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Pro Basketball | LAKER REPORT

Jackson Turns Mysterious

January 01, 2002|Tim Brown

Phil Jackson's New Year's resolution, offered with a puckish grin Sunday night, is "to surrender."

He almost certainly will receive telephone calls today from Rick Adelman and Gregg Popovich, each eager to draw the terms.

That's probably not what he meant, but only his Zen master and Tex Winter know for sure.

But it reminded all that the Laker year would end as it started, en route to something big, or so they think, and with a championship already behind them.

The Lakers won 70 games and lost 23 in 2001, including 15 of 16 in the most dominating postseason the league had seen. They concluded the last regular season 34-16 and began this one 21-6.

In between, they won another NBA title, resolved the feud that picked at their morale, and Shaquille O'Neal was borne a child that he did not name "Sha-Kobe," as he had playfully threatened.

Kobe Bryant married, made a friend in O'Neal, and found a game he could love, as could everyone else.

The Lakers passed through crises of O'Neal and Jackson, of Bryant and Jackson, of Isaiah Rider and Jackson, and of Rider and Rider.

They went another year without losing three in a row, remarkably. It was avoided again two nights ago, in the final game of 2001, with a 24-point defeat of the Houston Rockets.

"We ended the year of 2001 on a good note," Rick Fox said, "so that will start the next year on the right foot for us."

The early part of the year bodes well in terms of personnel, if not schedule. O'Neal is expected to return from the agony of two sore toes by Friday, when the Lakers play the Phoenix Suns. Legendary broadcaster Chick Hearn, recovering from open-heart surgery, could be back a month later. The team is 2-2 without O'Neal, 3-3 without Hearn, and 1-0 when Cuttino Mobley bites Bryant near the neck, which he did in Houston 12 days ago.

The Lakers open 2002 on the road, where they'll spend 13 of their next 18 games. They will play nine home games in January and February combined, which made their 7-5 December fairly regrettable for them, though hardly disastrous.

On one of those long trips, Jackson will have reached the halfway point of his five-year contract with owner Jerry Buss. He hasn't surrendered yet.

*

Fox is a man of the big picture, and we're not talking "The Collectors" here, though he was the biggest thing in that picture.

So when the Lakers beat the Rockets, who had no business being on an NBA floor Sunday night, it was Fox who pushed the perspective.

After a long, ugly shooting slump, Laker jumpers fell, and Laker shooters swooned. And while everyone purred over the rhythm of the offense, the perimeter looked no more open than it had been for the previous three weeks.

"We've talked about how you overemphasize the fact that you're in a shooting slump," said Fox, whose three three-pointers were his first in five games. "It's like having a sore thumb. The thumb just grows and you can't take your mind off it. But you just try to relax and you'll eventually break out of it."

*

In their last 10 games, the Lakers have 90 fewer free-throw attempts than their opponents. In four games without O'Neal, they have 53 fewer attempts.... In setting the franchise record with three turnovers against Houston, the Lakers had one in the first quarter, none in the second or third, and two in the fourth, when not a single starter played.... Samaki Walker has 14 blocked shots in his last three games. "We have to have some type of presence there," he said.

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