Advertisement
YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

BILL PLASCHKE

Watching Machine isn't always good, clean fun

May 11, 2008|Bill Plaschke

SALT LAKE CITY -- To fully appreciate the achievements of most Lakers legends, one needs to pore through thick media guides and mammoth record books.

Sasha Vujacic, on the other hand, stars on .

"I try to bring a different energy to this team, you know?" he says.

Type in "“Sasha Vujacic anger.

Up pops a video of a peeved Kobe Bryant elbowing Vujacic on the bench.

"Kobe and I understand each other better now," Vujacic says.

Type in

Up pops a video of Andrew Bynum loudly cursing Vujacic on the court.

"We are growing up together as a team," Vujacic says.

Type in "

Up pops a video of Bryant making fun of Vujacic's nickname after a tough shooting night, claiming the "Machine" needs new batteries.

"Please, please, write that I did not give myself that nickname," Vujacic says.

Type in

Up pops a video of Vujacic wandering into the Cleveland Cavaliers' sideline huddle during a timeout to steal their next play.

"I want to win, and whatever it takes, that is what I bring," he says.

You want more? With Sasha Vujacic, there's always more.

Type his name with "elbow" and witness a peeved New York Knick named Renaldo Balkman whacking the pesky Vujacic in the face.

Type his name with "choke" and see Carmelo Anthony literally choking him.

"People seem to love me or hate me," Vujacic says.

Or both, all at once, which seems to be the Lakers' stance during his four years with the team.

They love his intensity. They cringe at his recklessness. They love his fire. They cringe when he can't turn it off.

For four seasons they have tolerated him, humored him, teased him, goaded him, pushed him.

Now, they find themselves in the unusual position of needing him.

Leading the thick-waisted Utah Jazz two games to one in the Western Conference semifinals, with Game 4 here today at the toughest home court in the NBA, they need someone to loosen things up.

Loosen up the middle of the Jazz defense. Loosen up the tightness of the Lakers' jaws.

They need someone to pop off the bench and hit a few shots and spread out a Jazz team that, at times, seems like one giant tattooed body stretched out across the lane.

They need somebody like, well, the Sasha Vujacic who scored 15 points in the series opener and 12 in Game 2.

They don't need the one who, on Friday in Game 3, was knocked around and kicked over and eventually shoved back to the bench scoreless.

"He got a little banged up and it was understandably hard for him to recover," Coach Phil Jackson says.

And that, now, is the question.

Can he recover from a badly bruised right big toe, the pain of which kept him awake most of Friday night?

Can he, like fellow deep postseason newbie Pau Gasol, recover from the assumption that his game might be too flighty for the density of May and June?

"Right now, it's all in his mind," Lakers assistant Brian Shaw says. "He's got to learn how to play through the pain, and play through teams that are making adjustments on him."

Shaw smiled.

"He's got to get the Machine cranked up," he said.

The Lakers just can't help themselves.

This Kobe-intense group needs a fall guy, a bit of comic relief, an endearing little brother to take the butt of their jokes, and Vujacic is it.

"I love these guys," he says. "I love L.A."

He's difficult to boo, and darn near impossible to dislike, and few received louder cheers this winter when he finally transformed himself into the dangerous shooter the Lakers believed they drafted four summers ago.

"Coach Jackson stops punishing me for mistakes," he says. "And I stop making so many."

On the court, making 44% of his three-point attempts during the regular season and more than half during the playoffs, he brings the energy of a rascal to a team of coolness.

Off the court, with an innocent eagerness and sometimes fractured accent, he brings a sort of precious fallibility to a collection of movie stars.

"I live for this game, and I think people can tell," he says.

Who else would take the court wearing a hair device given to him by the director of the Laker Girls?

Vujacic began this season with a buzz haircut, but friends told him it was hurting him with the referees.

"I look too much like baby face, they don't give calls to baby face," he says.

Now, his black hair is long and flowing and often unruly, such that on Friday, he was even jeered for it.

Read one cardboard sign: "Vujacic, love the hair, my wife has that same cut!"

But not to worry, a Laker Girl contraption keeps that hair out of his eyes.

"Lisa Estrada gave me this little strip to put on my forehead, it works great," he says. "I'm not cutting my hair until we win a championship."

Also, who else would consider it a huge triumph when public address announcers around the league finally correctly pronounced his name -- VOO-yah-chich?

"I remember once, some announcer said, "Vu-ya-blah-blah-blah," he recalls. "I think maybe now that they have it right, I have arrived."

Actually, based on recent Lakers history, that moment will come at the same time it came for guys like Robert Horry and Derek Fisher.

That moment will come when Sasha Vujacic comes off the bench and hits a shot to win a playoff game.

That moment could easily come this spring.

Considering he is a restricted free agent after the season, this could be his last Lakers chance.

"I dream of that moment, you know?" he says. "This summer I turn on the clock, 10 seconds left, and I practice for that moment."

10, 9, 8 . . .

"My toe hurts, but I've gotten used to it, I have to get used to it," he says.

7, 6, 5 . . .

"It is a tough series, they get away with 90% of pushing and shoving, we have to be stronger," he says.

4, 3, 2, 1 . . .

"I'm ready for that shot," says the delightfully human Machine. "Just give me that shot."

--

Bill Plaschke can be reached at bill.plaschke@latimes.com. To read previous columns by Plaschke, go to latimes.com/plaschke.

Advertisement
Los Angeles Times Articles
|
|
|