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Pro Basktball | LAKER REPORT

Finally, a Worthy Opponent

November 27, 2001|Mark Heisler and \f7

Cure for the post-holiday blahs:

Tired of watching the Lakers toy with overmatched Warriors and Nuggets?

After a week of dispatching West teams with losing records, impressively or between yawns, the Lakers get back to playing real contenders tonight against the East-leading Milwaukee Bucks.

"Oh, we're looking forward to it," said Kobe Bryant. "They're one of the favorites to come out of the East and we're the favorites to come out of the West and it's an exciting matchup."

The Lakers will then fly to Seattle for Friday's game against the SuperSonics, who swept them, 4-0, last season, before returning Saturday to play the Minnesota Timberwolves, second in the West at 10-2.

The Bucks also swept the Lakers, 2-0, last season and were within a win of a rematch in the NBA Finals before falling, 4-3, to the 76ers in the Eastern Conference finals.

That, of course, was after Laker Coach Phil Jackson had pooh-poohed the Bucks' chance because of their lack of a low-post presence.

To which Buck Coach George Karl replied:

"I'll just let him be the Zen Master or God.... I know he has six rings [he had seven actually, and now has eight] and I'm sure he'll be talked about for hundreds and hundreds of years. But I still don't think there's a lot of genius to coaching. It's a lot of psychology and motivation. Winning basketball games does not make you better than someone else."

Monday Jackson complimented the Bucks on adding Anthony Mason, a low-post presence, pronounced them "the class of the East," and added:

"The matchup I like in this game a lot is [Joel] Przybilla vs. Shaq [O'Neal]. I think that's one of the key matchups of the season that you see. I like the way George throws fodder out there for Shaq in the first five minutes."

Tonight's fodder, er, the Bucks' center, Przybilla, is a 7-foot second-year player whom Karl has listed as his starter, after playing him 16 minutes all season.

Karl teams often play without a center, who commonly depart shortly after the opening tip. The Bucks don't defended like Karl's SuperSonic teams but their big three, Ray Allen (22.7 points a game), Glenn Robinson (21.8) and Sam Cassell (18.3) make them dangerous.

Jackson is always leery of teams that can lure the Lakers out of their deliberate, pound-it-inside game, and this is one of the most freewheeling.

"The thing that they do well," said Jackson, "is play with this great freedom on the court, where they shoot the ball with range and run ... knowing where they're going to go, putting pressure on you with that."

*

Bryant, ejected from Friday's game against Golden State with his fifth and sixth technical fouls of the season, was fined $7,500 Monday by the NBA for abusing an official and failing to leave the floor in a timely fashion. This follows Bryant's recent $5,000 fine, along with O'Neal's, for wearing shorts that were too long.... Neither Bryant nor O'Neal practiced Monday but both are expected to play tonight. Bryant is getting over flu and O'Neal complained of a sore toe.... The Lakers, 8-0 at home, are taking advantage of a favorable schedule, with 15 of their first 21 games at Staples Center through mid-December.

Bryant, who used to practice shooting all summer, took this one off and is now at projected career highs, 52.6% from the floor (his best was 46.8% in 1999-2000) and 44.4% on three-pointers (against a best of 37.5% as a rookie in 1996-97.

TONIGHT

vs. Milwaukee

7:30, Fox Sports Net

Site--Staples Center.

Radio--KLAC (570).

Records--Lakers 12-1, Bucks 9-1.

Record vs. Bucks (2000-2001)--0-2.

Update--The Bucks, on a five-game winning streak, begin a four-game, six-day trip, which also includes stops in Phoenix, Portland and Seattle.

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