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Lakers Coach Phil Jackson conflicted about team's readiness for the postseason

Ljm39nnc Sitting down in his captain's chair -- something usually reserved for the sideline -- Lakers Coach Phil Jackson eyed his surroundings in the team's media workroom.

Everywhere he looked, there were signs that the playoffs were approaching, with Game 1 of the team's first-round series against the New Orleans Hornets set for 12:30 p.m. Sunday at Staples Center. A plush purple cloth covered the table used for news conferences. The surrounding cameras indicated a heightened media presence. And if that wasn't obvious enough, Jackson said, unprompted, in a giddy tone, "Let's talk about the playoffs, OK?"

Yes, it's that time of year when the scrutiny becomes more laserlike in its focus, the games matter more and teams have no choice but to dial up their intensity. But Jackson's sentiments regarding his team appear to be as conflicted as the way the Lakers finished the regular season, surging to a 17-1 mark after the All-Star break, suffering a five-game losing streak and then securing a No. 2 seeding in the Western Conference with wins against San Antonio and Sacramento that solely satisfied the bottom-line result.

"We've had a very up-and-down finish," Jackson said at the team's practice facility in El Segundo on Thursday, a day off for the Lakers before practice resumes Friday. "There's no doubt the last 25 games don't make sense in a lot of ways."

That's why Jackson struggled to make sense of his team in general. He stuck to his long-held belief that the Lakers can three-peat, but the scenarios appear as unwavering as they did when his assistant coaches Brian Shaw, Jim Cleamons, Frank Hamblen and Chuck Person predicted that the team would finish with 55 regular-season wins in what Jackson called a "think-tank session." The Lakers might have exceeded the assistant coaches' expectations, but they fell short of Jackson's hope that they could reach 60 wins.

Jackson also could not provide details about the health of center Andrew Bynum, whose MRI revealed a bone bruise in his right knee. He felt optimistic that Bynum could practice before Game 1 and shared that Bynum "assured me he was going to be OK." But  Jackson said he has yet to see how Bynum's knee has looked since he hyperextended it Tuesday against San Antonio. That's why Jackson refused to even offer a glimpse on whether Bynum could replicate the numbers he posted since the All-Star break: per-game averages of 11.2 points, 12.3 rebounds (trailing only Dwight Howard's 14.7) and 2.36 blocks (trailing Howard's three and JaVale McGee's 2.57).

"We hope he can do that and better," Jackson said. "He's played better for us in stretches during the year. Right now it's about being physically capable."

There are, of course, other health concerns: Matt Barnes' sore knee, Steve Blake's chickenpox and how Bryant will ratchet up the intensity while playing with his surgically repaired right knee. Jackson was unusually excited about getting Derrick Caracter and Trey Johnson from the Bakersfield Jam of the Development League and was eyeing Devin Ebanks' return, after a six-week absence because of a strained left tibia, so that the team could have full-court practices.

Jackson appropriately described the players as "being anxious" entering the postseason, but it's telling that very little of it centered on New Orleans but instead on the big picture. We in the media are partly responsible for that since we ask the questions. Jackson described the Hornets as a "survivor-type team and feisty group of guys" for being able to absorb a number of adversities. The league purchased the team from owners George Shinn and Gary Chouest, who were in financial trouble, in December. Chris Paul's future with the team before the season remained in question, highlighted by his reported comments at Carmelo Anthony's wedding that he'd like to team up with him and Amare Stoudemire. And the Hornets played through plenty of pendulum swings, including a 12-1 start to the season and a 4-8 stretch in February. And they lost forward David West, the team's leading scorer and second-best rebounder, to a season-ending left anterior cruciate ligament injury for the last nine games.

One adversity the Hornets haven't overcome involves the Lakers, who swept them in four games in the regular season. But given the Lakers' situational attitude, that's the exact reason why Jackson is uneasy.

"I hope it doesn't let us think this is going to be anything easy," Jackson said. "We're just going to have to attend to this one. It's the kind of seriousness with this team that's struggled with problems."

Jackson went back to the beginning of the season, which started with most of the Lakers' training camp in Europe resulting in lost practice time. A home-heavy schedule, plenty of off-season rest for veterans (with the exception of Lamar Odom, who played in the FIBA World Championship) and a new bench helped contribute to an 8-0 start despite Bynum's 25-game absence as he continued rehab. But then things spiraled away, including Gasol's fatigue, Bryant's scoring tendencies, Ron Artest's continued discomfort in a reduced role and an inconsistent bench, struggles that hit an all-time low after the Lakers lost to the league's worst team, the Cleveland Cavaliers, before the All-Star break. 

