Asked how the visiting Phil Jackson looked to him Wednesday morning, Shaquille O'Neal said, "Who?"
To be fair, it had been an hour or so since O'Neal had last seen his coach, and a lot had happened since. You know, there was the massage and the, uh, whirlpool, maybe a few free throws.
Two days after having a kidney stone removed, Jackson dropped by Laker practice, told them he liked some of their offensive sets in the win over the Clippers the night before and hated some of their inbounds plays. More than one player had visions of Jackson propped up in his seaside bed, scribbling madly as the Lakers put away the Clippers in the fourth quarter.
Jackson remains in some discomfort, and by Wednesday evening Laker officials were doubtful that Jackson would coach tonight's game against the Detroit Pistons and couldn't even be sure about Friday night's game at Seattle, considering the travel involved. Jackson did express a wish to be at the team shoot-around this morning.
Jackson disappeared before reporters were allowed into the gym. So far the only discernible difference in the organization pre- and post-kidney stone is the media was allowed its full 30-minute access period at practice. Someone will pay for that, no doubt.
On the assistant coaches' watch, Kobe Bryant's 35- and 40-point scoring streaks died; O'Neal led the team in scoring for the first time in a month; Samaki Walker, sidelined three games because of a sprained right ankle, played a rigorous game of three-on-three Wednesday afternoon, and the Lakers extended their winning streak to five games. Walker, temporarily replaced in the starting lineup by the frenetic Mark Madsen, said he was optimistic about playing against the Pistons but would wait on a decision until he could test the ankle this morning.
Milling around after practice, there was talk about what the Laker offense would do now that Bryant is scoring only 32 points a game. Then, whether O'Neal is now ready, finally ready, to retake the offense, a subject he finds tedious unless he brings it up.
"We're kind of past that," O'Neal said, "who's in the forefront and who's in the scoring.... The young fella's been hot. I'm proud of him."
And, as for Jackson? O'Neal curled his lip.
"He looked a little out of shape," he said. "I think he should lose a couple pounds. No. I'm glad he's OK."
Bryant is on pace to become the youngest NBA player to reach 10,000 points. At 30.8 points a game, his average through 56 games this season, Bryant would reach the plateau March 5 against the Indiana Pacers at the age of 24 years, 193 days.
Bob McAdoo (25 years, 148 days) holds the record. He is followed by O'Neal (25 years, 341 days), Michael Jordan (25 years, 343 days), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (25 years, 344 days) and Shareef Abdur-Rahim (26 years, 17 days.)
The Lakers have expressed interest in guard Bimbo Coles, 34, expected to be waived by the Cleveland Cavaliers. Players waived on or before Saturday and then claimed or signed before postseason rosters are due are eligible for the playoffs.
vs. Detroit, 7
Fox Sports Net
Site -- Staples Center.
Radio -- KLAC (570), KWKW (1330), KIRN (670).
Records -- Lakers 31-25, Pistons 37-20.
Record vs. Pistons (2001-02) -- 2-0.
Update -- The Lakers have won eight in a row in the series and 15 of the last 16. The Pistons last beat the Lakers in January 1997. Forward Ben Wallace leads the league in rebounds and blocked shots for the second consecutive season, last year becoming the fourth player (Abdul-Jabbar, Bill Walton, Hakeem Olajuwon) to lead both categories over a full season. The Pistons start Michael Curry, Wallace, Clifford Robinson, Richard Hamilton and Chauncey Billups. Corliss Williamson is among the most productive sixth men in the league.