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J.A. Adande

Jackson takes recent play over No. 900

January 08, 2007|J.A. Adande

Phil Jackson doesn't have the same reverence for the basketball souvenirs from his milestone victories as he does for his championship rings.

He joked that the keepsake balls he earned with every 100th coaching victory are collecting mold somewhere.

The game ball from win No. 900, which came Sunday courtesy of the Lakers' impressive, improbable, come-from-behind victory against the hottest team in the NBA, should be bronzed, encased and lighted like a museum showpiece because the Lakers' 23 victories this season represent as fine a coaching job as Jackson has done.

Seriously, did you think the Lakers would have victories against the Phoenix Suns, San Antonio Spurs and Sunday's victim, the Dallas Mavericks at this stage? That they could do this with Luke Walton emerging as the team's second-best player? That they could keep raising the level of expectations, then exceeding them?

Things are going so well right now, with a 16-4 home record and a perfectly acceptable 7-7 record on the road, that his next task might be to temper the expectations of this young team and increasingly giddy fan base.

Let's keep in mind that the Lakers have lost their games at Dallas and Utah and haven't traveled to Phoenix or San Antonio.

It's far too early to imagine NBA Finals stickers adorning the Staples Center court in June.

"I don't want to get too far ahead of ourselves," Kobe Bryant said. "What we have to do is just do what we've been doing, which is focus on getting better and working hard."

Still, I've rarely seen Jackson so complimentary about a work in progress.

"We're just pleased with what's going on with our team," he said.

They beat the Mavericks even without the injured Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown.

Odom in particular was missed here, because the Lakers wanted to have him defend Dirk Nowitzki, and they sure could have used another player to initiate the offense when the Mavericks made it their mission to cut off Bryant.

The Lakers won in the fourth quarter with a lineup Jackson said he arrived at by "default," consisting of Bryant, Walton, Smush Parker, Ronny Turiaf and Sasha Vujacic.

Vujacic wound up as the hero, with good defense and the go-ahead three-point basket.

Jackson wound up looking like the smart guy. His ways are working, and they're muting some of the nagging criticisms of him.

One of the knocks was that he never had to develop players, that he took over teams with ready-made stars such as Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, Shaquille O'Neal and Bryant.

Besides Bryant, this team consists of young and unaccomplished players. Most are flourishing.

"Because we are a young team, he's been more hands on, shorter leash and really walking us through conceptually every step of the way," Bryant said.

"Last time he was trying to manage the stars," said Walton, a rookie during Jackson's "Last Season" with Bryant, O'Neal, Gary Payton and Karl Malone. "This time he's more involved."

Even while holding hands, Jackson can still be harsh. He had some brutally honest descriptions of Brown before he got hurt, and Jackson said he told the team he made a mistake in starting Vladimir Radmanovic the last time the Lakers played Dallas, the first night after Odom sprained his right knee.

But he's also enjoying the minor successes. The coaches have come to appreciate Brian Cook's offensive contributions, even though he'll never be Ben Wallace on defense.

Jackson gave much of the credit to the increased offensive flow to Cook's presence, which either deters opponents from leaving him to double-team Kobe Bryant or results in easy points from Cook's straight-arrow jump shot when they do ditch him to double-team Bryant.

The triangle offense is running as well as ever; the Lakers had another 26 assists Sunday after their 39-assist game against Denver. The players have bought in so much, their credit cards are maxed out.

"I believe that this offense works when there's five guys committed to run the offense," Parker said. "The ball moves from side to side, everybody gets touches, everybody's touching the ball, everybody's playing with confidence, this offense is a great offense to play in."

Of course, with this group, the biggest accomplishment is getting one guy committed: Bryant.

The person once considered uncoachable by many (including, um, Jackson himself), has been playing the way Jackson always dreamed he would.

Bryant was among the Lakers applauding Jackson when he entered the locker room afterward, and he also offered this toast: "Nine-hundred wins is remarkable. You can't even fathom 900 games, and he has 900 wins. We're very lucky as a team to be able to share this moment with him."

j.a.adande@latimes.com. To read more by Adande go to latimes.com/adandeblog.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

900 Club

Phil Jackson is the ninth coach to win 900 NBA games (active coaches in capital letters):

*--* COACH WINS Lenny Wilkens 1,332 DON NELSON 1,208 PAT RILEY 1,165 Larry Brown 1,010 JERRY SLOAN 1,008 Bill Fitch 944 Red Auerbach 938 Dick Motta 935 PHIL JACKSON 900

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Source: Associated Press

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