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Hurry back, Pau and Andrew

March 31, 2008|Mark Heisler

Nostalgia . . . who needs it?

Welcome to the thrilling days of yesteryear, last year to be exact, when the Lakers came down the stretch like a boulder rolling down a mountain.

Last spring at this time, they were giving new dimension to the phrase "dog days." Kobe Bryant reportedly counted the teammates playing as if they cared and came up with something in the low single figures (one actually -- Ronny Turiaf.)

These days when their future glows with promise, that seems like something that happened in a galaxy far, far away. . . .

Or it least it did before they managed to lose home games to 25-45 Charlotte and 15-53 Memphis.

"Well, it caused some erratic sleep for two, three nights this week," said Phil Jackson, usually a die-hard optimist, before Sunday night's game.

"You think you have everything going for you. . . . We have a homestand and we can't take advantage of it."

Happily for Jackson's sleep the next two or three nights, the Lakers won Sunday, beating the Wizards, 126-120, even if they had to go overtime and withstand a 27-point onslaught from rookie Nick Young, the former Trojan, who picked Sunday night to throw himself a "welcome home" party.

In the really good news for Jackson, this isn't last season -- not with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum due back . . . any day now.

Not that the Lakers are hanging on by their fingernails, but when Jackson was asked which Lakers he wasn't happy with, he started with his trainer.

"Gary Vitti is the guy that really bothers me the most because he's our trainer who can't get everybody healthy," said Jackson, whimsically, we think.

"Every day he says, 'I wish I could get this guy ready for you, but. . . . '

"I won't go through the litany of the rest of it."

Everybody handles crises their own way. After the Lakers' loss to Charlotte, Bryant took over as only he can, going for 53 points against Memphis, looking like he intended to keep firing until Gasol, Bynum or both were back.

This was Last Spring's Kobe, as opposed to the This Season's Kobe, the one Jackson prefers.

"We had a discussion yesterday," Jackson said. "He's played such great basketball and he's been such a good team leader, I just said, 'Just don't destroy the relationship that you've built with the players this year.'

"And he said, 'Nah, it's not going to affect what we do. I just had to get out and vent what was irritating about the game. . . .'

"So he was obviously irritated by the game prior to that, Charlotte."

Or as Bryant put if after Sunday night's game, "I needed a game to blow it off. Too bad we didn't play any damn defense. . . .

"What I told the team was, we've done a good job all season of beating bad teams. We had a couple of bad games, but there's no reason to panic."

Sunday night Bryant took only six shots in the first half and wound up scoring 26 points with 13 assists, renewing the relationship with his teammates.

Thus empowered again, instead of launching an unheard-of 45 three-pointers as they did against Memphis, they were down to 27, which was merely too many.

With this lineup, the inside game consists of Lamar Odom's occasional forays to the hoop, or Bryant driving with the entire defense focused on him.

In other words, as currently configured, the Lakers are a three-point launching machine. Luckily, they made 14 of their 27 attempts Sunday.

Oh, and they don't play much defense, either, which you might have guessed after seeing them give up 115-119-108-114 in their last four games before Sunday's defensive struggle.

"This wasn't a blowout or an easy win," said Jackson, counting his blessings.

"But we did get that 50th win. We think we'll have to have 57 or so wins to finish at the top of the heap."

It's indisputable, you can't get to 57 without reaching 50 first, but if the Lakers are going to finish at the top of the heap, they'll need reinforcements.

If they're fortunate, help will arrive soon. If they're really fortunate, either Gasol or Bynum will be available from that point on and they'll never have to run this lineup out there again.


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