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Lakers vow to keep intensity during shortened season

The Lakers begin their 66-game schedule with a grueling stretch of three games in three consecutive nights. After their 88-87 loss to the Chicago Bulls on Sunday at Staples Center, the Lakers took a 9 p.m. flight to Sacramento for their game Monday at Arco Arena. But don't count on Lakers Coach Mike Brown to adjust minutes, or instruct his players to dial back their intensity.

"The tough part for me is I've never been good at looking ahead," Brown said.

Only a few players, such as Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher, can recall what it was like playing in the 50-game season during the 1998-99 campaign. But don't count on them for perspective. Fisher recalls more the team's semifinals loss to the San Antonio Spurs than falling to fatigue. Bryant had different issues than worrying about his basketball mileage and health.

"I really don't even remember much [of that] because I was like 19," Kobe Bryant said. "I don't even know if I was tired or not."

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Things to take away from Lakers' 88-87 loss to Chicago Bulls

Lakers3_600

1. The Lakers blew the game in the final two minutes. The Lakers 88-87 loss Sunday to the Chicago Bulls points to the horrible execution in the final minute. Pau Gasol and Josh McRoberts both missed two fre throws. Kobe Bryant was wrongfully called for a personal foul on Luol Deng. Bryant committed a costly turnover. Derrick Rose then blew past both Derek Fisher and Gasol for a running-hook shot that gave the Bulls a 88-87 lead with 4.8 seconds remaining. Bryant could'n't provide any heroics, as his game-winning shot was blocked by Deng as time expired.

2. The Lakers can't handle the ball. Despite his relentless optimism about his team, Lakers Coach Mike Brown acknowledged being uncertain about whether the Lakers can reduce the 21.5 turnovers they averaged in two preseason games. They cut it to 16 turnovers, but it was a few too many, particularly in the final minutes.

3. The Lakers' early season success hinges on effort. This game hardly looked pretty, but it was winnable. This shows that the Lakers will have to simply outwork teams while still mastering Brown's system. The Lakers have the talent to do that, but they often lacked a grinding mentality in previous seasons. 

4. Bryant maintained aggressiveness despite wrist injury. He didn't follow Fisher's prediction that he'd open the game by shooting a 22-footer to prove his right wrist is healthy. Despite not wearing any device to protect the torn lunotriquetral ligament, Bryant maintained his aggressiveness and showed that it wouldn't affect his play or shot.

Bryant finished with 28 points on 11-of-23 shooting shooting in 35 minutes, attacking the basket as he would in any other game. He drove in for a reverse layup past Bulls guard Ronnie Brewer and Noah. He ran high pick-and-roll sets with Pau Gasol. He looked comfortable shooting pull-up jumpers. He even stole a pass with his right hand and connected with Derek Fisher on a fast break. 

It's obvious that Bryant's wrist injury at least partly contributed to his eight turnovers. He often committed those when he ran isolation sets that required a lot of dribbling. Bryant can mitigate that by limiting shots through spot-ups and off-the-ball movement. Still, it was a good showing considering the circumstances Bryant faced. That's why it's fitting Bryant puncuated the night by making a fall-away jumper that gave the Lakers an 87-81 lead with 54.6 seconds remaining.

5. The Lakers' defense appeared in flashes. The Lakers rotated their frontcourt so effectively to ensure Rose stayed out of the paint that he remained scoreless in the first quarter. But that effort didn't hold up as Rose finished with 22 points on eight-of-12 shooting. The Lakers appeared to communicate frequently on closeouts, but Chicago still went seven of 15 from three-point range. The Lakers showed effort defensively. They executed well at times in limiting Rose's drives, Chicago's inside presence and its outside shooting. But it wasn't always consistent.

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Kobe Bryant takes full part in practice Saturday

No one can predict to what degree Kobe Bryant's torn lunotriquetral ligament in his right wrist will affect his game, if at all.

Answers will emerge only when the Lakers take the court Sunday in their opener against the Chicago Bulls at Staples Center. But for now, Lakers fans can take comfort knowing that Bryant took full part in practice Saturday at the team's facility in El Segundo and still plans to play in the Lakers' season opener. He did not participate in individual shooting drills, however, when the facility was opened to the media.

