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Lakers might get some divine intervention in big game with Mavericks

The Lakers are visited at practice by Archbishop Jose Gomez and Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani from Peru on the eve of matchup with Dallas that could determine who finishes second in West.

March 30, 2011|By Mike Bresnahan and Mark Medina

The Lakers didn't appeal to a higher power Wednesday, though Archbishop Jose Gomez was at their practice, as was Cardinal Juan Luis Cipriani from Peru, taking in a scrimmage from folding courtside chairs.

Gomez used to be a San Antonio Spurs supporter but switched allegiances after taking over leadership of the L.A. Archdiocese this month.

"A lot of people were praying and telling me to switch from the Spurs to the Lakers. Prayers work. Now I'm a Lakers fan," Gomez said. "I'm also praying for the Spurs, but a sign from God is that the Lakers are playing much better."

Lakers keep sights on Dallas

It's been that kind of a run, the Lakers 15-1 since the All-Star break.

Kobe Bryant spoke to both Catholic dignitaries after practice. Coincidentally or not, the Lakers play their biggest game of the regular season Thursday at Staples Center against Dallas.

The Lakers lead the Mavericks by half a game for second place in the Western Conference. The season series is tied at 1-1.

How big is Thursday's game?

Enough to turn Lamar Odom into a Clippers fan.

"I hope the Clippers get to beat [Dallas] up a little bit," he said a few hours before the Clippers played the Mavericks on Wednesday at Staples Center. "Hopefully, the game goes into two or three overtimes, a couple guys foul out, get nicked up."

It didn't quite work out as the Clippers lost to Dallas, 106-100.

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The dog days are long behind the Lakers, who are trending upward like no other team in the NBA.

Bryant rarely gives credence to a game before April, unless it falls on Christmas or, back in the day, is against Shaquille O'Neal, but he acknowledges the importance of Thursday's matchup against Dallas.

The Lakers (53-20) have nine games left in the regular season. They trail San Antonio by 3 1/2 games. Playoffs begin in a little more than two weeks.

"Around this time is when it starts," Bryant said. "Games start becoming big games because you're trying to build rhythm, you're trying to build consistency. All these games are good measuring sticks to see how we're going to go into the playoffs."

The Mavericks (53-21) have somehow stayed close to the Lakers despite losing third-leading scorer Caron Butler to a knee injury almost four months ago.

"I'm not surprised at all," Bryant said. "They have so much talent, so much depth. You look at their roster individually, and they're stacked."

Small forward Shawn Marion has picked up a lot of the scoring slack for Dallas, hovering near a 15-point average this month.

Midseason addition Peja Stojakovic became an instant starter, averaging about nine points a game, and waiver-wire pickup Corey Brewer is playing almost 10 minutes a game as an energetic reserve.

Unless Dallas finishes ahead of division rival San Antonio (57-17), the Lakers will win the first playoff tiebreaker if they tie Dallas simply because they're a division winner. Dallas currently has the best record among non-division leaders in the West.

The Mavericks are facing some tough competition.

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Gomez isn't the only Lakers fan. Cipriani played on the Peruvian national team in the 1960s and spoke privately to Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak at the team's training facility. They discussed the Lakers' improvement on both sides of the ball.

"We offered them some prayers so they could finish a good [regular season]," Cipriani said. "They're doing really well these last games. Hopefully, they'll be ready for the playoffs and maybe they'll repeat."

Bryant said talking to the two visitors was "pretty cool."

"That's not common at all," he said. "We have people come in and want to watch [practice], but that was the first time in my 15 years that that's happened."

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

twitter.com/Mike_Bresnahan

Mark Medina is a Times correspondent.

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