lakers trailed from start to finish. The Bucks shot 59.5 percent as a team with Charlie Villanueva (26 points) and Andrew Bogut (22 points) each making 10 of 12 shots.

The Lakers lost their fourth consecutive game, dropping to 0-3 on this road trip, and must win Friday at Philadelphia to avoid becoming the first Jackson-coached team ever to suffer two five-game losing streaks in the same season.

Only 2 1-2 weeks ago, Bryants personal comeback was the story of the NBAs All-Star weekend. He was selected as the games MVP and judged the dunk contest alongside Michael Jordan, Dominique Wilkins and Julius Erving.

Now Bryant is viewed as a repeat offender in the eyes of the league office. He was suspended from the Lakers Jan. 30 loss to New York for the play involving Ginobili and watched Wednesdays game from the team hotel.

Jackson said Bryant was trying to draw a foul on the play by flailing his arm. Bryant, who was not available for comment, lost more than $161,000 in pay from the suspension.

For the second time this season, Stu Jackson, the NBAs executive vice president of basketball operations, had to explain the decision to suspend Bryant. Jackson was specifically asked about the perception that the league was singling out Bryant.

“My response to that, Jackson said in a teleconference, “would be that Ive not seen this type of contact exhibited by a player whereby the player takes a shot, follows through and then drives an arm backward into a defenders body making contact above the shoulders. I have not.

Stu Jackson said he was “very surprised to see a second, nearly identical, incident involving Bryant. He added that he considered suspending Bryant for multiple games and put Bryant on notice that a third offense would be dealt with more harshly.

“In cases where weve had multiple offenses, at some point the player becomes a recidivist, Jackson said, “and certainly, if this occurs again, most likely there would be multiple games.

The play in question happened with 58.7 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter of a double-overtime loss to Minnesota. Bryant pulled up for a jumper and Jaric got a hand on the ball to block the shot. The same thing happened with Ginobili as well.

Bryant then swung his right arm and connected with Jaric in the face. He was called for a loose ball foul on the play; Jaric stayed in the game and went on to make a key block of Kwame Brown with 8.4 seconds left in regulation.

“I think Im going to have to put about 50 clips (together) of Kobe shooting his shot with his arms going out like that, Phil Jackson said. “ Its not an unnatural basketball motion for him.

Stu Jackson described the play involving Bryant as having two separate motions. The first came as he followed through on his shot. The second came as he cleared out the Timbwerolves guard with a “hard arm driven backward into Jarics head.

“That movement is not an acceptable movement, Jackson said.

Although the Lakers were furious with the leagues decision, Phil Jacksons pregame comments were tinged with resignation.

“We saw it happen and said, `Thats awful similar to what happened in L.A. versus San Antonio right off the bat, Jackson said.

He later credited the league for one thing: “If theyre going to make a call, even if theyre wrong, theyll still be consistent.

Stu Jackson admitted that he didnt talk to Bryant about the incident, leaving that task for an NBA security official. Asked if he had a problem with that, Phil Jackson said: “They never talk individually to people. They send their henchmen out to do their dirty work.

The coach said he tried to find the positive in the suspension for Bryant, who played 53 minutes in the double-overtime game. With a night of rest, Bryant might be better served for upcoming games against Philadelphia and Dallas.

“Itll come out at the other end somewhere, and thats what he has to look at, Jackson said.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

MILWAUKEE–The Lakers could have blamed Kobe Bryants one-game suspension, the 58 minutes of basketball they played the night before or the injuries that left them with a team that could have squeezed into a mini-van for the ride to Bradley Center.

They refused to make any of those excuses, however, after a 110-90 loss to the Milwaukee Bucks that coach Phil Jackson described as “embarrassing. It was the 10th loss in 13 games for the Lakers, who had only nine players available for the game.

“Its just disappointing that we didnt give the type of effort that we needed to compete in this basketball game for 48 minutes, forward Maurice Evans said.

The Bucks led from start to finish and shot 59.5 percent even as guard Michael Redd – - who scored 45 points in a November victory over the Lakers at Staples Center – - made just 3 of 11 shots and finished with only 10 points.

With one game left on this road trip, the Lakers also must consider that they face an uphill climb just to match last seasons 45-37 record. They would need to win 12 of their final 20 games to reach what seemed like a modest goal entering this season.

“All the teams are jockeying for position right now, Evans said, “and we have to figure out what our identity is going to be and what we want to accomplish out of this season.

“You just dont go on a 10 out of 13 slid with little or no resistance. Its frustrating. We started off too good and we showed too much potential at home to give it up like this.

With Ronny Turiaf out with back spasms, the Lakers were left with six guards and three big men for Wednesdays game. Jackson opted to start Sasha Vujacic in a lineup with Smush Parker, Brian Cook, Andrew Bynum and Evans.

Jackson tried various combinations, playing a zone defense at times, pairing Bynum and Kwame Brown in a lineup and starting the second half with rookie Jordan Farmar on the floor after not playing Farmar in the first half.

“It looked like we only had one half in us, Jackson said, adding about his four-man bench, “I was just looking down there for help and there was nothing there.

The Lakers “collapsed, as Jackson put it, in the third quarter, turning what had been a four-point game into an 18-point runaway. Charlie Villanueva hit six 3-pointers on the way to 26 points, Andrew Bogut added 22 points and Charlie Bell had 20 points.

With Bryant, Lamar Odom and Luke Walton all out of the lineup, the Lakers were missing three of their four double-figure scorers, who average more than 57 points between them. Evans led the Lakers with 22 points while Cook added 20.

“Certainly, when a guy like Kobes not going to be on the court, either subconsciously or consciously, its going to have an effect, Milwaukee coach Terry Stotts said.

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Timberwolves 117, Lakers 107

For everyone who has waited two seasons to see just how Andrew Bynum and Kwame Brown would play in the same lineup, the moment arrived at the end of the first half. It was over after just 3:37 but might have been a glimpse into the future.

After navigating the first half with Brown and Bynum each picking up two fouls, Lakers coach Phil Jackson opted to bring Brown in for Brian Cook with Kevin Garnett returning to finish the half.

Brown matched up against Garnett while Bynum guarded Mark Blount. There were only two plays of real significance during that time, the first coming as Kobe Bryant drove and flipped a behind-the-back pass to Bynum for a dunk.

The light-hearted moment of the game came a little later. Bryant stripped Ricky Davis and found himself alone of the fast break with Brown, far from the most sure-handed player in the NBA.

Bryant kept the ball even as Brown ran alongside, taking it in for a dunk. Jackson opted to start the second half with Cook and Bynum as his big men; Brown and Bynum got on the court together only for rebounding purposes in the first overtime.

Bynum didnt help himself by picking up his third and fourth fouls in not even four minutes to start the second half. He finished with 10 points and six rebounds while Brown struggled to finish around the basket, making just 1 of 5 shots, and was blocked by guard Marko Jaric on a key play late in regulation.

With Ronny Turiafs back spasms costing the Lakers another big body, Jackson might be forced to play Bynum and Brown together out of necessity. The Lakers are down to Bynum, Cook and Brown. You start the first two and bring Brown off the bench. I guess Maurice Evans is your emergency power forward in this situation.

It’s worth noting that Vladimir Radmanovic’s snowboarding accident grows more costly as Odom and Turiaf go down. Even with the fine, Radmanovic is still making more than $27,000 for each game he misses. Not bad work if you can get it.

* * *

Jackson is going to have to walk the fine line between giving the Lakers the chance to win games and not running down Bryant with an eye toward the playoffs. In the second game without Lamar Odom, Bryant played 53:27 of a possible 58:00.

Bryant sat for all of 66 seconds in the first three quarters. He went to the bench to start the fourth and the Lakers were outscored 10-2 without him. So Bryant returned and played the final 18:33. Keep in mind this was the first game of a back-to-back set.

If youre keeping score at home, Bryant is now averaging 49:09 in playing time since Odom went down. Unless the Lakers play three overtimes Wednesday at Milwaukee, that numbers going to be coming down.

