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LAKERS FYI : Taking stock the day after

November 15, 2009|Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner

As the Lakers landed at LAX sometime around 2:30 a.m. Saturday, Phil Jackson took stock of his team, considered its up-and-down two-day basketball binge, and canceled the practice that was scheduled later in the day.

The Lakers had spent the last couple of nights oscillating from a convincing victory over Phoenix to a humbling loss in Denver, transitioning from an effort that turned the Suns into a two-loss team to a series of gasps in mile-high air that turned themselves into a two-loss team.

They are now 7-2.

At this rate, they'd finish 64-18, well off the Chicago Bulls' record-setting 72-10 season in 1995-96.

The Lakers' schedule, however, loosens up over the next 19 days.

Their next eight games are against teams that are straddling .500 (Houston, Detroit, Chicago, Oklahoma City), well below .500 (New York, New Jersey, New Orleans) or on the verge of imploding (Golden State).

Not until a Dec. 4 game against Miami will the Lakers see a team with substantially more victories than losses at this early point in the season.

Priority No. 1, other than beating a flurry of mediocre teams, will be assimilating Pau Gasol back into the lineup.

He has missed nine games because of a strained right hamstring, and his next step will be to advance beyond running on a treadmill and actually practice with the team.

He has tried to practice twice over the last few weeks but had complications the next day each time. The Lakers hope the third time is a charm, particularly if it happens later this week.

In the more immediate future, before they give Trevor Ariza his championship ring in a pregame ceremony tonight against Houston, they'll look closely at why they appeared tentative in the second half of their 105-79 loss to Denver. They scored only 23 points, the lowest-scoring half in team history.

"Without a doubt," said Jackson, who thought the Lakers stopped looking for Andrew Bynum. "These guys have to learn things like that."

Said Kobe Bryant, who did not score after halftime: "Obviously, we did a lot of things wrong."

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Denver keeping mum on Lakers

Even after they defeated the Lakers on Friday night, after they drop-kicked the Lakers back to Los Angeles, the Nuggets still were respectful.

After all, the Lakers are the NBA champions.

The rest of the Western Conference knows this.

Nuggets forward Carmelo Anthony was asked if the Lakers were worried about other teams in the West.

"Man, they are the champs," Anthony said. "I wouldn't be worried about nobody if I just won the championship . . . But I'm pretty sure they know that the West is tough."

As for the Nuggets, they still are trying to earn respect from around the NBA.

Sure, they may have beaten the Lakers, but the Nuggets know it was an early-season game.

The victory doesn't make up for losing to the Lakers in six games in the conference finals.

"When you're an elite team, you always want to play the best," Denver's Chauncey Billups said. "That's just competitive fire, competitive nature. The way we played them the last game here in our building [in Game 6] was just embarrassing. So we just wanted to come out and just keep that rivalry alive."

The Lakers aren't convinced one exists.

"I don't think it's a rivalry at all," Bynum said. "They might feel that way, but we don't."

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

broderick.turner@latimes.com

twitter.com/BA_Turner

--

Lakers tonight

VS. HOUSTON

When: 6:30.

Where: Staples Center.

On the air: TV: FS West; Radio: 710, 1330.

Records: Lakers 7-2, Rockets 5-4.

Record vs. Rockets: 1-0.

Update: The Lakers won an overtime game in Houston earlier this month, 103-102, as Kobe Bryant scored 41 points. Trevor Ariza made only five of 21 shots and scored 15 points against his former team. On the season, Ariza is averaging 19.4 points, 4.8 rebounds and 4.2 assists a game for the Rockets.

-- Mike Bresnahan

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