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HELENE ELLIOTT

Jury still out on the Lakers

Team continues to play to the level of its competition, but it could easily come back to haunt the players again at any time.

March 20, 2009|HELENE ELLIOTT

Kobe Bryant returned Thursday to the kind of court where he feels most at home, where Phil Jackson dispenses justice and playing time and the sellout crowd at Staples Center formed a jury that sometimes seemed inclined to punish every Lakers turnover with hard time in San Quentin.

Bryant, who scored 21 points Thursday in the Lakers' sloppy 114-106 victory over the Golden State Warriors, spent most of Wednesday serving jury duty, reporting to Santa Ana and answering questions for possible service on a misdemeanor vehicle tampering case.

He missed a meeting and a photo session for the team picture, which was postponed while he made it past the first cut from 40 prospective jurors to 18. He was excused Wednesday afternoon after the jury panel was completed without him.

According to the celebrity-driven website TMZ.com, the judge --allowed to remain nameless -- asked Bryant what he does for a living.

"I play professional basketball for the Los Angeles Lakers," was his response.

Said the judge: "Go Lakers!"

Blind justice. A wonderful thing.

Jackson said he had gotten jury summonses before but had never served.

"Every time I ever had jury duty all I had to do is write and they responded by written notice," he said. "And I have a little more pull, I think, in jury selections I think than Kobe does."

Bryant took his civic duty seriously, and bravo for that. He even seemed eager to be picked for the trial.

Asked by the judge why he might be a good juror, Bryant responded, "I'm a good listener."

Most of his teammates thought that the most amusing part of an odd situation.

"Yeah he's a good listener," Derek Fisher said. "He doesn't necessarily do what you say to do, but he's a good listener."

Luke Walton, who said he had never been summoned for jury duty, was surprised Bryant spent so much of the day awaiting selection.

"Because obviously he's going to be a distraction to the case so obviously you can't use him," Walton said.

"He did his duty. You gotta do it, you gotta do it. Everybody's got to do it. My time will come."

Sasha Vujacic never had to serve jury duty in Slovenia -- there are no juries in his homeland, only judges or panels of judges who render verdicts -- but he admired Bryant's sense of responsibility.

"I think it's pretty funny, but I guess everybody's got to do it," he said.

Not if he's the one on trial and Bryant is in the jury box, though.

"No. No, no. I wouldn't want that," he said, laughing.

Nor would Fisher, although he allowed that seeing Bryant in their midst surely must have been interesting for the other jurors.

"No. No way," Fisher said of the prospect of putting his judicial fate in Bryant's hands.

"He's not merciful, you know. All he knows is kill, kill, kill, you know what I'm saying?"

The Lakers' lack of killer instinct is a failing Jackson has harped on this season, and it was evident again Thursday.

Spotty defense, foul trouble for Lamar Odom -- he had four less than six minutes into the third quarter -- and a general lack of intensity plagued them again.

The Lakers had led, 52-51, at halftime but padded their lead to 77-59 with 3:34 left in the third quarter. Bryant, held to nine points in the first half, added nine in the third quarter.

But the Lakers let the Warriors come back to within nine on a late 14-5 surge and let them claw back to within three points with less than two minutes left in the fourth quarter, a scene that has played out too many times this season to think it won't happen again at a time when it will cost them.

Having clinched the Pacific Division title and a playoff spot so early the Lakers have little incentive to play hard now.

That's how they're playing -- with little motivation.

During the meeting Bryant missed Wednesday, Jackson discussed some of the team's problems. Among them was the bench players' malaise, though they broke out of it Thursday by contributing 32 points, led by Vujacic's 12 and Jordan Farmar's seven assists.

He also posted on the dry-erase board in their El Segundo locker room a list of seven items he said were "haunting" the team. Among them were turnovers, transition points and offensive rebounds.

"And just handling screen-and-rolls, understanding our rotations that we have to get into," Jackson said.

They're still guilty on many of those counts, but the ultimate judgment will be delivered in June by a jury of their NBA peers.

--

helene.elliott@latimes.com

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