* * *

Jackson had framed Smush Parkers foul-shooting problems earlier this season as being more about his fundamentals than anything in his head. He changed his tune slightly after Tuesdays game.

“Its both, Jackson said. “Smush is a guy who makes foul shots in practice and in the game has some difficulties.

* * *

It was amazing to see just how empty the upper deck was at Target Center. The Lakers are the biggest draw in the NBA, leading the league in road attendance, and yet the Timberwolves announced a crowd of just 15,197.

You have to wonder just where the Wolves would be attendance wise if Garnett left. Its hard to imagine a crowd smaller than Tuesdays for a Lakers game. Kobe Bryant, after all, only makes two trips here a season.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

MINNEAPOLIS–No two players in todays NBA have worn the jersey of the same team longer than Kevin Garnett and Kobe Bryant, who might as well have been kindred spirits Tuesday night at Target Center.

It is the duty of Bryant and Garnett to find a way to overcome the shortcomings of their respective teams from game to game, a job description neither superstar probably ever envisioned for the second half of their careers.

When the final horn sounded on a marathon game, Garnett and the direction-less Minnesota Timberwolves had a 117-107 double-overtime triumph over Bryant and injury-ravaged Lakers, who dropped to 0-2 on this four-game road trip.

All Lakers coach Phil Jackson asked with Lamar Odom and Luke Walton out was for his players to give themselves a chance to win. But the Lakers couldnt close out the game or outlast a Minnesota team that lost in two overtimes Sunday to Boston.

The Wolves led exactly once in regulation and once in the first overtime yet wound up winning for only the second time in eight games since the All-Star break, improving to 7-13 since Randy Wittman replaced Dwane Casey as coach.

Bryant finished with 40 points, 13 rebounds and eight assists in 53 minutes but the Lakers could point to Smush Parkers four missed free throws at the end of regulation and the first overtime as the reason they lost.

“Its frustrating because its the little things that beat you, Bryant said. “Youve got to step to the line and knock down the free throws, make sure you dont give guys open looks at the basket and things of that nature.

“Its just the little things that weve got to figure out how to close games out with. That being said, we played a good game. All the way up until the end, we played a good game. We did the things defensively we wanted to do. We just didnt close it out.

Although he didnt mention Parker by name, Jackson was blunt in saying, “The reality is we missed free throws at the end of regulation and overtime that cost us the game.

The Lakers also lost forward/center Ronny Turiaf to back spasms in the second quarter. Turiaf did not return and is listed as day-to-day for tonights game at Milwaukee, possibly leaving the Lakers with only 10 available players.

Parker, who got off to a blazing start in scoring 11 first-quarter points, wilted at the end of the night. He was in position to be the hero for the Lakers when he stole Marko Jarics inbounds pass with 5.7 seconds left in regulation.

But Parker missed the first of two free throws, leaving an opening for the Wolves to send the game to overtime when Ricky Davis drove and was fouled by Kwame Brown. Davis sank both free throws to tie the score at 98-98.

Parker, who finished with 24 points, has been the Lakers second-worst free-throw shooter (62.8 percent) aside from Brown this season. All he could say after the game was “Needs work.

“I was confident, Parker added. “I want to step to that line. I want the ball down the stretch to get fouled. Ive just got to knock them down when I get there. . . . I strive to be better. If I was a 90 percent free-throw shooter, Id want to be 100 percent.

The Lakers also were unable to get the ball to Bryant at the end of either regulation or the first overtime for a final shot. Jackson had Sasha Vujacic inbound the ball the first time, Aaron McKie the second, and lamented not having Odom or Walton in that situation.

In addition, the Lakers committed three 24-second violations in overtime against Minnesotas zone defense and gave up two critical putbacks. The first was to Davis with 3.3 seconds left in the first overtime as he followed up Garnetts miss.

The second was to Randy Foye and put Minnesota ahead 111-107 in the second overtime. Davis finished with 33 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists and played 56 minutes while Garnett totaled 26 points and 17 rebounds in 51 minutes.

The Wolves rallied from six points down in the last 2 1-2 minutes of regulation as unheralded Mark Blount connected on three 3-pointers. They also got the defensive stop they needed with 7.9 seconds left when Jaric blocked Brown inside.

There will be no sure victories for the Lakers on this trip, even with games against sub-.500 Minnesota, Milwaukee and Philadelphia. That fact was all too apparent as they twice gave back a 13-point lead as well as a nine-point lead in Tuesdays game.

It was instructive just what happened when Bryant and Garnett went to the bench in the game. The Wolves gave up a 12-0 run and fell behind by 13 after Garnett checked out in the second quarter.

The Lakers werent much better without Bryant at the start of the fourth. They gave back what had been a seven-point lead entering the quarter, were outscored 10-2 and trailed 81-80 when Bryant returned for the final 8:33.

Bryant scored the Lakers first eight points out of halftime and finished with 17 points in the third quarter. He also hit what could have been the games biggest shot, a 3-pointer with 43.8 seconds left in the first overtime. It wasnt meant to be.

“I think we were despondent in that situation, Jackson said. “In both regulation and the first overtime, we had the lead and lost the game or lost the chance to win the game. I was trying to rally them and keep their spirits up. It was tough.

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Suns 99, Lakers 94

With the Lakers on their last long road trip of the season, Phil Jackson reached his last chance to hand out books to his players. He said he has delivered a couple of books so far, has a couple of books with him and still has to buy a couple of additional books.

My informal survey of two players before Sundays game found that Ronny Turiaf has received his book and Andrew Bynum has not. Im most interested in learning what book Jackson selected for Vladimir Radmanovic but hes not on the trip.

Turiaf couldnt remember the exact title but said it was similar to the movie “Life is Beautiful and was a tale about the Germans and the French in World War II. He was about 55 pages into the book and thought it was a good choice for him.

“Personally, it makes me feel like part of the family, said Turiaf, who grew up in Martinique and played the equivalent of high school basketball in France. “He sees us as basketball players but he tries to learn where were from, what our backgrounds are.

* * *

This is going to pain a lot of Lakers fans, but Raja Bell showed why hes one of the most undervalued NBA players Sunday. Not only did Bell defend Kobe Bryant all game, with an assist from Shawn Marion, but he was a difference-maker with his shooting as well.

Bell buried three 3-pointers in the last five-plus minutes of the third quarter as Phoenix built its first real cushion of the game. Bryant was screened on a couple of them and tried to collapse to help on drivers on the others.

In addition, Bell stepped to the line and sank two free throws with 18.1 seconds to play. You dont have to like Bell at all after the clothesline he delivered to Bryant in last years playoffs but hes a great value making midlevel exception money.

* * *

Itll be interesting to see just how the Lakers organize their offense without Lamar Odom. They started a lot of sets with Bryant alone at the top of the floor or on the wing and ran a screen-and-roll from there.

Bryant said hed prefer not to operate that way, which gives the defense a better chance to load up against him. He finally got his wish to move to the wing in the fourth quarter, when Jackson used Sasha Vujacic and Smush Paker/Shammond Williams at guard.

Bryant hit a couple of turnaround jumpers and backed down Bell for a layup with 2:45 left. He joked after the game: “I was begging like a dog to get into the post. Its also worth noting that Bryant played all 24 minutes in the second half.

* * *

It was hard to watch Brian Cook in Sundays game and not think that hed be perfect for the Suns. Cook is a lethal shooter as is, but its hard to imagine just what he could do camping out behind the 3-point arc for Phoenix coach Mike DAntoni.

“Thats the game that Brian can play is open shots, Jackson said, “and when teams go to double team Kobe, Kobe knows where hes at.

* * *

For all the cheers that Bryant has heard in visiting arenas this season, it was almost novel to hear him booed Sunday. There were a ton of Lakers fans (as always) in Phoenix but the “MVP chants also were reserved for Steve Nash instead of Bryant.

