Upcoming Stretch to Test Veterans


The Lakers assume that the injured Kobe Bryant, Ron Harper and Derek Fisher will be playing again soon, Bryant first, then Harper and Fisher.

Bryant, who has sat out two games because of a sprained right ankle, probably won’t play today against the Orlando Magic.

And while three victories in a row and eight in 10 games speaks well for depth no one figured the Lakers had, the chore in the coming month might not be in healing their injured, but in keeping their healthy hale.


As Shaquille O’Neal plays on with sore feet, and Horace Grant with a temperamental back, and Rick Fox with a terribly swollen left middle finger, the Lakers play 17 games in March, their busiest month. By March 26, they’ll have played 16 of 24 games on the road.

Though it could be worse--only four of the games are against teams with .600 winning percentages--these are the periods that test Coach Phil Jackson’s preference for veteran players, who break down easier than the young.

“March and April are grueling months,” Jackson said Saturday.

The Lakers have played back-to-back games 13 times already. They play six more such sets in the next six weeks.

“On this swing we’ll really find out about the team,” Jackson said, “and about age and injuries wearing the team down.”


Fox will get a lot of minutes defending Tracy McGrady, and the Lakers will get a lot of occasions to practice their pick-and-roll defense against McGrady and Darrell Armstrong.

The Lakers have stopped neither good scorers nor pick-and-rolls for much of the season.

“He’s going to be aggressive,” Fox said of McGrady. “In order to be aggressive he’s got to have the ball in his hands. So, you want to try to keep that out of his hands as much as possible. That’s tough to do. First and foremost, we have to deny him the ball. When he does catch it, we have to recognize where the help is, to make him take as tough a shot as possible.”



vs. Orlando, 2:30

Channel 4

* Site--Staples Center.

* Radio--KLAC (570).

* Records--Lakers 36-18, Magic 28-25.

* Record vs. Magic (1999-2000)--2-0.

* Update--The Magic has lost two in a row since its season-high nine-game winning streak, and Coach Doc Rivers blamed the defense, which likes to trap and gamble. McGrady averages 27 points and 7.6 rebounds. Armstrong averages 16.4 points and 6.9 assists.

* Tickets--(800) 462-2849.