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Category: Sasha Vujacic

Lakers vow ring ceremony won't distract them from regular-season opener

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The lights will go off. Another banner will be placed in Staples Center. And every member of the Lakers' staff will receive their championship ring from last season's successful playoff run.

The rings will symbolize various championship totals among various Lakers. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson will have to figure out where to put his 11th ring, since all his 10 others fit two full hands of fingers. Lakers guards Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher will complete one hand with their fifth ring. Lakers forwards Pau Gasol,  Lamar Odom, Luke Walton, center Andrew Bynum and guards Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic still have enough room on one hand with their two rings. Ron Artest will temporarily see his before raffling it off to raise proceeds for mental health charities. And then there's newcomers, such as Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, Theo Ratliff, Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter, who will stand as outsiders but no doubt view the ceremony as something they hope repeats next season.

Regardless of the varied backgrounds among the Lakers' roster, one universal truth remains. They all insist the ring ceremony Tuesday at Staples Center won't consume them once the Lakers tip off their season opener against the Houston Rockets. With an off-season consisting of numerous club appearances, a Dodgeball tournament and getting pulled over in a race car, Artest could've definitely been speaking about himself when he said, "We celebrated enough." Fisher less dramatically noted how the ring ceremony and the game are "two separate things." And Gasol noted the necessity to "focus real quick."

"It's important to do that," Gasol said after practice Tuesday at the Lakers' facility in El Segundo. "I've seen some games after a ring ceremony where the champion has paid that price. I've seen games where the team did a good job in regrouping and refocusing and taking care of business."

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New Lakers poll questions to assess the 2010-11 season

The wait has nearly ended, but there's still one more day of excitement, analysis and speculation before the actual games begin.

If fans on the L.A. Times Lakers blog are correct, the Lakers' road to three-peat begins Tuesday when they host their season opener against the Houston Rockets. Those thinking it's way too early to think ahead of June will be marginalized, considering the Lakers' ring ceremony will inevitably conjure up memories of the 2010 championship and what they need to reach that point again.

The majority of fans on this blog already predicted before training camp that the Lakers will three-peat, and I don't suspect a 4-4 preseason will damper that enthusiasm much. Still, the exhibition season featured many developing storylines that could have great significance on how the 2010-11 season unfolds, leading me to think that it's time for another series of poll questions below the jump.

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Breaking down the Lakers' roster

56964814-1Lakers forward Ron Artest

2010 preseason stats: Artest appeared in all eight games, averaging 10.8 points on 43.8% shooting in 26.9 minutes per contest, and went 10 of 24 from three-point range (41.7%).

Outlook: Artest entered training camp weighing 250 pounds, and the decrease in weight has benefitted his mobility and speed. It's almost a given Artest will thrive defensively, but what stood out this training camp was his improved shooting stroke and greater understanding of the triangle.

Artest mostly likely will be looked upon to lock down the opponent's top scorer, but it should be comforting for the Lakers that he seems to understand better what he's doing on offense. It doesn't look as though the championship, the off-season celebrations or the recent accolades regarding his work on behalf of mental-health causes have distracted or drained him. Though Artest seems to feel more confident than last season, he's just as hungry and determined.

Lakers forward Matt Barnes

2010 preseason stats: Barnes appeared in all eight games, averaging 6.4 points on 44.4% shooting in 19.9 minutes

Outlook: Barnes' self-criticism that he hasn't grasped the triangle as fast as he wants to speaks more to his pragmatism, honesty and hunger than any glaring weakness in his game. Sure, Barnes is still learning. But he has shown he's capable of filling a jack-of-all-trades role in terms of making hustle plays, playing physical defense and occasionally hitting the outside shot.

He's going to be an important piece, considering Bryant will be limited to some degree at the beginning of the season, and Barnes could play either the two or three. That versatility also will help give Artest some rest.

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Caught in the Web: Lakers preparing for the regular season

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--The Times' Broderick Turner explains what the Lakers' coaching staff want out of Pau Gasol.

--The Times' Mark Heisler believes the Lakers will win the West, but predicts it won't be easy.

--Check out Ron Artest's new freestyle.

--ESPN's NBA writers size up the Lakers.

--ESPN Los Angeles' Andy and Brian Kamenetzky talk in their latest podcast about the Lakers' preseason, why they will three-peat and if this team will be the franchise's best ever.