* * *

Nash made two spectacular plays in the first half that I noticed didnt make the nightly highlight shows. They were a much higher degree of difficulty, at least, than the layups Smush Parker conceded in the second half.

The Suns ran one pick-and-roll with Marion in which Nash was almost a blur coming off the screen, flicking the ball behind his back on the dribble, before finding Kurt Thomas for a jumper.

With 1:48 left in the half, Nash circled around the basket and hung in the air long enough to draw the defense into thinking he was shooting before gunning a pass to Amare Stoudemire for a dunk.

* * *

One play that was probably overlooked Sunday was Marion’s offensive rebound basket to beat the third-quarter buzzer. It enabled the Suns to take a seven-point lead into the fourth quarter instead of five. Sasha Vujacic’s 3-pointer to start the fourth quarter might have made it a two-point game as a result.

* * *

The Lakers continue to sit in no mans land in the Western Conference standings. They trail Houston by 3 1-2 games for fifth and lead the Clippers and Denver by 3 1-2 games for seventh and eighth.

Even though the Spurs have won eight games in a row, they still lead Utah by just a game for third. The Lakers most favorable path to the second land goes through Salt Lake City, so theres modest hope even with Lamar Odom out.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

PHOENIX–The last time they walked onto the court at US Airways Center, the Lakers were handed a 31-point loss in Game 7 of their first-round playoff series against the Phoenix Suns, bringing a decidedly unceremonious end to a feel-good season.

That also might have been the last time the Lakers were close to whole, before the sprained ankles and sprained knees, the separated shoulders and torn labrums, made a medical dictionary a must-have for this season.

Maybe that was why the Lakers felt as if they exceeded expectations in Sundays 99-94 loss to the Suns. With the cloud of Lamar Odoms potential season-ending injury hanging over them, the Lakers nevertheless pushed Phoenix to the final horn.

“A lot of people watching the game, considering all the guys that we have out, probably expected us to get blown out, Kobe Bryant said. “But I believe that we can win these games. We have a lot of guys out but were still going to be competitive and were going to be all right.

Now all the Lakers can do is hope for the best as Odom (torn labrum) and Luke Walton (sprained ankle) both see specialists today in Los Angeles. Walton could return on this four-game trip; Odom is waiting to learn if and when he will need surgery.

“We just have to unite and just play well together, Bryant said. “Thats the key. Hopefully, well get Luke back and thatll help out a lot because of his triangle recognition . . . and just continue to plug away.

In the first glimpse of life without Odom, Bryant finished with 31 points but was hounded into 11 of 28 shooting. He played nearly 45 minutes, including the entire second half, and also led the Lakers with six assists.

Brian Cook started in place of Odom and hit 8 of 15 shots in totaling 22 points and a career-best 14 rebounds. Yet the game was not without discord for the Lakers, as Smush Parker had an outburst on the bench in the fourth quarter.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson watched as Parker, who slipped into a black hole in the playoffs against the Suns, picked up three fouls in the first half and responded with a less-than-aggressive performance at both ends of the floor in the second half.

Parker gave up breezy layups to Steve Nash, who hit 7 of 10 shots and scored 18 of his 23 points in the second half. He also passed on a 3-pointer at the start of the fourth quarter, resulting in a 24-second violation for the Lakers.

So Jackson decided to make a change with 5:40 left after Nash staked the Suns to a 10-point lead, their largest of the game. He sent Shammond Williams for Parker during a timeout, a decision with which Parker voiced his disagreement.

“He wanted to play, Jackson said. “I had to take him out because I didnt think he was aggressive enough.

Jackson said he was looking to see what “punch Williams could bring and said he sensed Parker growing “despondent with every Nash layup. The coach went on to describe Parkers fourth-quarter play as being almost “flaccid.

After he was removed, Parker planted himself at the end of the bench the rest of the game and didn’t join the huddle during timeouts. Jackson said he talked to Parker, who finished with three points on 1-of-5 shooting, afterward.

Williams, though, drained a 3-pointer with 3:19 remaining after Bryant drove and found him open. That made it 92-88 but the Lakers would get no closer than three points; Williams and Bryant each missed free throws in the last 1:37.

The Lakers were left to lament Cooks missed 3-pointer with 1:04 to play, a shot that could have made it a one-point game. Cook made 4 of 6 3-pointers after Jackson joked before the game about not knowing whom to start in place of Odom.

“Im just trying to fill in and help the team when I can, Cook said. “Phils going to use me how hes going to use me. I trust in him to use me the way he wants to use me. Right now, we just need to be together as a team and fight for the rest of this road trip.

Odom, meanwhile, will visit shoulder specialist Lewis Yocum today and faces the possibility of season-ending surgery. If that is the case, the Lakers hopes of making something out of this season would be greatly diminished.

“Really, its at best I would say anywhere from two to three weeks before well even know, Jackson said of Odoms fate. “Unless (Yocum) says, `Hey, an operations important. Lets get it done. That I doubt.

The Lakers will play the Suns twice more in the regular season and succeeded in holding the NBAs highest scoring team under 100 points. It was an accomplishment for the Lakers after giving up 116 points in Fridays loss to Sacramento.

“I dont think we played particularly well, Phoenix coach Mike DAntoni said. “It seemed like a lack of a little juice. The Lakers do a good job of imposing their style and rhythm . . . and it is easy to fall into that instead of figuring it out and amping it up.

With Phoenix scoring fewer than 28 points in every quarter, Bryant added, “I think we can be proud of the way that we played, especially defensively, considering the way that weve been playing.

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A tough spot for Jordan Farmar

Theres no player on the Lakers other than Kobe Bryant who has the same burning desire to be great that Jordan Farmar does. Its obvious in every quote Farmar gives and every afternoon he stays late after practice to shoot.

That has to make what happened Monday in Utah all the more difficult for Farmar. Not only did he and Sasha Vujacic lose their place in the rotation to Aaron McKie and Shammond Williams but neither played in one of the biggest victories of the Lakers’ season.

Farmar said after Thursdays practice that it was the first time in his career that hed ever been benched for an entire game. If you think about where he was last season at UCLA to now, it shows just how difficult the adjustment to the NBA can be.

“Im all for whatevers best for the team, Farmar said. Its (coach Phil Jacksons) decision. I know its unfortunate that he feels that me not being in there was what he had to do, but that just makes me have to work harder and figure out a way to get back in the lineup.

Only two weeks ago, Farmar was playing in the rookie-sophomore game at All-Star weekend. He was the last player on the practice court Thursday and said he was trying to remind himself of the big picture about being 20 years old and having time to learn.

“Without adversity, people dont achieve greatness, Farmar added. “Sometimes they dont reach their potential if everythings just given to them. It just makes me work that much harder and stay that much more focused and determined. My time will come.

You have to wonder, though, whats going to happen when Luke Walton and Kwame Brown return from injury, possibly as early as this weekend. The Lakers probably will have to decide about putting either Farmar or Vujacic on the inactive list.

No matter how difficult the current circumstances, Farmars rookie season has been a success beyond what most could have imagined back in October. With so many guards in training camp, the question was if Farmar would play at all.

Some had him targeted for the NBA Development League. I thought he would shuttle between the inactive list and active list. Hes played in 55 games so far and averaged 16 minutes, which ranks near the top ever for a rookie on a Jackson-coached team.

(Remember also that Farmar was the No. 26 pick. If you look at the players selected at that spot in the last 10 years – - Jason Maxiell, Kevin Martin, Ndudi Ebi, John Salmons, Samuel Dalembert, Mamadou NDiaye, Vonteego Cummings, Sam Jacobson, Charles Smith – - its hit or miss just finding a player who will stick in the NBA.)

Farmar said the biggest adjustment has come in playing limited minutes. He carried his team at Taft High to a City Section title and led UCLA to the NCAA championship game. Now hes got to maximize a small window of time whenever hes on the court.

“I just have to find a way to come in there and contribute right away, Farmar said. “Its hard but thats what I have to learn how to do because thats my job right now. Thats probably the thing I have to work on the most is just coming in there and making an impact in my five minutes, two minutes, whatever I get out there.

