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For Lakers, there's a Bull elephant in the room

LAKERS

Lakers' NBA title defense begins Tuesday amid quiet talk of their potential to surpass Chicago's record 72-win season in 1995-96. Phil Jackson, for one, doesn't want to hear it.

October 27, 2009|Mike Bresnahan

"It takes you going out playing every game like it is a championship game, because every team comes out and plays extra hard against you," he said. "And you have to be a very good defensive team. We were a great defensive team. Now let's compare L.A.'s defense.

"Ron Artest is a good defensive player. Kobe Bryant is a very good defensive player. Derek Fisher is a very good defensive player. What else can you say about the rest of them? You can't have guys that are hurt. You've got to have guys that are healthy. You have to play hard. You can't take games off. If they think they are that good, show me."

The Lakers have been cast as title favorites in the recent past, but it ended in a championship cul-de-sac, their 2003-04 team overheating on the side of the road as the Detroit Pistons blew by them in the NBA Finals. The arrival of veterans Karl Malone and Gary Payton was supposed to push the Lakers to the top that season, adding Hall of Fame-type firepower to the dominant combination of Bryant and O'Neal.

But it imploded amid infighting (Bryant and O'Neal barely made it through the season together) and injury (Malone's 40-year-old knees couldn't last the whole way).

More recently, there were whispers of chasing 72 wins last season, when the Lakers started out 17-2. It didn't hold up.

Fourteen years ago, when Chicago started out 23-2, there was a buzz in the city. Jordan was back for his first full season after a short-lived attempt at a pro baseball career. Rodman was in his first year in a Chicago uniform, the Bulls acquiring his defense, hustle and tabloid-type hyperbole that accompanied his bizarre off-court life. Wherever they went, they were greeted like rock stars.

"There was a lot of energy that went into that year," Jackson said in an understatement.

Said Bryant: "Chicago had kind of like the perfect storm. They had the perfect team, terrific defensive players and then they lived right in the middle of the country so they got ample rest going from city to city. It worked out well for them."

Will it work out equally well for the Lakers . . . if not better?

Bryant, after pausing a beat, perhaps letting his mind flicker ahead a few months before quickly rewinding it, added one final thought.

"I guess it all remains to be seen."

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mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

Times staff writer Broderick Turner contributed to this report.

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(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)

Lakers vs. Bulls

Stats for key 1995-96 Bulls players, and 2008-09 stats for key current Lakers:

*--* BULLS 1995-96 PPG RPG Michael Jordan 30.4 6.6 Scottie Pippen 19.4 6.4 Dennis Rodman 5.5 14.9 LAKERS 2008-09 PPG RPG Kobe Bryant 26.8 5.2 Pau Gasol 18.9 9.6 Ron Artest* 17.1 5.2 *--*

*with Houston

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Lakers-Clippers tonight

When: 7:30.

Where: Staples Center.

On the air: TV: TNT; Radio: 710, 1330.

Records (2008-09): Lakers 65-17, Clippers 19-63.

Last season: Lakers won the series, 4-0.

Update: The Lakers will get their championship rings tonight and they will raise the franchise's 15th banner, the 10th in Los Angeles. All the Lakers say they will be excited because of the ring ceremony. They also said they must then find a way to channel their emotions and play a game against the crosstown rival Clippers. The Lakers have beaten the Clippers the last eight games and by an average of 21.8 points . . . When the Lakers sent in their roster to the NBA on Monday, they had Pau Gasol on the active list and third-string center DJ Mbenga on the inactive list. But Gasol sat out the last six exhibition games because of a strained right hamstring and is questionable for tonight's game. Gasol could end up on the inactive roster, and Mbenga could still make the active list for tonight's game.

-- Broderick Turner

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