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This East team looks less beastly

November 18, 2008|Mike Bresnahan | Bresnahan is a Times staff writer.

The Lakers get another chance against a strong, robust, successful Eastern Conference team.

Well, it's a team from the East anyway.

The Chicago Bulls have seen better days (pick a year, almost any year from the 1990s), and are off to an injury-plagued 5-5 start leading up to tonight's game at Staples Center. The Lakers (7-1) get another chance at a "gritty" East team (Kobe Bryant's words) after flailing against Detroit in a 106-95 loss Friday.

"That's what makes the season exciting," Bryant said. "You have these runs where it looks like you're just unbeatable, you might go 82-0 or win 70 games. Then you lose one, it's like '[They're] fighting for an eighth seed.' But for us, it's a nice and steady pace."

The Bulls have been anything but steady this season.

Guard Kirk Hinrich is out for three months because of thumb surgery, forward Tyrus Thomas isn't living up to expectations as the fourth pick in the 2006 draft, and the Bulls have failed to take full advantage of an early schedule filled with home games (seven of their 10 have been at the United Center).

On the bright side for Chicago, rookie guard Derrick Rose is already an impact player, averaging 18.9 points, 5.6 assists and five rebounds a game. Only seven players in NBA history averaged more than 18 points, five assists and five rebounds as rookies: Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, LeBron James, Grant Hill, Steve Francis and Alvin Adams.

Shaq, Kobe, Phil, again

In case you think it never gets old . . .

Phil Jackson was asked what he thought of Shaquille O'Neal's recent declaration that the Lakers coach should be blamed for the on-again, off-again tension that pervaded the team during its three-championship run, and beyond, earlier this decade.

Jackson initially laughed off O'Neal comments, wondering if he was also responsible for "even his free-throw shooting."

Then he expanded his thoughts.

"I'm glad we motivated him when he was here and we got three championships," Jackson said. "I think that's the best thing we did. We all have good feelings about that time."

O'Neal told the Sacramento Bee that tension with Bryant was "all designed by Phil, because if you think about it, Phil never called us into the office and said, 'Both of you all, shut . . . up.' "

Jackson and O'Neal agreed, however, that there were definitely some good times during their time together. "We were having a lot of fun as a team," Jackson said. "I think that was just a laugh and goof. 2004 got a little bit tense. That was a tighter time for us."

The Lakers lost to Detroit in five games in the 2004 NBA Finals.

Predictably, Bryant didn't want anything to do with the topic on Monday, even though he and O'Neal appeared to have sewn up their differences, at least publicly.

"Why are you asking me that?" he said. "No, really. You've got to be kidding me. I've been talking about it for so long, I don't want to talk about it anymore. It's silly to me. I'm Tiger Woods right now. You're not getting anything out of me but plain vanilla. I'm not saying anything. My mouth is locked."

More Shaqisms

O'Neal claimed he and Bryant had a better time together than was reported and also said they formed the best tandem in Lakers history.

"And not only was it fun, we'll always be remembered as the best Lakers one-two punch," O'Neal said. "I'm going on record as saying we're the best Lakers guard-center punch. You heard it from me. Ever."





vs. Chicago, 7:30, FS West, Prime

Site -- Staples Center.

Radio -- 570, 1330.

Records -- Lakers 7-1, Bulls 5-5.

Record vs. Bulls (2007-08) -- 2-0.

Update -- Despite a so-so record, the Bulls are 3-0 against the Western Conference, defeating Phoenix, Dallas and Memphis. Vladimir Radmanovic (thigh bruise), Derek Fisher (sore ribs) and Sasha Vujacic (sprained ankle) practiced Monday, though Fisher did not take part in contact drills.

-- Mike Bresnahan

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