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Lakers try balancing rest, practice in compacted schedule

Mike BrownIt appeared to be the perfect time for Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Derek Fisher to wear icebags around their legs.

The Lakers enjoyed a double-digit lead in the middle of the fourth quarter against the Utah Jazz. This blowout marked the third game the Lakers played on consecutive nights. And the age attached to Bryant (33), Gasol (31) and Fisher (37) always suggests that Father Time will soon, if he has not already, become an overwhelming opponent to match.

But Lakers Coach Mike Brown thought otherwise.

Gasol subbed in for Josh McRoberts while the Lakers led, 81-55, with 7:46 remaining. Then, after Utah scored five unanswered points, Brown called timeout at the 7:11 mark and subbed in Bryant and Fisher for Steve Blake and Jason Kapono. This prompted some head-scratching, but Brown's decision appeared to be well-calculated.

"I told a couple of people before the game that whether we win or lose, we'd get the day off," Brown said. "I wanted to make sure we secured this win. Utah strung a couple baskets together. if I could've helped it, I wouldn't have put those guys back in."

With the Lakers having had precious little practice time because of the NBA lockout, Brown said he had been able to teach only about one-third of his offensive and defensive concepts to the players. Facing an inferior opponent and holding a big lead, Brown considered the extra seven minutes of play against Utah valuable to build more familiarity in a system that so far has the team feeling tentative.

Chalk this up to Brown trying to strike a balance between resting a veteran-laden group and maximizing instruction time. It's too early to say whether this approach will work out. But it does differ to some degree with former coach Phil Jackson's philosophy.

Jackson normally rested starters in the fourth quarter with big leads. He also parceled out minutes during back-to-back games. Brown has done neither. But he's allowing players to pace themselves in different ways.

He sat Fisher for the team's intrasquad scrimmage and first preseason game so he could catch up on his conditioning. When Bryant tore a ligament in his right wrist, Brown immediately sat him in the team's final preseason game. And the team's weekend practices involve more film study than full-court scrimmages. 

It's something Brown readily admits he's figuring out on the fly.

"At times, I just make sure I don't go too hard or too long," he said. I like to practice and I like to teach. I have to make sure I'm doing my job and not killing the guys. It's a fine balance. I like to work and like to sweat and like for my guys to learn and get better sooner or later. Having that patience and understanding will be a huge part for me in developing this team.

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-- Mark Medina

Email the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Lakers Coach Mike Brown reacts after All-Star guard Kobe Bryant made one of his eight turnovers in the game against Chicago on Sunday at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / December 25, 2011

 
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