--Slam Online's Ryne Nelson reacts to Kobe Bryant's contention that Portland's Brandon Roy is the toughest defender he's had to face.

--Fox Sports' Charley Rosen predicts the Lakers will win the 2011 NBA championship.

--Slam Online's Jason Rowley argues Bryant is the league's best player, even if the publication ranks him at No. 2 behind LeBron James.

--Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen addresses several NBA preseason questions.

--Lakers.com's Mike Trudell breaks down the team's guards, forwards and centers.

--The Orange County Register's Mark Whicker argues it's not a bad idea if the NBA contracts, but faults NBA commissioner David Stern for allowing the league to be in this position.

--Silver Screen and Roll's Saurav A. Das breaks down the Lakers' schedule.

--Lakers Nation's Emily Wilson argues the NBA's rule on cracking down on demonstrative acts towards calls is misguided.

Tweet of the Day: "Congrats to Celine Dion. Everybody tweet her. She gave birth to twins. Celine and Whitney ; my two favorites" -- RONARTESTCOM (Lakers forward Ron Artest).

Reader Comment of the Day: "Right now, he's rusty, but he's getting where he wants to go. You better practice patience, because he has to too (which doesn't mean he's not pulling it all right now, accordingly to the rhythm of forces and strengths he has now at his disposal). Champions are like fine cars, or extremely precise machines... until everything is at its right place, they don't seem that special. But they're not made and customed as the rest, and when they are in roll, they simply belong to another category. Be patient: your patience will be rewarded and right now we don't need "Kobe". He knows. That's why he's not worried about any of his struggles, and PJ follows him there. I trust him more than myself." -- ZairaAmaterasu

--Mark Medina

Twitter.com/latmedina

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

Photo: Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic passes the ball to teammate Steve Blake as he hits the court during a scamble in the first half of Friday night's game against Golden State. Credit: Mark J. Terrill/Associated Press

Five things to take away from Lakers' 105-102 overtime victory over Golden State Warriors

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1. Who knows when Kobe Bryant will be 100%, but he's clearly getting better: The Lakers have spent much of this preseason where they went 4-4 monitoring Bryant's minutes, aware that they don't want to force the issue regarding his surgically repaired right knee. After revealing that his knee is at about 60% following the Lakers' first exhibition game, Bryant hasn't provided an updated percentage. It's obvious, however, that Bryant's improved his rhythm and mobility as the preseason has progressed. The stat's don't lie: Bryant's 22 points on six-of-19 shooting in the Lakers' 105-102 overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors on Friday in Ontario put him with a 24-of-90 clip in the six exhibition games he's played. That's 26.7%.

The Lakers will need to manage a way to absorb those kind of shooting numbers from Bryant at the beginning of the season, considering he's still rehabbing and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson plans initially to limit his minutes. But the public shouldn't equate Bryant's preseason struggles into possible misfortunes for the Lakers in June. He's not injured. He's coming off summer surgery. So the tales about needing around-the-clock treatment and draining his knee in the playoffs isn't something that will be duplicated, assuming Bryant doesn't suffer another injury.

I wondered whether Bryant would push the issue too much this pre-season and allow his well-intentioned competitive spirit to kick into rehabbing the knee right away. But he and Jackson agreed the right approach entailed going through a gradual process. I wondered whether it was necessary for Bryant to play 27 minutes in the Lakers' game in Spain against FC Barcelona and there were instances he shot the ball too much. But all in all, Bryant showed progress.

Interestingly, Bryant's gradual rehab mirrored his performance Friday against Golden State where he started off slowly and began establishing a rhythm late in the game. After missing three of his first four shots, Bryant ended the first half making two of his next three. He missed the next three of four attempts and sat out to start the fourth quarter, leading many to believe he was done for the night. But with the Lakers making a rally, Bryant reentered with 6:39 remaining. He missed three of his four shots, but his layup and four free throws pointed to Bryant's improved mobility and aggressiveness in creating his own shot.

Bryant will have to get to the point where he's knocking down shots on a consistent basis, but the fact that his movement has improved each game clearly shows he's on his way. The Lakers just don't know how fast his improvement will accelerate from here.

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Poll Question: Who will be the next Laker to get engaged?