Those are all the details we have for, well, obvious reasons.

"I'm fine," Bryant said. "I'm not talking about my injury."

Meanwhile, Coach Mike Brown and Bryant's teammates all said he looked fine, too. Not that this should really surprise anyone. After all, longtime teammate Derek Fisher predicted Bryant would appear in the season opener, even if had to cut his own wrist off. 

"I don't know if it's as much about his physical ability to play through pain as it is his mentality capacity and strength," Fisher said. "Your ability to focus has to be at an all-time high to push through certain levels of pain and still be effective and still be the kind of player that he's going to be."

That involved for Bryant taking what he called "subtle" albeit unspecified adjustments to his game. But it appears to have gone unnoticed. At least, that's what the Lakers are saying. 

"He's done some things where he has not said one word and has just kept playing," Brown said. "Knowing what he's going through now, he's one of the toughest guys I've ever been around. It's a little surprising when you're around him to see how mentally and physically tough he is."

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Kobe Bryant participates in Friday's practice

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-- Mark Medina
Email the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Andrew Bynum not surprised about reduced suspension

Andrew BynumThis hardly ranks as Andrew Bynum's favorite Christmas gift.

Nothing will ever replace the Hot Wheels cars he received as a young kid. But Bynum receiving a reduced suspension from five games to four because of the NBA's shortened schedule serves as a nice stocking stuffer. Bynum, who received the initial suspension in May after delivering a forearm at guard Jose Barea in a playoff game against Dallas, sounded hardly surprised about the decision. He still considered the suspension "tough."

"The only reason it was reduced was because the season itself is shorter," Bynum said, referring to the NBA's 66-game schedule, a 19.5% reduction from a typical 82-game season. "It makes sense, mathematically."

As for the Lakers, they all responded in their own way. Lakers guard Kobe Bryant let out a nonchalant "yippee" when asked about the news. Lakers Coach Mike Brown jokingly pumped his fist in delight and enthusiastically shouted, "Way to go NBA!" And Lakers guard Derek Fisher made it clear his role as the National Basketball Players Assn. president played no role in ensuring Bynum a reduced suspension.

"Just like for the NBA, there can be sometimes conflicts of interest," Fisher said in a subtle dig toward the league nixing the NBA-owned New Orleans Hornets from trading Chris Paul to the Lakers. "Individual situations, I have to be very careful about getting mixed up in those things."

Bynum will return to the Lakers' lineup Dec. 31 against the Denver Nuggets instead of a New Year's Day appearance at Denver's Pepsi Center. But that doesn't exactly wipe out some of the challenges the Lakers face. Bynum can't be present at any of the Lakers' four games and will make up for lost time by running on the treadmill and receiving extra coaching from assistant Darvin Ham. Forward Pau Gasol will also slide in at center, while Josh McRoberts will assume the power forward spot. 

"I'm happy to have Andrew next to me for as many games as possible," Gasol said. "We're a very dangerous couple in there. I'm looking forward to playing with him. But obviously we won't have him the first four games. We'll have to manage and fight through whatever we're facing."

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--Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Lakers center Andrew Bynum leads with his forearm and elbow as he meets Mavericks point guard Jose Barea at the rim on a driving layup in the fourth quarter of Game 4 of the 2011 Western Conference semifinals. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / May 8, 2011

Derek Fisher, Matt Barnes, Steve Blake on stage with 50 Cent

The well-spoken Derek Fisher doesn't exactly jibe with 50 Cent's gangsta persona. But the Lakers guard apparently remains such close friends with the accomplished rapper that he introduced him on stage Thursday night on Fox's "X-Factor."

Darius Morris is just trying to fit into a veteran-laden squad. But just as it appeared he knew the words to 50 Cent's "In Da Club," Morris has looked quite comfortable with the Lakers.

Steve Blake has renewed confidence and swagger on the basketball court, but he couldn't have appeared more awkward on stage mingling with dancers.

And Matt Barnes? He's kind of used to this thing. He appears to don as many tattoos as 50 Cent himself. He's already appeared in a music video starring Snoop Dogg and Game rapping "Purp & Yellow."

