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Lakers' Vujacic out with a bad back; Odom mending

January 13, 2009|Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner

Will anybody actually be around to take part in the Texas two-step?

Sasha Vujacic became the latest Lakers player to head for the trainer's room, leaving the team with a muddled bill of health heading into tonight's game in Houston and Wednesday's in San Antonio.

Luke Walton and Jordan Farmar did not make the trip, and Vujacic did not board the charter flight Monday afternoon because of back spasms, though he might catch up to the team in the next day or two if his back settles down.

The injury report wasn't all doom and gloom for the Lakers.

Lamar Odom took part in a half-court three-on-three scrimmage Monday morning and certainly looked sound when he dunked off a feed from Chris Mihm.

He sat out the last three games because of a bone bruise in his right knee and said there was still pain, though he might play tonight if there are no lingering effects from Monday's activity.

"We'll see how he feels," Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. "He looked OK, but it wasn't a lot of running full court."

If Vujacic and Odom can't play, the Lakers' depth chart at ballhandling guard will be down to Derek Fisher and . . . ?

It was addressed at practice by Jackson.

"I did say that Vlade [Vladimir Radmanovic] may have to play guard," Jackson said. "At that point, everybody kind of rolled their eyes."

Odom then quickly volunteered to start playing again, according to Jackson, who might or might not have been kidding.

That's the state of the Lakers these days -- from the best depth in the league to almost no depth at all, and still cracking jokes about it.

Not that the Rockets or Spurs really care about the woes of the team with the league's top record (30-6).

The Spurs (24-12) have climbed up the standings after a 2-5 start, but the Rockets (24-15) can't seem to define themselves other than by small winning streaks followed by slightly smaller losing streaks.

The Rockets have defeated Boston, Orlando, New Orleans and San Antonio, but they've also lost to Memphis, the Clippers and Washington.

Tracy McGrady has sat out 11 games, Ron Artest has missed nine, and neither is expected to play tonight. In fact, the Rockets have been forced to start former Lakers second-round draft pick Von Wafer, who has actually responded fairly well, scoring 15 points against New York and making a key three-pointer late in the game against Boston last week.

The Lakers experienced a wild in-game swing against the Rockets in November, overcoming a 16-point deficit in the second quarter and blowing past them for a 111-82 victory.

The final score represented a 45-point turnaround as the Lakers outscored the Rockets, 95-50, from early in the second quarter to the end.

"I think it was the worst game we have ever had," Rockets center Yao Ming said at the time.

The Lakers haven't played the Spurs since taking them out in five games in last season's Western Conference finals. The event that swung the series in the Lakers' direction was a wire-to-wire 93-91 Game 4 victory in San Antonio.

Andrew Bynum was long gone when that series began because of a knee injury, but he'll get a chance Wednesday to play against 10-time All-Star Tim Duncan.

Between Duncan and Yao, it will be a busy trip for Bynum, who has been on a roll offensively, scoring 24, 20 and 18 in his last three games.

"They're going to attack you on the offensive end, so if you don't do anything back, you're giving them a break on defense and you end up digging yourself a grave," Bynum said.

The trip will also test Fisher, who must find a way to slow down two of the faster point guards in the NBA.

Then again, Fisher always seems to find himself up against a speedy guard looking to attack him and run him through pick-and-roll situations.

Then there are the heavy minutes the 34-year-old Fisher has endured while trying to defend these guards. He faces Houston's Rafer Alston tonight and San Antonio's Tony Parker on Wednesday night.

"Most of these guys that I'm playing against now, they were born in the '80s and now I'm chasing these cats around," Fisher said. "It doesn't stop. The game has really become one of speed and athleticism and quickness. I have to be smart out there when I'm trying to chase those guys."

Being smart is just one of the issues.

Perhaps the biggest challenge Fisher faces now is playing time.

Since Jordan Farmar went down because of a knee injury that required surgery, Fisher's playing time has averaged 38.1 minutes over the last 11 games.

The Lakers have tapped the brakes ever so slightly to account for the workload carried by their veteran point guard.

"He's really kept himself in good condition and we're trying to do things at a little bit different level right now as far as running and [not] playing at a really high tempo. We're just playing at a 'flow' tempo right now, which is good," Jackson said.

Before the Lakers hurried off to their flight Monday, Kobe Bryant opened up a door from the trainer's room, saw a semicircle of reporters on the practice court, and immediately withdrew back into the room. He emerged again a few seconds later, smiling.

He was in a joking mood, perhaps because the Philadelphia Eagles, his favorite NFL team, had earned a trip to the NFC championship game.

Or perhaps, despite the Lakers' mounting injury toll, he simply knew something nobody else did about an often-treacherous trip through Texas.


Walton, who has sat out five games because of a sore right foot, began exercising on an elliptical machine and said he might be ready to play Friday against Orlando.


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