The Lakers solved many of those problems with a 17-1 run after the All-Star break, giving them a chance to make up ground a floundering San Antonio team in the top spot in the Western Conference. But the Lakers' five-game losing streak afterward severely dampened Jackson's spirits.

"There was a goal achieved this year [in securing second place], which was good, but there was a certain response that I didn't appreciate that came along with the losing our opportunity to finish first," Jackson said. "That's the easiest way I can say it."

So what to make of the Lakers entering the playoffs?

It's only natural to draw on Jackson's other championship teams, such as last season's. The Lakers went 4-7 in their final 11 games, but those circumstances proved much different with the Lakers locking in the No. 1 seeding, Bynum sitting out the last 13 games because of a strained left Achilles' tendon and Bryant sitting out four of the last five games because of his sprained right knee. Meanwhile, the Lakers don't have much to draw from in terms of late-season adversity. The Lakers' championship years mostly featured strong finishes in April, including the ending runs in 1999-2000 (6-3), 2000-01 (8-1), 2001-02 (6-3) and 2008-09 (7-1). 

It gets to a point, though, where comparisons are a useless exercise. Even amid the uncertainty about the Lakers' title chances, they're starting on a blank slate.

"We are anxious to get into it," Jackson said. "I think we enjoy playoff basketball as a team," 

-- Mark Medina
E-mail the Lakers blog at [email protected]

Photo: Lakers' Head coach Phil Jackson. Credit: Lawrence K. Ho / Los Angeles Times

 
Comments () | Archives (16)

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Who will be suiting up for the playoffs and who won't be?

What do we play for? RINGS!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

GO LAKERS!!!

Very nice read MM, I enjoyed that piece. It really makes you think, it will take a lot of work, and maybe some breaks to win it all again.

This just occured to me.......If the NOH are owned by the NBA, and David Stern is the face of the NBA. Then we are going up against our favorite commish Stern. all the more reason to finish them off early.

Yeah I know, he has no dealings with the everyday goings on, but...how can he say he's impartial, or his lieutenant, Stu, the 'hit man' Jackson is, when they own the team?

This is not a deep thought, so don't hit me hard with it. I was just thinking out loud on the blog.

I'm conflicted about this business of the chicken pox - who else is susceptible? Isn't there a chance that Blake could've unwittingly given it to someone else before he became symptomatic?
I'm surprised this isn't a bigger story...

jefe101 - The Lakers have made sure everyone is vaccinated.

Fatty - Appreciate the feedback. It was really fun to write and Phil Jackson offered great insight

First day of practice, what does PJ want to transmit to the gallivanting kibitzers hungry for news, a sense of reservation by lowering expectations. First, he puts down the team; Second, the health of the so called beast and Third, the winning accomplishment. This just shows that Phil Jackson is not a Lakerholic. He does not agree with bloggers forecast of his 4th three peat.

How do you look at it Mr. Fatty who came just lately in time for post season while you left us during practice season?

Our next concern is how Kobe ended his season with gripes with refs and 15th TF. He looks like a marked man in the eyes of the zebras. When refs. are against u, you're on target and we're always against 8 persons on the court instead of 5.

Without anybody's knowledge, our secret weapon will not be playing in the first few games but when he becomes available. Chills the everyone, he could spread chicken pox to other PG's lmao! That's our only chance to beat other faster PG's. NBA will be locked out here in the West and players will be quarantined. hahaha what a playoffs.

It's the height of arrogance when one can analyze everything and everyone.........but themselves. That's exactly the type of coach and man Phil Jackson is................unbelievable that he has the nerve to criticize Kobe's play in the last 5 minutes of the game.....but doesn't have the will to analyze how he as the coach and his lackadaisacal coaching effort placed Kobe in a position where he had to win the game twice last night.

The media appear to be enablers as they continue to ask stunningly dumb questions to Phil Jackson.


How about your decision to take Kobe out in that third quarter when Kobe had hit something like 7 shots in a row and had the look of a man ready to bury Sacramento right then and there?


How about your insistance to continue to play an outmanned Luke Walton......................for far too long. No lead is safe with Walton in the game.