49485793Within the last week, both Lakers reserve guards Shannon Brown and Sasha Vujacic showed they're going to compete for coverage in the celebrity gossip pages as well as try to crack the shooting guard spot behind Kobe Bryant. Brown got engaged to pop singer Monica last weekend, while Vujacic on Thursday confirmed his engagement to tennis star Maria Sharapova. At the rate things are going, I wouldn't be surprised if another Laker gets engaged this week, giving Lamar Odom plenty of responsibility to share his advice on what he's done to manage his high-profile marriage with reality TV star Khloe Kardashian.

So who will be the next Laker to tie the knot? Coach Phil Jackson already has plenty of rings -- 11 championships, to be exact -- but will he add a wedding band to his collection after proposing to Lakers executive vice president Jeanie Buss? Will the next celebrity marriage include forward Pau Gasol and Spanish reality TV star Silvia Lopez Castro? Or perhaps rookies Devin Ebanks and Derrick Caracter will soon find a significant other in Tinseltown?

One thing is for certain: A television executive needs to pitch this as a reality show. After all, Ron Artest has postponed filming his show because he wants to concentrate on the season, so there has to be something to fill the void.

-- Mark Medina
Twitter.com/latmedina

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

Photo: Lamar Odom and Khloe Kardashian. Credit: Angela Weiss / Getty Images

Caught in the Web: Reactions to Lakers' 120-99 preseason victory over Golden State Warriors

56964814--The Times' Broderick Turner focuses on Brian Shaw taking over head coaching duties in the Lakers' 120-99 preseason victory Thursday against the Golden State Warriors.

--The Orange County Register's Janis Carr highlights Luke Walton's season debut before his hometown in San Diego.

--ESPN Los Angeles' Brian Kamenetzky explains how Lamar Odom has proven effective in the paint.

--The Orange County Register's Kevin Ding argues players will learn to adjust to the new technical foul rule.

--Fox Sports ranks LeBron James higher than Kobe Bryant as the league's best player.

--NBA.com's Scott Howard-Cooper ranks Bryant as the sixth best player of all time and doesn't believe Magic Johnson will pursue an NBA franchise.

--The Riverside Press Enterprise's David Lassen focuses on Sasha Vujacic's engagement with tennis star Maria Sharapova.

--San Diego Union Tribune's Tod Leonard details the struggles Luke and Bill Walton have gone through with various injuries.

--Sportsradiointerviews.com talks to Sacramento forward Carl Landry about accidentally knocking into Laker Girl Ashley.

--Sports Illustrated's Britt Robson ranks the Miami Heat at No. 1, the Orlando Magic at No. 2 and the Lakers at No. 3.

--ESPN's Shelley Smith writes a heart-warming story on Ron Artest's circuitous journey.

--The Daily News' Elliott Teaford highlights Shaw's first NBA head-coaching experience.

--Sports Illustrated's Ian Thomsen talks to six scouts, and many of them believe the Lakers will three-peat. But the results show it won't be easy.

--Lakers.com's Mike Trudell details the Lakers-Warriors preseason game.

--Silver Screen and Roll's C.A. Clark previews the Boston Celtics.

--Forum Blue and Gold's Darius Soriano breaks down the Lakers-Warriors game.

--NBA Playbook's Sebastian Pruiti highlights a pretty sick play from former Laker Jordan Farmar.

Tweet of the Day: "Posted in my hotle room hmmm what to do now?? every1 is goin to the casino think i might join, i dnt gamble tho so imma jus watch!" -- DevinEbanks3 (Lakers forward Devin Ebanks)

Reader Comment of the Day: "Great to see the real second unit (Lamar, Blake, Barnes, Theo and Shannon) play fairly well together (even if it was the Warriors). This bodes well, as, aside from a little too hurry-up occasionally, they were playing team bball on both ends of the court for awhile there." -- 63 Footer

--Mark Medina

mgmedin@gmail.com

Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who didn't play Thursday night against Golden State, chats with forward Ron Artest. Credit: Lenny Ignelzi/Associated Press

5 things to take away from Lakers' 120-99 preseason victory over Golden State Warriors

569648161. Head coaching experience should benefit Brian Shaw -- It's incredibly hard and unfair to judge him on coaching an exhibition game for several reasons. He's just holding the fort for Phil Jackson, who missed the trip to San Diego on Thursday for the Lakers' 120-99 victory over the Golden State Warriors because of flu-like symptoms. One game is too small of a sample size. And it's an exhibition game.

