Back to Denver and a wholly conflicted day in the life of Kobe Bryant, which is to say, the usual.
The Denver Nuggets will have some maneuvering room under the salary cap this summer and apparently wouldn't mind spending it on Bryant. That is, according to a report out of Denver, as long as he is acquitted of the felony sexual assault charge, which would make sense.
Bryant seems committed to keeping league-wide interest keen, even as he claims to have no plans to leave the Lakers, so he probably wouldn't dismiss the Nuggets' curiosity. There's more. Bryant was booed hard during a 22-point loss in Denver on Jan. 7, Nugget fans easily the most vocal on the Lakers' 2003-04 You-Be-The-Jury Tour.
Nugget General Manager Kiki Vandeweghe recently asked for decorum from those fans, perhaps in the event Bryant would consider spending the next six years there, unlikely as that would seem.
"No one likes to hear players get booed," he told the Denver Post. "We have the best fans in the NBA. They have been a big reason behind our success at home this season, so I'd rather see them spend their energy rooting for us. Our players really feed off of that, so we're going to need them behind us."
Not long ago, San Antonio Coach Gregg Popovich -- who, like Vandeweghe, has some money to spend -- had the same request of Spur fans, and Bryant said he was touched.
The Lakers practiced Tuesday morning, having won four consecutive games, a streak Bryant propped up by averaging 33.5 points and keeping an unwavering eye on Shaquille O'Neal. Bryant said he wouldn't think much about returning to Denver, not far from the site of four March motions hearings, and Coach Phil Jackson said he would not alter the Laker schedule to accommodate Bryant.
On Jan. 7, Jackson canceled the team's late-morning gathering, at the time saying, "There's no need to give a free shot at Kobe." The shoot-around will be held as scheduled today, Jackson said, adding, "We're just going to suffer whatever consequences it brings ... and do the normal things we do on game day."
Said Bryant: "It doesn't really matter to me. We have a job to do, so we'll go over there and try to do it."
While Karl Malone remains a straight-ahead runner and a clunky knee brace wearer, the Lakers would seem to be facing a telling stretch of games.
They play the upstart Nuggets tonight, the Sacramento Kings on Thursday night, the New Jersey Nets on Sunday, the Houston Rockets next Wednesday and the Nets again March 7. There will be supposed patsies sprinkled in between, just what the Lakers have gotten healthy on for the last couple of weeks.
They have not beaten what might be considered a quality team since Jan. 14, when they ran away from a tired Nugget team. Other than the Nuggets, whom they also beat Dec. 19, one could go back to a Dec. 4 game against the Dallas Mavericks for the last undeniably good victory over an undeniably good team.
Since, they've lost to Dallas, Houston, Minnesota, Denver again, Sacramento, Memphis, Dallas again, Minnesota again, Indiana, Houston again.
They built their four-game winning streak against teams with a combined winning percentage of .413.
"You have to start somewhere," Bryant said, "and this is a good start for us."
Laker owner Jerry Buss on Sunday seemed less committed to the negotiations for extensions for O'Neal and Jackson than he was to having Bryant return, but there was little reaction from O'Neal and Jackson.
Jackson, about two weeks removed from having his offer pulled off the table, said he understood Buss' stance.
"He just reiterated that same answer, you know, 'I want Kobe to be a Laker for life,' " Jackson said. "I think that's the right answer to give. Here's a young guy who's a popular person at the box office and a proven winner. He's a valuable asset to his team. When you have those kinds of opportunities as a franchise, you want that player to start and finish his career in this city, where he's been beloved by his fans and the people who come to Laker games."
Asked if the comments had dulled his willingness to return, Jackson said, "Who, Buss?"
After a pause, he said, "No."
at Denver, 6 PST, Channel 9
Site -- Pepsi Center.
Radio -- KLAC (570), KWKW (1330).
Records -- Lakers 35-19, Nuggets 32-26.
Record vs. Nuggets -- 2-1.
Update -- The Lakers are hoping for more out of Slava Medvedenko, the scorer who is eight for 42 from the floor in his last five games. Jackson said that Medvedenko had been ill. Devean George, six for 29 in the same span, appears to have the same ailment. The Nuggets have lost three in a row -- at Orlando, Miami and Memphis.