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Lakers Have Enough to Roll

Pro basketball: No return for Horry, and Jones also sits, but Bryant and Campbell lead 106-84 victory over Bucks.

March 27, 1997|SCOTT HOWARD-COOPER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Just passing through town, the Lakers, such as they were, slowed down long enough to deal with another injury and another lottery-bound team Wednesday, taking on attrition and the Milwaukee Bucks with equal success.

That was three-fifths of the preferred opening lineup on the bench at the Forum, Robert Horry still out and Eddie Jones having become the latest member of the occasionally walking wounded because of a bruised left calf.

Into Jones' void went Kobe Bryant in more ways than one, taking over as the starter and a major contributor with 19 points, two steals and four assists against one turnover in the Lakers' 106-84 victory before 17,505.

"It's the best game Kobe's played all year," Coach Del Harris said. "Both ends of the floor. His defense on Ray Allen was good. His control was good, the decision making.

"He didn't make mistakes tonight. He had a couple baseline drives I'd like him to take back, but other than that . . . "

Other than that, Bryant impressed, a nice showing that went with the 31 points and eight rebounds from Elden Campbell, the 14 rebounds and nine points from Corie Blount, and 10 rebounds and nine points from Travis Knight.

So what that he needed to walk to be able to jump forward.

"It's something that I've been really trying to work on the last couple games and practices," Bryant said. "I've been working on slowing down."

And he had been hoping the mistakes would disappear in turn. Wednesday they did, the Bucks not far behind.

This had been the original target for Horry's return, but the Lakers knew when the day began they would not have him back, nor for tonight at Vancouver. Barring any unexpected developments, and with the team taking Friday off, he will now come back after a six-week absence because of the sprained knee ligament with full practices Saturday, Sunday and Monday before being activated in time to play at Seattle on Tuesday.

The absence of Jones, however, was somewhat unexpected. The calf injury came from a third-quarter collision with New Jersey's Kendall Gill on Monday in the finale to the five-game trip, although, after limping off the court in considerable pain, he came back to play three minutes in the final quarter.

His status changed over the next days when the muscle stiffened because of inactivity. Wednesday, he walked into the locker room with a hobble and stayed in street clothes on the bench. All the Lakers know about Jones' availability for the Grizzlies tonight is that he traveled with the team after the game and that he will be reevaluated today.

The Bucks themselves soon became a more pressing problem. With three starters now on the sidelines, two of whom are all-stars, the Lakers started Bryant at shooting guard, a decision made by Harris because it would allow Byron Scott to continue to come off the bench, a role in which he has continued to make a significant contribution. That Milwaukee also goes with a rookie, Allen, served as additional comfort.

The forced move came in a game that had considerable importance for the Lakers. It was the second installment of what should be a favorable stretch of the schedule in the move to shake the pursuing Portland Trail Blazers once and for all for home-court advantage in the first round--just after the Nets and just before the Grizzlies, SuperSonics, Nuggets, Spurs, Mavericks and Warriors.

And, it's the one Forum stopover sandwiched around the five-game trip and the two consecutive road games up next.

It was also the chance to shake the past, too, or at least whatever frustrations remain from the last extended journey of the season, one the Lakers finished 3-2.

But one they also remember for what could have, or should have, been.

"We didn't have a record of 4-1," Nick Van Exel said, "but that's how we feel."

The loss to the Miami Heat still stings, especially since it was followed by the blowout at Orlando.

The next game, the 25-point victory over the Nets, helped the healing process, but not as much as a winning streak. That's where the Bucks, losers of 14 of their last 17, came in.

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