With all of the Lakers' high-profile players, it's easy to understand why Slava Medvedenko seemed surprised to see the horde of reporters and cameramen waiting for him Saturday at the team's practice facility in El Segundo.
But after his 26-point, 11-rebound performance in the Lakers' 113-67 victory over Atlanta the night before, Medvedenko was the player under the spotlight. He looked at the crowd in front of him in awe, knowing that these types of media moments have not happened often in his four-year NBA career.
"I'm very excited," said Medvedenko, who had his best game of the season with starting big men Shaquille O'Neal and Karl Malone sidelined because of injuries.
Medvedenko was active from the start against the Hawks.
He scored the first two points of the game and had eight points and two rebounds at the 7:53 mark of the first quarter.
"It's very important for me to make first shot," said Medvedenko, who also was a spark on the defensive end with two blocked shots. "It's a totally different feeling when you make first [compared] to when you miss first. It helps me with everything."
By the time Medvedenko went to the bench with 19 seconds remaining in the quarter, he had registered a team-high six rebounds and 10 points, which included a rare dunk from the Ukraine native.
"I not see it," a smiling Medvedenko said when asked about his crowd-pleasing first-quarter dunk.
Medvedenko's teammates may have been more keyed up than he was. After seeing him play well in practice for years, they love seeing him get the job done in games.
"We're all aware that Slava can score," Derek Fisher said. "We know that he's capable. He had a really big night last night. He is a high-percentage shooter. That's why Coach [Phil Jackson] often feels comfortable going with Slava in situations when we need some offense.
"He can stretch the defense and bring one of the big guys away from the basket, which clears room, especially when Shaq is in the lineup. His ability to hit a shot from the outside just opens things up. We're extremely happy for him to have a breakout type of night. We've seen him do it before on a daily basis."
Medvedenko gave a glimpse of his skills in last season's playoffs when he stepped in and gave the Lakers some solid minutes against San Antonio in the second round.
Now, he's ready to take his game to the next level.
"I feel more comfortable and confident now," said Medvedenko, who averaged 8.5 points and nearly four rebounds before Friday's game.
"I don't think about [when Malone returns]. I just try to play. I'm just trying to go into every game, trying to do best that I can do. I am not thinking about points, rebounds. I just come to floor and play hard."
Although Atlanta did not give them much of a game, the Lakers are pleased they do not have to talk about their four-game losing streak any longer.
"Teams go through slumps and depressions just like everyone else does," Jackson said. "Losing is one of the things that does that to a ballclub, and this team was affected I think dramatically by the loss [at Denver on Wednesday]."
Whatever the reason, the Lakers played with more energy against the Hawks. They limited Atlanta to 40% shooting while winning the rebound battle, 45-29.
"It was a combination of good defense and us running into a struggling team," forward Devean George said.
"We did a good job of help rotating on defense and putting our bodies in the right places. It's a key for us to help rotate."
O'Neal, who has sat out the last four games because of a strained right calf, did not practice Saturday and will not play Monday when the Lakers play host to Cleveland at Staples Center. The Lakers will review O'Neal's status on Tuesday, according to spokesman John Black.
Gary Payton is suffering from a sinus infection and did not practice Saturday. After meeting with a team doctor, he went home.
Malone also did not practice Saturday, but the Lakers still have not ruled him out for Wednesday's game against Denver. Malone, who suffered a sprained knee ligament against Phoenix on Dec. 21, is scheduled to return from the injured list Tuesday.