There are simply too many things to like about this video, and it's not just because of 50 Cent belting out old classics and new hits. It's also because each Laker appearance appeared both unexpected and amusing. (H/T to Pro Basketball Talk's Kurt Helin.)

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-- Mark Medina

E-mail the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Derek Fisher predicts Kobe Bryant will play in season opener

While his right wrist was bound in a plastic brace by a velcro strap, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant took a courtside seat and found one way to satisfy his basketball fix.

It went beyond just watching his teammates warm up before the Lakers' 108-103 preseason loss Wednesday to the Clippers. It also involved repeatedly dribbling the ball with his left hand. He then dribbled up to the corner three-point line and took a few left-handed shots. Just before he departed to the trainer's room to receive more treatment on the strained ligament in his right wrist, Bryant's last left-handed three-pointer swished right into the basket.

It served as the perfect metaphor for what longtime teammate Derek Fisher believes will happen regarding Bryant and the Lakers' season opener Christmas Day against the Chicago Bulls.

"He'll cut his wrist off and play with one before he misses Sunday," said Fisher.

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Things to take away from Lakers' 108-103 loss to Clippers

Clippers

1. This was no preseason game. Kobe Bryant may have laughed about any increased excitement about a Lakers-Clippers exhibition game because of Chris Paul's arrival. But the 19,060 at Staples Center in the Lakers' 108-103 loss Wednesday over the Clippers said otherwise. Fans equally cheered and booed for the Lakers and Clippers. Laker and Clipper fans competed with each other over chants. The level escalated after each Blake Griffin dunk or Andrew Bynum putback. Matt Barnes and Josh McRoberts both played chippy with Griffin whenever he entered the lane. This marks the beginning of a more legitimate backyard matchup.

The intensity reached its full tilt after Barnes pushed Griffin to the ground after receiving an entry pass inside midway through the third quarter. Barnes rightfully earned a flagrant 1 foul, but Griffin surely exaggerated in falling down, similar to when he fell down after Barnes' shoulder lean in the final minute. Either way, it nearly sparked a fight and increased the bad blood.

2. The Lakers lack a definitive backup for Kobe Bryant and that likely won't change. Jason Kapono started at shooting guard, but provided little presence, finishing with zero points. But the stats are hardly the issue. He doesn't handle the ball as much as Bryant does, as his game mostly hinges on moving off the ball. Rookie guard Andrew Goudelock proved to be a mixed bag. He tried way too hard in trying to impress the coaches with his shooting stroke at the beginning and playing overly aggressive on defense. But he appeared to settle down, finishing with nine points, including a three of five showing from three-point range. 

3. The Lakers' third-quarter effort looked horrible. In what looked eerily similar to Monday's exhibition loss to the Clippers, the Lakers looked flat on both offense and defense in the third quarter. The Clippers outscored them 30-17. The Lakers went on a stretch from the 7:46 mark to 3:10 without a field goal. Meanwhile, the Lakers appeared sloppy by committing nine turnovers

4. Andrew Bynum looked impressive. He elevated his game the most in Bryant's absence because of a torn wrist ligament, posting  26 points on 11 of 25 shooting and 11 rebounds. His points came off numerous putbacks and lobs. But the most impressive involved posting up on DeAndre Jordan and using his footwork to throw him off balance and drive into the lane. Running up and down the floor remains an issue. But his postwork proved to be unmatched. Couple that with Pau Gasol's 13 points on five-of-seven shooting and it proved hard to stop the Lakers in the post. 

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Things to watch in second Lakers-Clippers preseason game

Some things to keep an eye on when the Lakers and Clippers meet tonight for their second preseason matchup:

1. How much improvement will the Lakers make on defense? The Lakers' 114-95 loss to the Clippers on Monday highlighted plenty of reasons why Coach Mike Brown remains upset with the team's defensive effort -- including closing out on perimeter shooters, a huge factor in why the Clippers went 13 of 28 from three-point range. There's also the problem of getting back on transition defense, a large part of why the Clippers scored 29 points off the Lakers' 21 turnovers. And there's also the matter of the Lakers having little answer for Chris Paul's 17 points.