If he can do that, Farmar added, those five minutes might stretch to seven. Those seven minutes might stretch to 10. You have to wonder whether hes putting too much pressure on himself. But you cant question that Farmar wants to be great more than most.

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Lakers 102, Warriors 85

The alternative was to get on a plane to Salt Lake City, so Kobe Bryant hung out and talked to reporters long after the final horn Sunday. The questions had less to do with the Lakers victory over Golden State than with Bryants personal comeback this season.

It has been a long climb back for Bryant, first from the Colorado accusation, then following the Shaquille ONeal trade and Phil Jacksons book. He said that he had all kinds of marketing and p.r. types trying to offer him advice on how to get his image back.

“They wanted me to go on this big campaign, do `Saturday Night Live, do all these talk shows and all this other stuff, Bryant said. “My response to them was, `I dont want to do that. What I want to do I just be myself.

“I said the one change that I will make is Ill allow people to see more of who I am as a person outside of the basketball court because I felt like throughout my earlier years, I never allowed people to truly see that.

“The side they saw of me was the killer instinct that I played with or the disagreements that we had on the team.

Wherever we go, you can see that the court of public opinion is shifting in Bryants favor. He ran off the court Sunday to cheers from hundreds of Lakers fans who filled the front rows of seats trying to get as close to No. 24 as possible.

Bryant said one example of how he changed came in publicizing his work with charitable causes, including the Boys and Girls Clubs and Make A Wish Foundation. You might remember a segment Bryant taped this summer with ESPN and a Make A Wish child.

“My philosophies there were, `I dont do this for publicity, so why would I promote this or advertise it or blast it everywhere? Bryant said. “One of the things they told me, they said, `Look, by you going out there and making it newsworthy, by putting it all over the place, helps the causes even more.

* * *

Bryant also told a story from his days as a high school star at Lower Merion (Pa.). He was asked about March Madness and whether he felt like he missed out by jumping to the NBA straight out of high school.

Its not a surprise to Lakers fans that Bryant was planning to go to Duke before he entered the draft. What I hadnt heard before was that North Carolina coach Dean Smith actually backed off recruiting Bryant because he was so sure he was headed to the pros.

Bryant could remember sitting in class and reading a letter that had been sent to him through his school. He said Smith had written him saying, “Im not going to waste your time. Ive seen you play. I know youre going to the NBA. Good luck.

Theres definitely an appreciation for the college game on Bryants part. When the Lakers were in New York to play the Nets earlier this season, Bryant and Ronny Turiaf went to watch Duke play Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden.

Bryant also went to a Pepperdine-Gonzaga game last season in Malibu with Turiaf, where he met up with Adam Morrison.

* * *

Every concern and criticism is minimized in a victory, but Lamar Odom had a pretty modest afternoon with eight points, eight rebounds and five assists Sunday. He didnt even touch the ball, in fact, for nearly the first five minutes of the game.

The Lakers didnt need a big game out of Odom to beat the Warriors but that wont be the case tonight against a Utah Jazz team that has won eight of its last nine games.

* * *

I wrote about Jackson’s new way of approaching timeouts (in the notes below) but forgot to mention that he also didn’t hesitate in calling one only 1:08 into Sunday’s game. The Lakers gave up three quick baskets to the Warriors and Jackson wasn’t happy with how Andrew Bynum was playing defense.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

OAKLAND–It was only two weeks ago in Cleveland that Lakers coach Phil Jackson offered a reminder that life in the NBA is nothing more than a six-month roller-coaster ride between winning and losing.

His team was on the downward plunge that Sunday, ultimately bottoming out with a six-game losing streak. Now the question is if the Lakers are back on the upswing after their second cruise-control victory in 72 hours.

They beat the Golden State Warriors 102-85 Sunday at Oracle Arena, building a 20-point lead in the second quarter and beating their division rivals for the seventh time in seven games since Jacksons return last season.

They did it with Maurice Evans making his case to stay in the starting lineup, scoring a career-high 26 points, and with the Warriors making just 2 of 19 3-pointers and 9 of 21 free throws. Golden State came in averaging 105.8 points a game.

“I told the players this afternoon that we have Mo on our side, Jackson said, “and we have to stay with it, in more ways than one.

Are the Lakers back after their six-game losing streak? The answer might come tonight against the Utah Jazz, who are leading the Northwest Division with a 37-18 record and are 2-0 since Carlos Boozers return from injury.

“You cant forget about (the skid) because its so easy to happen, Evans said. “You have to really stay focused and try and build this streak the other way because . . . teams are good in this league and they can take control in a minutes notice.

The Lakers did just that at the start of the second quarter, turning what had been a four-point game into a 20-point rout. Once again Shammond Williams and Aaron McKie were the first guards off the bench, but Evans came through with the play of the game.

Evans leaped to steal an entry pass by Sarunas Jasikevicius, then hit a shot that lived up to his Kobe Bryant-given nickname of “Lotto. With Jasikevicius wrapping him up with both hands, Evans tossed in a lay-up while drawing the foul.

“I think thats what having good strength will allow you to do, Evans said, “is still make a run at tough shots.

The next possession, Evans buried a 3-pointer to send the Warriors into a timeout down 44-28. Golden State made just 1 of 10 shots to start the second quarter and watched as Stephen Jackson and Mickael Pietrus each missed two free throws.

“I definitely saw that they were on the brink of letting us take control of the game, Evans said. “We were all talking about it on the sidelines. They were ready to wilt, and if we could just continue to put pressure on them, we could gain control of this game.

The Lakers are now 4-0 with Evans in the starting lineup. He made 8 of 13 shots and said afterward the biggest difference between starting and coming off the bench is as simple as being able to shake off a couple early misses.

“Its hit or miss when you come off the bench sometimes, Evans said.

The last thing assistant Brian Shaw wrote on the locker room board as part of his scouting report was “Road mentality with an asterisk beside it. The Lakers came into Sunday with just an 11-16 road record, having lost their previous three road games.

If they are to advance in the playoffs, the Lakers likely will do so without home-court advantage, forcing them to win at least one game away from Staples Center. They will learn more about their ability to do that tonight in Salt Lake City.

“You have to gut it out, you have to grind it out, Jackson said of playing Utah. “You have to be able to play a physical game without losing your cool.

The Warriors, who lost Saturday to the Clippers, needed a victory before leaving on a five-game road trip. They never got closer than 13 points in the second half, however, and trailed by as many as 25 in the fourth quarter.

Bryant shook off a blow to his left shoulder to finish with 26 points on 9-of-23 shooting. He served notice at the start of the second half, stealing an Al Harrington pass and taking it the other way for a three-point play.

That defensive activity might be the biggest change for the Lakers. They had 11 steals in Fridays victory over Boston and another 11 steals Sunday.

McKie sent most of the crowd to the exits in the fourth quarter when he drilled a 19-footer with seven minutes remaining. The Lakers fans who remained until the final horn crowded the first rows of seats to cheer Bryant as he ran off the court.

“I think its a sign of support, Bryant said. “I think, at least from what I see, from talking with fans and communicating with them on my Web site and so forth, is that they appreciate somebody that goes through adversity that bounces back.

“I think thats something that they relate to in terms of drawing inspiration from or whatever the case may be. Thats what I try to do. Even though you may fall down or get knocked down, the key is to get back up and keep on moving.

Bryant was speaking in terms of his own personal comeback but the same could be said for his team. The roller coaster of the NBA, after all, wont end until April, May or beyond.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

OAKLAND–Even after 16 seasons as an NBA coach, nine championships and more than 900 wins, Phil Jackson has shown in recent games that he isnt above changing his style for the good of the team.

Jackson has taken to sitting in a chair to face his players on the bench during timeouts, a change that forward Maurice Evans said was suggested during a meeting last week with the Lakers mired in a six-game losing streak.

“I just want to get their attention and make sure that theyre on the same page and that we can talk about some things, Jackson said. “I felt like theres some distances that they were pulling away from each other in the timeouts and I just wanted to tighten it up a little bit and get more cohesive.