The coaching decisions in that game and the sub patterns were as much a contributing factor to the ups and downs of last night's game as anything else.

I'm counting the days until Phil Jackson is gone............forever

I read in the previous threads that PJ was fined for 75K for describing the lockout scenario. He should sue in return the reporter who asked him the question as an accomplice or provoking the punishment. Well, the old man will no longer earn a living few months from now, here comes 75k Stern fee. One of PJ's gripes this season was the reduction of his salary, I guess the best deal there is to issue an IOU to NBA or go to the Superior Court and fight the case, it will not cost him 75k for he has the time to attend to hearings. I'm sure all these fine levies will be subject in the future collective bargaining. It is onerous and there is no due process.

MM, how about start fining bloggers, that's a good idea too. Every time somebody post against the thread, FINE him. Fine Jon K 3x, cuz' he is against rappers, against cats and against sensitive people. He got all their bio chrono and it says they are all baaaaad. lol!

Edwin, this just so happens to be my first video link I've been able to see this season and I found it very interesting.

First, Phil looked very relaxed, more so than I've seen him in the past. (Is this new or has he been like this all year?) Phil really looks like he is looking forward to another playoff run. He may have relayed some 'fears' through his words of a possible Lakers demise, but his facial expressions, his demeaner, and the tone of his voice betrayed what his words may have said. This guy is very confident, and just as excited as the players and us fans in creating some more Lakers history.

What I feel will happen this playoff season? This team has the perfect chemistry to dominate in a very tough competitive year. Jackson knows that. His REAL challenge will be to keep these lazy guys from goofing off. What you saw happen in San Antonio, with that blow out earlier, is the real Lakers team that the league knows they have to beat. And that's what I feel, we will see in the later playoff rounds. NOH is just warm up for the big show.

Lakers Playoffs! Finally !

"It's The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year"

Jon K - Everyone's suiting up. PJ was just unsure how "healthy" Andrew is simply because he hasn't seen him practice yet. The Lakers will practice Friday and Saturday and I imagine Friday's will be the most intense. No doubt, that will be the first post coming out of practice.

Edwin - Hahah funny suggestion with fining Jon K. But I'll let that pass simply because Jon K is a nice guy. Well not all the time. It wasn't like the reporters were provoking Phil. The actual setting was at a hotel in Portland where he met the traveling beat writers for 80 minutes. Very relaxed atmosphere and they met so he could kind of talk and reflect about retirement and big picture type issues before the grind of the playoffs start and there's a huge media presence. By no means were the reporters shining a light over Phil demanding he say something over the lockout. Phil knows what he wants to say and when he wants to say it. The real grievance is the league overreacting to this as if he's opening up some big secret that there might not be a season.

@Fatty, @Edwin Here's the thing about Phil. He's always relaxed! He's definitely excited about the playoffs and that's what I noticed and noted at the beginning of the story. But he definitely has reservations about the team. He was really irritated the team lost five in a row when they had a great chance to surpass San Antonio. So sure part of it is motivation but part of it is the fact that New Orleans is the least competitive among the Lakers' possible first round opponents. Instead of the Lakers embracing that and putting the series away early, he's afraid the team will go through the motions. He also isn't completely sure how healthy Bynum really is. Like all of us, he's always skeptical about his injuries. He believes Bynum can play through it and still be effective, but Phil is definitely skeptical about how full strength Andrew will actually be.

Mark Medina,

A couple questions...

1. Is there a limit to the number of people who can suit up this post-season? I know there's been limits in the past.

2. What's up with Trey Johnson? Is he 10-day to 10-day?

What do we play for? RINGS!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

GO LAKERS!!!!

Mark Medina,

We know how you feel about Kobe's fine--COUGH!!!***You're wrong!***COUGH!!!--but what about the fine on Phil?

It seems utterly insane to me.

Has Darth Stern not been able to get his daily dose of the blood of an 8 year old Kyrgyzstani boy and is awfully moody as a result?

What do we play for? RINGS!!!!

Lakers Today... Lakers Tomorrow... Lakers Forever.

GO LAKERS!!!

pfunk36 - it's nice to know someone can seemingly pay attention and yet still learn nothing.

Because Mike Dunleavy, Randy Pfund, Magic Johnson, Del Harris, Rudy Tomjanovich, and Frank Hamblen did so well as Lakers coaches...


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