The Lakers' first preseason game was a potent reminder that they'll likely struggle for most of the season in defending against quick teams and stopping fast-break points. One practice session won't rectify that. But the Lakers and, most notably, Kobe Bryant can easily improve on closing out on shooters. Part of it is the team's learning curve, because most of the concepts last season centered on forcing drivers into the lane. Brown's defense has similar ideas in that department, but it also stresses keeping perimeter shooters honest.

2. Can the Lakers' offensive chemistry improve? Everyone -- Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum included -- acknowledged making reads and cuts that mirrored Phil Jackson's offense at different times during Monday's game. That led to confusion on how the Lakers should run Brown's "strong corner" offense, making the inside production from Gasol (16 points) and Bynum (15 points) pretty deceptive. Because the Lakers' offense hinges more on their production, such mishaps will significantly weaken their options.

3. How much should Kobe play? The Lakers diagnosed him with a sprained right wrist after taking a fall during Monday's game, but he practiced Tuesday and is expected to play in the rematch. But it'd be a good idea for Brown to minimize Bryant's minutes so he can heal and the Lakers can further figure out who should play behind him at shooting guard. 

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Mike Brown plans to use Derek Fisher on Wednesday vs. Clippers

Derek Fisher

After missing an intrasquad scrimmage and the Lakers' first preseason game, veteran guard Derek Fisher is expected to play in Wednesday's exhibition against the Clippers.

Fisher spent most of Tuesday practice's working on his shooting and didn't speak with reporters. But Coach Mike Brown said his final decision on playing Fisher hinges on how the 37-year-old's body felt after practice. Neither Brown nor Fisher have said the rest points to any specific injury. Instead, they have mentioned Fisher's need to catch up on his conditioning after labor negotiations this past summer disrupted his normal workout schedule.

Meanwhile, the Lakers' depth continues to be tested. Kobe Bryant was diagnosed with a sprained right wrist, though he practiced and later received treatment. Forward Devin Ebanks missed Wednesday's practice because of a sore right foot and is expected to have an MRI later Tuesday. Should Ebanks' injury turn out to be serious, Brown said he would start Matt Barnes again at small forward. Lakers reserve guard Steve Blake has a sore right knee after colliding with Clippers guard Chris Paul on Monday, but Blake is expected to play in Wednesday's exhibition. 

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Derek Fisher points to off-seasons off the court as key to his longevity

— Mark Medina

Email the Lakers blog at mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Point guard Derek Fisher works on his jump shot at the end of the Lakers' first practice last week at their El Segundo training facility. Credit: Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times / December 9, 2011

Derek Fisher still slowed by limited off-season workouts

Out of the corner of his eye, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant noticed something about Derek Fisher that even caught him off guard.

The two have bonded since entering the NBA in 1996, winning five championships and sharing the co-captain roles in recent seasons, so not much surprises Bryant about Fisher. But this did. On the far end of the court following Saturday's practice, Fisher dribbled two basketballs in side-to-side motions while wearing flashing glasses.

"What the hell is going on over there?," Bryant said, smiling with a confused expression. 

A team official explained that the glasses were designed to hinder Fisher's eyesight, requiring him to  take extra care with his ballhandling and court awareness. Chalk it up as one example of Fisher trying to play catch-up on his practice time.

"The conditioning level is starting to get there," said Lakers Coach Mike Brown, who plans to bench Fisher in Monday's preseason game against the Clippers so he can rest. "What makes it tough for him is he wasn't able to prepare or train like he normally has in the past."

That's because Fisher's off-season activities were dominated by his role as NBA Players Assn. president during the protracted labor negotiations. In recent seasons, Fisher's workouts usually entailed two 90-minute sessions for three consecutive days, emphasizing endurance, core, balance and stability in the morning, and strength in the afternoon. Once mid-August hit, Fisher usually played pickup basketball and worked on speed drills.

Fisher didn't exactly spell out how much his conditioning was affected, but when he talked about negotiation meetings ending as late as 5 a.m. it's not hard to do the math. Even having a fitness center in his hotel didn't exactly mitigate his hectic schedule.

"It was awkward," Fisher said. "There were days where I couldn't specifically get done the things I wanted to get done. But I was always able to get some stuff done."

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