Jackson previously stood with a clipboard and huddled his players around him during timeouts. This month has seen Lamar Odom and Sasha Vujacic engage in a shouting match during one timeout and Brian Cook and assistant Brian Shaw do likewise.

“We were one guys over here, another guys over there, Evans said, adding, “It was something that we brought to (Jacksons) attention thats something that has to change.

Jackson has lamented his ability to communicate to his players on occasion this season. Once was in the final minute of a loss at Toronto when the Lakers unsuccessfully played the two-for-one possession game.

Despite the change, one thing has stayed the same: Guard Smush Parker regularly walks away from the huddle without hearing Jacksons words when he knows hes not going into the game.

He sat alone on the bench during a timeout with 3:03 left in the first quarter Sunday when Shammond Williams was set to check in for him.

Jackson said earlier this season that he didnt have a problem with Parker doing so. Evans wasnt asked about Parker but did say of seeing players standing out of the huddle, “That doesnt look very good.

In memory: Odom pays tribute on his sneakers to the all the people – - his infant son, mother and grandmother – - he has lost in his life. He had the No. 3 written Sunday in honor of Dennis Johnson, the former Boston Celtics great who died last week.

Johnson was an assistant during Odoms years with the Clippers and later served as the teams interim head coach. Odom said the two talked when Johnsons NBA Development League team played at Staples Center on Jan. 12.

“He told me he loved me, Odom said. “Count your blessings.

Also: Jackson said he allowed Vladimir Radmanovic to address his teammates informally about the snowboarding incident in which the forward suffered a separated shoulder. He also was the latest to joke about Radmanovics new nickname of “Slalom. . . ..

Once the Lakers return from this trip, Jackson plans on contacting Scottie Pippen, who has said he wants to make a comeback at age 41. Jackson noted that Pippen said he wants to play for a contender and added, “He didnt mention us at that particular time.

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Lakers 122, Celtics 96

The only comparison Lakers coach Phil Jackson could find Friday for Vladimir Radmanovics snowboarding injury came from Luc Longley, his former center with the Chicago Bulls and one of Jacksons favorite players.

Longley suffered a separated shoulder – - the same injury as Radmanovic – - when he was thrown into a sandbar while bodysurfing off Hermosa Beach on an off-day. It wasnt a prohibited activity in Longleys contract but did cause him substantial embarrassment.

Jackson was able to joke Friday about Longleys description of a “mongrel wave that caught him. They were close enough as player and coach that Jackson visited Longley in his hometown of Perth, Australia, during his year away from coaching.

(In fact, Jackson told a funny story the other week in Atlanta about heading into the high surf with Longley in an aluminum boat that started taking on water. It sounded more like a near-death experience than vacation fun.)

Since he mentioned Longley, it seemed like a fair question to ask if Jackson felt he could ever have that kind of relationship with Radmanovic, whose first season with the Lakers will not be remembered well.

“I hope so, Jackson said. “I have a good rapport with Vlade. We have a jocular relationship, I should say. Having made a space cadet comment about him, which is an archaic comment about somebody, it still lingers over him like a halo. I dont want him to get strapped with that.

Its clear that Jackson and the Lakers arent about to give up on Radmanovic, even though they do have the technical right to void his contract. It also will be interesting to see what punishment they decide on for their Shaun White-wannabe.

The Lakers could fine or suspend Radmanovic or they could simply dock him pay while hes out injured. Radmanovic is due to make about $1.2 million for the 25 games hes expected to miss in the next eight weeks.

Kobe Bryant was feeling good enough after Fridays game to describe Radmanovic by his new nickname of “Slalom.

* * *

Theres nothing more demoralizing to another team than when Bryant goes on one of his scoring binges and nothing more energizing to his own team. Yet Bryant has made a point of getting his teammates involved at the expense of his own offense all season.

Bryant had 22 points in the first quarter but he pointed out that it made little difference on the scoreboard. The Lakers led just 34-30 after the quarter and didnt start pulling away from the Celtics until they started trapping and coming up with steals on defense.

“I did my part there in the first quarter, Bryant said, “but the thing that we have to take away from this is that I can come out and have a 22-point quarter or a 30-point quarter, if were not stopping anybody, thats not going to do anything.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

Before he walked away from Wednesdays loss to the Portland Trail Blazers, Kobe Bryant offered his exit strategy for the Lakers six-game losing streak, saying, “You have to try to will yourself out of the stretch.

It fell to Bryant to provide that will Friday night as the Lakers broke through for their first victory since Feb. 5, beating the Boston Celtics 122-96. The Lakers led by as many as 26 points in the third quarter against a Celtics team that has lost 21 of 22 games.

Bryant finished with 38 points – - 22 of which came in a spectacular first quarter – - connected on 5 of 7 3-pointers, found his teammates for nine assists, matched a season-high with five steals and played only 31 minutes in the blowout.

“I spoke to Kobe before the game and said, `Dont wait to get going in this game. Lets go at them right away, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. “He carried the staff, so to speak, tonight.

“He gave me the marching orders and I carried them out, Bryant said of Jackson. “We fell behind the eight ball tonight and needed kind of a kick start and I was able to provide that.

There was a trickle-down effect from Bryant to the last man in uniform. All 11 players scored – - including seldom-used guards Shammond Williams and Aaron McKie – - and the Lakers held Boston to 66 points in the final three quarters.

Williams finished with six points and four assists and played 20 minutes. He joked on his way to a television interview afterward, “Im still the same dude from two weeks ago, and later quipped that “the ball felt like a foreign object after playing so little.

Jackson brought out his binoculars to find both Williams and McKie and the end of the bench. He brought Williams in with two minutes left in the first quarter and started the second quarter with McKie and Williams in the backcourt and Bryant on the bench.

Where he normally would play Jordan Farmar and Sasha Vujacic, Jackson opted for the veterans instead of the kids Friday. McKie had appeared in only one other game this season and was most valued as an expiring contract heading into the trade deadline.

“I told the young players that theyve had an opportunity during the course of the year to advance, Jackson said, “and right now for the sake of the team we need to have some of the veterans in there to do the things they know how to do because theyve been on winning teams.

“Right now, thats what were after. Weve tried to develop players and bring them along and now its time to use the moxie thats necessary as veterans to win it.

Williams hit his first jumper after checking in, then another to open the second quarter, and the Lakers wound up building a 13-point lead. In talking to reporters afterward, Williams thanked Jackson several times for giving him the chance to help the team.

The only thing worse than suffering through a long losing streak, Williams added, might have been doing it from the bench.

“Its terrible because youre sitting there like, `Wow, wow. Williams said. “You just want to win. Thats what were all here for. Were all here for the win. Were not here for the money, were not here for the fame. Were here for the win.

Jackson stressed the need during the losing streak to “play for one another. Bryant said Williams and McKie could serve as examples for the Lakers younger players.

“All season long, they havent complained, they havent whined, Bryant said. “Theyve just worked hard every single day. First ones at practice, last ones to leave sort of thing. . . .Their number got called tonight and they performed extremely well.

After the Celtics broke to an 11-2 lead to start the game, Bryant took over the rest of the first quarter. He connected on four 3-pointers and scored 22 points, including 13 in a row, in what Jackson described as “attack mode.

The Lakers didnt break open the game, though, until the end of the first half, when they scored the last nine points to head into the locker room with a 65-54 lead. They made the run with their defense, which had been non-existent in recent games.

With Bryant setting the tone, the Lakers forced Paul Pierce into three consecutive turnovers, which Pierce then compounded with a technical foul. On one play, Bryant stripped Pierce, then lobbed a pass to Ronny Turiaf for an alley-oop basket.

“We have to be more aggressive, Bryant said. “Were a team that gets their hands on balls and gets out in the passing lanes and knocks the ball loose. Thats what we have to do. We cant just sit back and wait and play a passive type of a defense.

