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Lakers gear up for King James on his court

Not-so-fresh off an epic win in Boston, Kobe Bryant and the Lakers are preparing for their next major matchup, Sunday against LeBron James and the Cavaliers, who are 23-0 at home.

February 07, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

BOSTON — The Lakers certainly had a better Friday than the Boston Celtics, mainly because the "Gloom and Broom" headline in the Boston Globe wasn't meant for them.

The regular-season series was indeed swept by the Lakers, Thursday's 110-109 overtime victory making it official, though the winning team wasn't far into recovery mode when it assembled early Friday afternoon for a light practice at a swank private health club in downtown Boston.

Pau Gasol sat and watched from the sidelines. Derek Fisher did too. Kobe Bryant spoke to reporters with the black hood of his sweat shirt pulled up over his head, as if he still needed more time to sleep because the Lakers hadn't left TD Banknorth Garden until after midnight.

About the only sign of liveliness came from a dues-paying club member, who, goggles still in place and without breaking stride on the way back to the squash courts, patted Coach Phil Jackson on the shoulder and cheerfully told him, "You're my idol. I always thought you were the best!"

The passer-by happened to be wearing a green T-shirt, making him probably the only one in town wearing such a color with a rosy opinion of Jackson and the Lakers.

The Lakers, meanwhile, spoke of their victory as if it were a cathartic event, almost in reverential tones.

"It was as intense a regular-season game as I've been in in a long time," said Fisher, more than halfway through his 13th NBA season. "It's been a while since I could feel like through 48 minutes and through an overtime, every possession, every loose ball, every rebound, everything was just contested. It was just a fun game to be a part of."

The game itself got good reviews across the country, receiving a 2.7 TV rating, making it the most-watched NBA game on cable this season (about 4.3 million viewers) and the most-watched NBA game on TNT since Chicago played the Lakers in February 1996.

Bryant also continued to provide favorable reviews, saying he approved of the Lakers' not backing down against the physically challenging Celtics. "There were a couple possessions, a couple plays, missed calls and stuff like that, that probably would have affected us last year that didn't affect us too much this year," Bryant said.

The Lakers (40-9) improved to 5-0 on their six-game trip, but moving to 6-0 could be just as difficult as getting to 5-0.

The Lakers play Cleveland on Sunday, visiting perhaps the only home court more difficult than Boston's this season.

The Cavaliers (39-9) are 23-0 at Quicken Loans Arena, where their average margin of victory has been 15.7 points. They haven't lost at home since April 30, in a first-round playoff game against Washington last season.

They also have been building up a "no respect" mantra, the latest perceived slight arriving when Cleveland point guard Mo Williams was not selected to take the place of injured Orlando point guard Jameer Nelson on the Eastern Conference All-Star team.

"That's how they always treat us," LeBron James told reporters in Cleveland. "They wouldn't take me [as an All-Star] if they didn't have to."

James keeps rolling along statistically, appearing at Madison Square Garden two nights after Bryant's 61-point eruption there and compiling 52 points and 11 assists on his own, a pretty good first half for some teams these days. (James initially had a triple-double, but the NBA issued a stat correction Friday, saying he was erroneously credited for a late rebound that should have gone to Ben Wallace, knocking him down to nine rebounds against the Knicks.)

The Cavaliers haven't played since Wednesday, a hiccup in the schedule that means they'll be well-rested in addition to being at home.

"They're awful good on their home court," Jackson said. "All their people wear a crown and they all wear No. 23 and help him throw that [chalk dust] up in the air when he's at the scorer's desk. He gets away with murder, on top of it, on his home court."

Jackson was, of course, speaking about exuberant fans and other matters concerning referees and non-calls, but the Lakers might also take a look at No. 24 instead of No. 23.

As in, trying to keep the Cavaliers from getting their 24th consecutive home victory this season.

"We'll use that if there's a moment in the game where we're tired or something like that," Bryant said. "Those are the type of things that you can call upon to kind of keep yourself from getting tired, and you use it as motivation and push through it a little bit."

Gasol on empty?

Gasol has been on a tear, averaging 28.7 points and 14.3 rebounds in three games since Andrew Bynum went down, but Jackson acknowledged being concerned about Gasol's sharp increase in playing time.

Gasol played 46 minutes against Boston after playing 45 against Toronto and 41 against New York. He had been averaging 35.6 minutes a game before Bynum was injured.

"I was just talking to my staff about how to manage the bench a little bit better so that we can get him rest," Jackson said. "Chris [Mihm] has some experience against [Zydrunas] Ilgauskas, but we'll see how that manages to work out in the course of the game."

Tired or not, Gasol has helped the Lakers avoid a letdown without Bynum.

"He was playing great before 'Drew went down," Bryant said. "That's why he's an All-Star."

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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