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LAKER REPORT

Midterm Grade: Incomplete

January 29, 2005|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

The Lakers are halfway through the regular season, firmly lodged somewhere between winning a championship and finishing last in the Western Conference.

Only three players from last season suited up Friday against the New Jersey Nets, underscoring how the new standard for progress is measured day to day instead of season by season.

A year ago, the Lakers were 26-15, enmeshed in an unpredictable ride that ended in the NBA Finals. They are now 22-19, lingering mainly in sixth or seventh in the West, not much better, not much worse.

Kobe Bryant's return from a severely sprained ankle is being measured in weeks, Vlade Divac is out until April because of back surgery, and the Lakers are slightly better than average in their absence, with a daunting end to the regular season -- 24 of the last 38 games on the road -- in sight.

"We'd like to have a better record," said General Manager Mitch Kupchak, offering his analysis of the first part of the season. "The one thing you have to remember, Vlade was going to be a big part of this team's effectiveness and maturity level with ability to win games at the end. Plus Kobe's been out now. Two significant injuries that you didn't expect and plan for. But there's injuries in the league that everybody has to deal with."

The Feb. 24 trade deadline is approaching, with the Lakers looking to lessen the burden of too many small forwards.

"Our roster is not well-balanced," Kupchak said. "We want to improve our team on a certain basis. We've got about a month to see if it could be done this year prior to the summer. Unfortunately, to get something good, you've got to give up something good."

Kupchak said he has seen some growth with 41 games gone by.

"Every game something new jumps out at us, whether it's Luke Walton, Lamar [Odom], Chris [Mihm], Chucky [Atkins]," he said. "There are growing issues that are positive. I don't think we've taken a step back. I don't think anybody as a player is regressing."

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Forward Caron Butler appeared Thursday night on the "Tonight Show with Jay Leno," where he became choked up when discussing how he overcame a 14-month stay at a juvenile-detention facility in Wisconsin.

"It just came out once we started talking about what I went through at the time," Butler said Friday. "I saw my mother and I saw her smile and how happy she was, and where I'm at now, it just came out."

Butler's mother, Mattie Paden, was in the Burbank audience.

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Walton sat out a second game because of a sprained left ankle.... The Nets, who had only eight players in uniform Friday against the Lakers, claimed center Elden Campbell off waivers.

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