The good feelings were enough afterward that Bryant was able to joke about Vladimir Radmanovics new nickname – - “Slalom – - after Radmanovic came clean Friday about injuring his shoulder while snowboarding All-Star weekend.

“We know he feels bad about the situation, Bryant said.

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Thursday report

No matter what you thought of Thursdays events, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said one thing everyone can agree upon: “I think that the explosive media coverage raised expectations and the emotional level for a lot of people.

He was talking about the trade deadline, which passed without the Lakers making a move. The Jason Kidd-to-the-Lakers talk might have been the perfect storm, only gaining in volume the more it was downplayed by those involved.

Kupchak said he came into Thursday not expecting any deal. He spent the afternoon, in fact, attending a ceremony honoring Kareem Abdul-Jabbar at City Hall.

From what I can gather, the Lakers and Nets tabled discussions a while back after New Jersey made it clear they wanted Andrew Bynum in the deal. The Lakers obviously are not about to give up the player who might be their franchise center someday.

The two sides revisited things Wednesday to see if there was any change. The Nets werent going to deal without Bynum, so that was that. It was hard for me to see from the beginning how the Nets were going to sell the trade to their fans without the 19-year-old.

Kupchak couldnt talk about any specifics but he did say that he “pulled out all the stops trying to make a move. But given the protocol that has to be followed for a trade, the Lakers didnt hold out hope after Wednesday that anything was going to happen.

Im therefore skeptical of reports that say the deal didnt go down at the last minute for one reason or another. Asked how close he got to making a deal, Kupchak said, “Not very close, which is what we expected going into the last day.

“Things could turn on one phone call or a pinhead but it was unlikely based on conversations going into the trade deadline that wed do anything. That was where our expectations were.

My thinking all along was that the Nets would have a hard time trading Kidd (as well as Vince Carter) if only because they would be forced to accept irrelevancy in the New York market. The only thing worse than losing is losing in front of 10,000 empty seats.

Now the Nets can cling to their playoff hopes – - especially with Dwyane Wades shoulder injury – - and the Lakers can fall back on the fact that they have beaten all five of the Western Conferences top teams. Theyre a good team when they play like it.

* * *

Assistant coach Kurt Rambis filled in Thursday with reporters while Phil Jackson went to the dentist. Rambis offered an interesting perspective on how Jackson is handling the first six-game losing streak of his career.

“He keeps in his mind that this is a young ballclub, Rambis said. “We have a lot of young guys that need a lot of basketball education. He talked to them today about not getting too high during the high times and not getting too low during the low times. To try and keep an even keel so theyre best able to learn.

“They cant focus on things that happened in the past. Maybe they didnt get a foul call and maybe their shot didnt go in, but thats gone. Lets focus on the next moment that appears in front of us. He wants these guys to educate themselves and hes here to perpetuate that learning process.

Rambis said that Jackson did talk to Kobe Bryant about the fourth quarter of Wednesdays loss to Portland and when it makes sense to take over a game. It was Jacksons belief that Bryant started too early and failed to keep everyone involved.

Of course, the Lakers fell apart when Jackson sat Bryant to try to facilitate that involvement on offense. “It wasnt as much for Kobe as it was to force other people to stop relying on Kobe, to stop force-feeding him the basketball, Rambis said.

As for the film session, Rambis said: “A lot of guys sat there and watched the edit with their mouths open. They couldnt believe they were making the mistakes they were making. [ep

* * *

I didnt envy Rambis having to answer a question about the death of Dennis Johnson not even an hour after the news came Thursday. He found the right words after being on the other side of all those Lakers-Celtics battles in the 1980s.

“I just remember him as an extremely tough competitor and defender, Rambis said. “He was one of those guys that just willed his team to win. He was such an integral cog in the success the Celtics had.

Johnson was very nice to me when I went to Austin last season to do a story on the NBAs new development league system. We talked for about a half-hour and I was struck by how much he clearly loved the game to be coaching at that level.

His team was practicing at a recreation center in a rough part of town with signs ringing the court that dunking was prohibited. There was no 3-point arc, although Johnson joked that he didnt mind because his team shot so poorly from long distance.

But he took pride in fulfilling a job that he saw as preparing players for the NBA. If they were hoping to stick in the league, Johnson made it clear that they had to do all the dirty work and out-hustle the guys with the million-dollar contracts.

It was the only conversation I had with Johnson but I was grateful for it today. It would have been nice to see him get a second chance at being an NBA head coach.

* * *

Luke Walton did some light practicing Thursday but is not expected to play Friday against Boston. With the Lakers playing back-to-back games Sunday and Monday, Waltons return from a sprained ankle might not come until March 2 against Sacramento.

* * *

By Ross Siler [ep
Staff Writer [ep

EL SEGUNDO–As the clock struck noon Thursday and the NBA trade deadline came and went without a move, the Lakers were sequestered in the film room at their practice facility, starting the search for answers from within. [ep

Only a day after becoming the first Phil Jackson-coached team to lose six consecutive games, the Lakers learned that they will move forward this season with a roster that general manager Mitch Kupchak said “in all likelihood will stay intact.

Asked how close the Lakers came to a deal, Kupchak said, “Not very close, which is what we expected going into the last day.

“Things could turn on one phone call or a pinhead but it was unlikely based on conversations going into the trade deadline that wed do anything, Kupchak added. “That was where our expectations were.

In the meantime, the players went frame by frame through their second-half failings in Wednesdays loss to Portland – - a video session turned team meeting – - before getting on the practice court to talk about defense and do some shooting.

They heeded Jacksons admonishment that they werent “playing for one another and reaffirmed their commitment to finding the open man on offense and being accountable for their defensive effort.

They will have every opportunity to end the losing streak tonight at Staples Center against the Boston Celtics, who have lost 27 of their last 30 games and own the NBAs worst record at 13-40.

“Weve just got to battle back out of it and become a better team, Kobe Bryant said. “I dont think anybodys wavered from the fact – - at least I havent – - that we can make some serious noise in the playoffs with the roster that we have.

“This is a bump in the road that were going to have to get through and when we get through it, well be a better ballclub.

The Lakers resolved to be a better defensive team than they were in giving up 112 points on nearly 60 percent shooting to Portland, which was the NBAs third-lowest scoring team coming into the game.

“Were just basically letting teams go wherever they want, do whatever they want, and were not going to be successful if we continue to do that, said assistant coach Kurt Rambis, who filled in with reporters after Jackson left to see the dentist.

“Its up to each individual to make a stand and make sure that their teammate doesnt get embarrassed at that end of the floor, either.

No big deal: In spite of all the rumors of a potential deal for All-Star guard Jason Kidd, the Lakers stood pat at the trade deadline for the eighth straight season.

“I think everybody was looking forward to possibly Jason coming out here, Bryant said. “Obviously, that would have been an amazing backcourt. But it didnt happen so we just move on from here.

The two sides never were close to a deal and there was little movement in the final days. The Lakers refused to include 19-year-old center Andrew Bynum in a trade and offered a package built around Kwame Brown, expiring contracts and draft picks.

Although he grew up in New Jersey, Bynum didnt hear much about the possibility of coming home to play for the Nets. Why? He said he lost his cell phone more than a week ago.

“It makes me feel good to be wanted by a lot of people, Bynum said. “That means Im doing something right. I wanted to be a Laker when I got drafted. This is my home. Im happy that they want me here.

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Trail Blazers 112, Lakers 108

That might be the worst Lakers’ loss in my three seasons on the beat. It felt that way at least. When you looked at the schedule after the All-Star break, you had to think the Lakers could beat Portland and Boston at home and Golden State on the road and bounce back from their five-game losing streak with three wins.

Now it’s the first six-game losing streak of Phil Jackson’s coaching career. The Lakers gave up 112 points on nearly 60 percent shooting to a 24-32 team that was playing the second game of a back-to-back. They got lit up by two rookies (LaMarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy) and a second-year player in Jarrett Jack.

