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LAKERS REPORT

Walton now has outside chance

November 25, 2006|Mike Bresnahan | Times Staff Writer

SALT LAKE CITY — The most accurate three-point shooter in the NBA isn't Seattle's Ray Allen, Boston's Wally Szczerbiak, or, in the up-and-coming department, Phoenix's Leandro Barbosa.

It's Luke Walton.

The fourth-year forward has made 11 of 17 (64.7%) from beyond the arc, a percentage that tops all players with 15 or more attempts.

He has added more rotation to the ball when he shoots, eliminating a knuckleball effect he had last season, and he now sets his feet instead of resorting to the slight shuffle-step he employed last season.

"He's kind of found a stroke that he's relying on now that looks much better," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "That's what we're looking for, that he consistently holds his own out there as a shooter. We don't consider him per se a three-point shooter, but we're really glad that he's able to take the shots and make them."

Walton has excelled in other areas, averaging 12.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.4 assists while starting every game. Coming into the season, Jackson planned to bring him off the bench and make Vladimir Radmanovic a starter, but that went away when Radmanovic injured his right hand during the exhibition season.

Plan B has been pretty seamless, though.

Jackson acknowledged that the team didn't function as well without Walton on the floor and called it "a matter of expediency" for Walton to start.

Walton, in the final year of his contract, has responded.

"I've just got to play better when I'm out there instead of worrying about getting pulled or worrying about being in a contract year," he said. "It has a lot to do with being more comfortable, not pressing your shot instead of just doing it. I did that a lot in the past. Now I'm just having fun. It just feels better that way."

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Sasha Vujacic had made only five of 25 shots this season before scoring eight points Friday against Utah on three-for-four shooting.

"Sasha played a great preseason.... It looked like he was making all the shots that were appropriate for him to make and taking the right shots at the right time," Jackson said. "I think he got a little excited about the first season game. He started that game, and I think it might have even thrown him a little bit off. But I think he's kind of come back to earth again now after two, three games where he had a pretty tough start."

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TV play-by-play announcer Joel Meyers missed Friday's game to attend a funeral in St. Louis. Greg Papa filled in for him.... Jordan Farmar sat out his third consecutive game because of a sprained right ankle, although Jackson said he would play Sunday against New Jersey.

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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KEYS TO THE GAME

* The Lakers were thoroughly outrebounded -- 45-27 overall and 15-6 on the offensive boards.

* The Lakers surrendered 32 points in the third quarter and another 32 in the fourth.

* Kobe Bryant looked fatigued in the fourth quarter, missing all three of his shots and making only two of four free throws.

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