Sports

'Tough guy' needed, Jackson says

BasketballSportsKwame BrownVladimir RadmanovicAndrew BynumStaples CenterPhil Jackson

The Lakers haven't played a quarter of the 2007-08 season but it's clear that a major weakness for them is a lack of toughness when center Kwame Brown is not in the lineup.

Brown, who has missed the last eight games because of a sprained ankle and knee, may be offensively challenged but he provides a physical presence for the Lakers.

"The only missing part that I have always insisted about is that we need a tough guy on this team," Coach Phil Jackson said about the Lakers, who start a two-game trip at Minnesota on Tuesday.

"Kwame Brown has been that guy for us. Even though he's not personality-wise, but physically, he is a guy who can knock people around and seal our middle. That's what is missing and we miss him when he's out."

It's not that Brown, at 6-feet-11 and 270 pounds, is the Lakers' only big man. But Brown is the team's most equipped to get the job done.

Andrew Bynum, the team's 20-year old 7-foot center, is still learning on the job and has to pick his spots when to be aggressive in order to stay out of foul trouble.

Ronny Turiaf, listed as 6-feet-10 and 250 pounds, has the heart to get it done but he's often overmatched by bigger and stronger players underneath the basket.

Chris Mihm, a 7-foot, 265-pound backup center, is still trying to regain his legs after missing all of last season because of injury.

Vladimir Radmanovic, 6-feet-10 and 235 pounds, plays more like a shooting guard than a power forward.

In the Lakers' 104-97 loss to Orlando on Sunday, their inability to shut down the paint was evident. Magic big man Dwight Howard had his way in the second half and finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and five blocked shot.

Jackson said he hopes to have Brown back when the team returns to Los Angeles for two games at Staples Center next week against Golden State and San Antonio.

After Brown is cleared to return, the key will be to "get him in basketball shape," Jackson said.

"If you don't it will come back and haunt you in another way," Jackson said about Brown's injuries. "He's working hard to come back. We have to give him credit for that."

lonnie.white@latimes.com

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