Shaw was given the duties because he normally scouts Golden State. And should Jackson have any health issues later this season, the Lakers should benefit that the assistants in Shaw, Jim Cleamons and Frank Hamblen split up the scouting duties. Lakers General Manager Mitch Kupchak has made it clear he isn't leaning one way or another on a replacement for Jackson, waiting to make a decision until Jackson makes it official that the 2010-11 campaign is actually his last season. But Jackson acknowledged during his pre-training camp news conference that he'd like one of his assistants to succeed him.

"Hopefully some of the same success I've been able to be a part of with Phil Jackson," Shaw told me in June at Magic Johnson's post-championship party when I asked him what he'd bring as a head coach. "I've learned a lot of patience from him and how to deal with a lot of different types of egos and attitudes that you have to blend in and make work together harmonious as a team. Hopefully that calm helps you weather through a storm."

2. The Lakers shoot much better -- You have to measure it for what it is, considering a high-octane offense is the norm when facing Golden State. You also have to consider that the Lakers at the beginning of the game appeared as if they can't wait until the season's over. But the fact that six players cracked double figures, the Lakers shot 58.8% and the team had 30 assists revealed at least a few positive signs. After all, the Lakers shot a measly 33.3% Tuesday against Utah.

Pau Gasol has spent most of the preseason phasing back into basketball shape. At times, it looked like he had lacked the necessary energy to fill the leader spot that Jackson has wanted out of him, partly because of fatigue and partly because of trying to get back in a rhythm. Gasol looked sharper against Golden State, scoring 23 points on eight-of-13 shooting while making all seven of his free throws. The performance featured Gasol attacking the post on turnarounds, left hooks and more of an effort in exploiting gaps in the defense.

Steve Blake showed that his cold-like symptoms that resulted in a zero-of-seven shooting performance Sunday against the Jazz are behind him. He scored 18 points on eight-of-10 shooting and had seven assists. As much as he's admitted he's been inconsistent in his undersetanding and running of the triangle, I think the issues are fairly minimal. Sometimes he mistimes his passes because he's not fully aware of his teammates' timing. But at this stage in the game, Blake is clicking pretty well with his teammates.

Lamar Odom and Matt Barnes are going to be players this year that will always be heavily involved in the game even if they don't dominate the point total. Just look at Odom's numbers (16 points on five-of-16 shooting, 12 rebounds, two assists, three blocked shots and five turnovers) as well as those of Barnes (10 points on four-of-seven shooting, three rebounds, four assists and two steals). The numbers show they take pride in hustle points when most of the team seemed to be just going through the motions. Case in point, Golden State outrebounded the Lakers, 48-37.

All in all, however, the Lakers bench showed they are going to be worthy of the Bench Mob nickname.

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Lakers' Sasha Vujacic pops question to tennis star Maria Sharapova [Updated]

Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic said he is engaged to tennis star Maria Sharapova.

Vujacic, who spoke before the Lakers played the Golden State Warriors in an exhibition game on Thursday night in San Diego, said the couple has not set a date.

Also, Vujacic, 26, said Sharapova, 23, said "yes' to his "old-school" proposal.

"We are both really happy," Vujacic said.

[Updated at 8:20 a.m.: Sharapova's agent confirmed the engagement in an e-mail to The Associated Press.]

-- Broderick Turner

Lakers waive Trey Johnson and Drew Naymick

The Lakers released training camp invitees Trey Johnson and Drew Naymick on Thursday, putting the team's roster at 14.

The Lakers entered the preseason with four training camp invitees but released Anthony Roberson and Russell Hicks just before the team's European trip.

With the Lakers limiting Kobe Bryant's minutes and Sasha Vujacic missing the last two games because of a concussion, Johnson played the most minutes, appearing five games and averaging 2.8 points and 1.2 assists in 8.8 minutes per contest. He spent the last three seasons playing with the NBA Development League's Bakersfield Jam and international teams in France, Italy and Serbia. His only other NBA experience entailed signing a 10-day contract with Cleveland in February 2009 and playing in four games for an average of 3.5 minutes.

Naymick was on the Lakers' summer league team and played in only two preseason games for a total of 16 minutes. He finished his college career in 2008 as Michigan State's career leader in blocked shots (134), received little attention from NBA scouts and then played in Spanish and Polish leagues. At least landing on the Lakers' summer league roster serves as a small victory for Naymick, considering he couldn't crack Indiana's squad last year.

-- Mark Medina
Twitter.com/latmedina

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

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