Caught in the Web: Short-handed Lakers will try to end Utah's nine-game winning streak
One team enters tonight's contest not exactly sure who will suit up. The other team enters with momentum on its side.
The Lakers will find out at some point later today whether Kobe Bryant will miss his third consecutive game because of a sprained left ankle (a decision that, it's probably safe to say, will not be made based on this wide-ranging poll). Although it's not completely official, center Andrew Bynum will likely be out (right hip) and forward Lamar Odom will likely be in (sore right foot). Given his resurgence in the last two games, it's a good thing Odom is probably in, though he's largely been dependable on efforts that go beyond the box score.
Meanwhile, the Jazz is on a nine-game winning streak, capped off Tuesday with a 109-99 victory over the Clippers. It featured a motivated Carlos Boozer, upset that he was passed over in favor of Clips center Chris Kaman as Brandon Roy's replacement in the All-Star game. It featured the Jazz rallying from an 11-point, third-quarter deficit. And it featured the Clippers commiting 10 turnovers in the second half.
The Jazz (32-18) has won 13 of its last 14 games and currently trails Denver (35-17) by two games and the West's leading Lakers (40-13) by 6 1/2 games. That cushion may not be enough to make Lakers Coach Phil Jackson feel comfortable, but The Times' Mike Bresnahan is figuring out possible travel arrangements for the first round of the playoffs.
Utah already has unseated the Lakers this season with a 102-94 victory Dec. 12, a day after Bryant suffered the avulsion fracture to his right finger. Tonight, Utah will face the Lakers lacking full strength, but guard Derek Fisher says that's a challenge the team will have to overcome.
When asked how injuries might affect the team's game plan, Fisher said: "It definitely makes it tougher for us to have those key match-up advantages.
"But it takes it back to what we talked about before, which is relying on everybody's ability to contribute and make plays. That's what we'll have to do to try to win the game."
More Lakers links (after the jump)
--Updated 10:44 a.m. Bryant and Odom were named to the 2010-2012 U.S. Men's basketball team.
-- Jackson may have surpassed Pat Riley as the Lakers' all-time-winningest coach, but The Times' Bill Plaschke breaks down why the Zen master doesn't exactly feel fully immersed in L.A. "I get claustrophobic in cities if I've been there too long," Jackson told Plaschke. "I still have that country bumpkin kind of thing, I need some open spaces between me and people."
-- Need to see Shannon Brown dunk before the NBA All-Star Dunk Contest? By now, you've probably watched videos at LetShannonDunk.com too many times, so check out Brown's face-off with LeBron James in 2003.
-- USA Today's Jeff Zilligitt has a quick but comprehensive Q&A with Brown.
-- There's a chance Brown won't have to worry about unseating defending champion Nate Robinson. The New York Daily News' Frank Isola reported the Knicks guard may sit out of the contest because of a strained left groin.
-- HoopsWorld's Eric Pincus reports that sources have told him the Bulls are placing greater emphasis on securing cap room this summer than making a postseason run. Of course, that's of high interest to Lakers fans because of the possibility that Chicago guard Kirk Hinrich could be traded. Because Sasha Vujacic is not a huge selling point for the Bulls, Pincus thinks the team's best option may involve "scrounging the waiver wire or holding pat at the deadline."
-- The Lakers aren't the only ones interested in what the Bulls have to offer. The Chicago Tribune's K.C. Johnson says the Orlando Magic is one of many teams Chicago has talked to in hopes of trimming down its payroll before the Feb. 18 trade deadline.
-- Fans worried that Lamar Odom's Taco Bell commercial means he's continuing his unhealthy eating habits can take solace that he's just appeared in a Power Bar commercial.
-- In a roundtable discussion, Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen, Jack McCallum, Frank Hughes and Chris Mannix debate all things NBA, including whether the Denver Nuggets are the Western Conference's team with the best chance to beat the Lakers come postseason play.
Tweet of the day: "Shannon said he is going to use Kobe as a passer on one of his dunks on Saturday. See, Kobe can pass. He could have picked Pau." -- mcten (ESPN Los Angeles' Dave McMenamin).
-- Mark Medina
Photo: Ron Artest, right, reaches in on Utah Jazz forward C.J. Miles, left, attempting to steal the ball during the second half of a regular season game in December. Credit: Steve C Wilson / Associated Press