I still have a hard time understanding Phil Jackson’s rationale for sitting Kobe Bryant with eight minutes left. We’ve seen Bryant play the entire fourth quarter of games when the stakes are the highest. A good example was the Sunday game to finish the eight-game road trip at Cleveland. He’s the NBA’s best closer, after all.

Jackson said he thought Bryant was trying to do too much in the fourth quarter – - we’ll get to his four-point first half in a little bit – - and decided the offense might open up if Bryant went to the bench. That didn’t work and Portland did the bulk of its damage in a 16-2 run with Bryant watching from the sidelines.

Bryant and Jackson have been on the same wavelength the last two seasons. I thought Bryant might voice some frustration after the game but he didn’t question Jackson’s decision to sit him.

“It’s a matter of us having to step up and make plays when we need to make them,” Bryant said. “Whether I’m in the game or on the bench is irrelevant. We have to perform. That being said, we’ve had games where we’ve performed when I was out of the game and games where we haven’t. Now moreso than ever we need everybody to step up and make plays.”

(Jackson also opted not to bring back Bryant when the Lakers ran into trouble almost immediately in the fourth quarter. Andrew Bynum brought the ball down and let Dan Dickau come in from the backside for a steal, leading to a fastbreak basket for the Blazers. Jackson called timeout with 7:31 left but Bryant didn’t return.)

Lamar Odom is supposed to hold together that bench unit while Bryant is resting. He didn’t want to hear that the game was lost during that stretch. “I look at that and you can point to that but you look at the whole game,” Odom said. “They were still not missing, getting whatever (shots) they wanted.”

It’s worth noting that Bryant scored nine points for the Lakers after he came back and finished with 13 of the team’s 28 points in the fourth quarter. The Lakers obviously are relying too much on Bryant but they also had to win Wednesday and suffered a terrible loss instead.

* * *

Another reason why Wednesday’s loss was devastating: Houston now leads the Lakers by five games for fifth in the Western Conference standings. The Rockets are on pace to finish 52-30, which means the Lakers would have to go 22-5 the rest of the way just to tie them. See you on the Riverwalk in San Antonio in May.

Or maybe we’ll all end up in Utah . . . where Vladimir Radmanovic can show Jackson in person just where he separated his shoulder on that patch of ice in Park City.

* * *

The Lakers scored 28 points to start Wednesday’s game before Bryant drove for a layup with 54.1 seconds left in the first quarter. That was his first basket of the night; the Lakers scored another 22 points before Bryant had a second field goal. He hit a twisting layup just before halftime to give the Lakers a 54-52 lead.

Bryant’s first half line: four points on 2-of-7 shooting with five assists and seven rebounds.

As has happened more than a couple times this season, every starter scored before Bryant. It’s hard to say if the Lakers are well served this way but they were leading at halftime and Bryant did move the ball as Portland sent two defenders in his direction. He wound up taking 10 of his 22 shots in the fourth quarter.

* * *

Jackson was happy with how Smush Parker played, especially in scoring 16 points in the first half. Parker made the Blazers pay for leaving him alone, hitting three 3-pointers. But Jackson wasn’t thrilled with Parker’s out-of-control shot with 3:27 left in the game, coming on a drive in which he was all turned around. Jackson said he thought Parker took a “premeditated” shot instead of seeing what was available.

* * *

As hard as it is to believe, the Lakers had a six-point lead and the chance to create some separation in the third quarter. They couldn’t do it and wound up taking just an 80-78 edge into the fourth quarter. As always, the longer you let a team stick around, the greater the chance of getting burned in the end.

The whole team was guilty of blowing the opportunity to build a double-digit lead. Bryant uncharacteristically missed the first of two free throws on consecutive trips to the line. Odom forced a pass to Bynum that was stolen. Roy hit a big-time 3-pointer and Jack connected on another. Zach Randolph bullied Ronny Turiaf for a basket.

* * *

It could always be worse, I guess. You could be the Miami Heat and be looking at the photo on the front of NBA.com tonight with Dwyane Wade being taken to the hospital in a wheelchair.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

The light at the end of the tunnel couldnt have looked any dimmer than it did Wednesday night for the Lakers, who arrived at the NBA trade deadline as the first Phil Jackson-coached team in history ever to have lost six consecutive games.

They suffered a dispiriting 112-108 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at Staples Center, falling apart with Kobe Bryant on the bench midway through the fourth quarter and playing indifferent defense from start to finish.

What was a one-point game when Bryant checked out with eight minutes remaining turned into an 11-point Portland lead in a matter of 3 1-2 minutes. All Jackson could say afterward was, “That game got away from us real quickly.

The Blazers arrived for the second game of a back-to-back set as the NBAs third-lowest scoring team, averaging 93.8 points per game. They scored 18 points more than that average Wednesday and shot a season-best 59.7 percent.

The Lakers lost their fifth straight home game – - with the boos starting late in the fourth quarter – - and fell five games behind Houston for fifth in the Western Conference standings. They are just 4-12 in their last 16 games.

All that was left was for the Lakers to work the phones and try to convince the New Jersey Nets that they were better off without the remaining $41 million on Jason Kidds contract than they were with the All-Star guard.

Jackson portrayed things in less than favorable terms before the game, saying that he didnt think the “momentum was there to make a deal after spending the afternoon huddled with general manager Mitch Kupchak.

At the same time, Jackson questioned whether the Kidd rumors had taken a toll on his young players, saying, “They get focused on the fact that theyre going to be traded or their life is iffy and I think it makes them insecure.

After coaching nine championship teams and winning 907 games in his career, Jackson took stock of his first six-game losing streak and said, “I think we deserve it.

“Weve had a little bad luck with our injury situation, Jackson added, “but we have not outplayed people or played harder than people. Weve made mistakes in situations in which I told them theres a pattern almost to their losses.

Bryant finished with 25 points, eight rebounds and six assists, but the most telling stat came with the Lakers being outscored 25-11 in the 8:17 he spent on the bench. Maurice Evans tied a career-high with 23 points and Smush Parker added 18.

It looked as if Bryant would play to the final horn when he came back for the start of the fourth quarter. He banked in a shot and drove for a layup but Jackson decided to sit Bryant with 8:03 remaining.

“I thought he forced the action in the fourth quarter and I almost felt I needed to get him out, Jackson said. “He wanted to do so well so bad or he wanted to carry the team that his actions made it more difficult. That was one of the areas that we got stalled in.

“Then I took him out and we immediately were even worse off after that. It went from bad to worse. That was what I thought maybe we had to do to get our offense moving the ball the right way again.

The results were disastrous for the Lakers. Jackson called one timeout after Dan Dickau stripped Andrew Bynum in the post and Portland ran out for an Ime Udoka layup at the other end. As it turned out, the Blazers were just getting started.

Evans missed a jumper and Zach Randolph scored for the Blazers. Sasha Vujacic fell down on a drive and Lamar Odom missed a 3-pointer, leading to a LaMarcus Aldridge basket for Portland.

Dickau missed a 3-pointer but the Lakers couldnt grab the rebound, which went to Randolph. He floated in a shot as Portland went ahead 98-89, forcing Jackson to call timeout again and bring back Bryant with 5:06 left.

“It was very helpless, Bryant said. “It was difficult to watch. We just didnt come out ready to play in that particular time.

The Blazers went ahead 100-89 on Brandon Roys jumper, finishing a 16-2 run. The Lakers closed to four points but Jarrett Jack and Randolph got to the foul line while Bryant missed a 3-pointer and layup.

But the Lakers, who are now giving up 102.4 points per game, kept coming back to defense. They watched Jack drive his way to 30 points and Aldridge drain one jumper after another in finishing with 18 points off the bench.

“(For) a team to shoot 60 percent tells us were not putting pressure on the ball, Jackson said, “were not taking teams out of their offense, were not forcing turnovers or making teams take difficult shots.

Jackson had suffered two previous five-game losing streaks in his 16-year coaching career but never had tasted six consecutive losses. The losing had taken enough of a toll that Jackson joked beforehand about his goals for the seasons final 28 games.

“Undefeated, Jackson said.

The Lakers will settle right now for a victory over the Boston Celtics on Friday and an end to the misery. The All-Star break only interrupted the losing and left Bryant to offer a grim solution: “You have to try to will yourself out of the stretch.

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Not so Rad

Not much to add to the story other than the fact that Vladimir Radmanovic’s separated shoulder is pretty serious. Lakers spokesman John Black said Kobe Bryant suffered a similar injury a couple of seasons ago but made it back after missing just nine days and six games because he is such a fast healer. Radmanovic’s injury will cost him eight weeks and was of a more serious degree, Black said, although he probably won’t require surgery.

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

The Lakers couldnt even make it out of the All-Star break unscathed as forward Vladimir Radmanovic suffered a separated right shoulder when he fell on a patch of ice in Park City, Utah, on Saturday.

Radmanovic, who was starting in place of the injured Luke Walton, is expected to miss approximately eight weeks, a timetable that would cost him more than 25 games and keep him out until the final week of the regular season.

He returned to Los Angeles on Sunday where he was examined by team doctors. Radmanovic underwent an MRI and CT scan Monday that confirmed the separated shoulder, the team said.

The timing couldnt be worse for the Lakers, who already were without two injured starters in Walton and Kwame Brown, and need a victory Wednesday against Portland to avoid the first six-game losing streak of Phil Jacksons coaching career.

“It seems like weve had at least our fair share (of injuries), Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak said. “Its something that all teams go through. Maybe weve had a little bit of an extra dose. But theres nothing you can do about it. Its part of the equation.

The Lakers are hopeful that Walton will be able to return from his sprained right ankle in the coming week, with team spokesman John Black saying Walton made “slight progress this weekend and might try to practice today as the team reconvenes.

Whether Radmanovics injury emboldens the Lakers to make a move before Thursdays trading deadline remains to be seen.

“It doesnt really affect a whole lot, Kupchak said. “I think of more concern right now is where we are with Luke because he was close to returning before the break. With Luke back, I think were versatile enough to make it through the end of the season.

Kupchak said he wouldnt look to add a forward, but said of the overall picture: “Does it increase the urgency as far as making a deal? I dont know. We have a pretty good idea of what we want to do if we can do it.

For the time being, the Lakers face a decision about starting Brian Cook or Maurice Evans in Radmanovics place. The injury also derails what already had been a disappointing season for the Lakers major free-agent acquisition.

Radmanovic, who signed a five-year, $30.2 million contract in July, was averaging just 6.9 points and 3.4 rebounds while shooting a career-worst 33.9 percent from 3-point range.

He suffered an injury to his shooting hand during the preseason and watched Walton take the starting job originally earmarked for him. Then in December, Radmanovic was dubbed a “space cadet by Jackson for his difficulties in learning the triangle offense.

He found himself out of the rotation altogether after Lamar Odom returned after missing 21 games with a sprained knee ligament. But Walton was injured just when the Lakers welcomed back Odom and Radmanovic went from sitting to starting.

Although he scored in double figures in five consecutive games, Radmanovics play regressed and Jacksons patience ran out on the Lakers eight-game road trip. He stayed in the starting five after the team came home, but Jackson opted not to play him in the fourth quarter of games.

All told, the Lakers have lost key players to 119 games with injuries. Center Chris Mihm has not played this season after undergoing ankle surgery, Brown has missed 23 games with a severe ankle sprain and Walton has sat out the last 11 games.

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Knicks 107, Lakers 106

Just like the players, it doesnt hurt for the writers to watch a little tape every once in awhile. With another reporter filling in at practice today, I was able to catch the 10 a.m. FSN replay of the Lakers loss to the Knicks last night.

Its amazing how much clearer youre able to see things when youre not staring at a 10 p.m. deadline as well as the action on the floor. We got a little spoiled in that respect covering two weeks worth of games in the Eastern Time Zone.

There are the broad themes to last nights game – - the Lakers tired legs after the long trip, the problems staying in front of Jamal Crawford and Stephon Marbury, the tentative play out of Lamar Odom – - but I want to get into the details of the fourth quarter.

Here are eight ways that the Lakers lost the game in the fourth quarter. Its worth noting that the Lakers now have lost three consecutive games that could have gone either way in the last two minutes.

11:58Sasha Vujacic gambles on a steal and trips Jamal Crawford in the backcourt. Its only the first foul of the quarter but the Knicks wind up in the bonus barely three minutes later. You cant put the other team at the free-throw line in the fourth quarter of games.

8:53The Lakers head into a timeout but Phil Jackson decides to hold off on bringing Kobe Bryant back. The bench unit did have some good moments without Bryant and Odom in the second quarter but this was a game the Lakers had to have.

What happens? The Lakers miss a shot at one end, David Lee dunks at the other for the Knicks and Jackson immediately sends Bryant and Smush Parker to the scorers table. Remember that Bryant played the entire fourth quarter Sunday in Cleveland.

6:40Maurice Evans hits a huge 3-pointer at one end for the Lakers but Parker goes under a screen at the other end, giving Steve Francis enough space to pick some daisies and then bury a 3 to put the Knicks back ahead 95-91.

Jackson calls timeout and throws a crumpled piece of paper in frustration.

The Lakers prefer to play defense in front of their bench in the second half. Its easier to call out screens and switches that way. But the visiting team chooses sides in the NBA and the Knicks attacked the basket in front of their bench in the second half Tuesday.

6:02Parker is taken down on a fast break by Francis, who is called for a flagrant foul. The Lakers have two free throws plus the ball but convert that opportunity into just a single point.

It starts with Parker leaving his first foul shot so short that Bryant has to talk with him before the second. Maybe thats to be expected: Parker is shooting just 64.8 percent from the line this season.

Odom then erases an Evans jumper when he is called for an illegal screen. Jackson thought the call was bogus after the game but you can see on replay Odom dipping his hip into Crawfords path as he chases after Evans.

3:48The Lakers lead 99-95 with 4 1-2 minutes left but give up a couple of second-chance baskets and watch as Odom commits another offensive foul. He secures an offensive rebound but charges into Channing Frye. Odom has to be more aware than that.

0:46.8Sometimes a break just doesnt go your way. Eddy Curry bowls over Parker on a basket to put the Knicks ahead 105-104. Parker was helping on the play and had position but didnt get the call.

One curious thing to note: The referee who had the best view of the play was Eric Lewis. You might remember him as the referee Parker had to be restrained from going after during last weeks game in Atlanta. Does that factor into a split-second decision?

0:09Quentin Richardson misses a 3-pointer but the Lakers are unable to get the offensive rebound. Watching it again, Odom has the inside position and a body on Lee but the long rebound is Lees to have.

He passes to Crawford, who darts into the lane and fires an alley-oop pass to Curry for the dunk. Spike Lee starts celebrating in his Nate Robinson jersey on the sidelines. Its the game-winning basket for the Knicks.

0:07.1The Lakers final play is a mess. They ended the first half with Bryant hitting a turnaround 3-pointer at the buzzer off an inbounds pass for Odom. With more time for this shot, Jackson diagrams a play for Odom with Bryant as a decoy.

Give credit to the Knicks for defending it well. Lee and Jared Jeffries switch as Odom inbounds the ball to Turiaf and then retrieves it. He tries to head left (no surprise) but Crawford cheats off Parker to help Lee close off the driving lane.

Parker doesnt head to the corner for what would have been an open 3 until Odom goes behind his back to change direction. Bryant has the smaller Marbury on him but never even touches the ball. Odom takes a left-handed shot on the move to his right.

He misses everything and Lee gets credit in the final stats for a block on the play. Jackson runs a play for Odom with the chance to redeem the night and now has to contend with only the eighth four-game losing streak of his coaching career.

You look at a game decided by a point and there are so many places where the Lakers missed an opportunity. If even two of these plays goes differently, the Lakers probably escape with a victory.

Now the Lakers have to win Thursday against Cleveland to head into the All-Star break on any sort of positive note.

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