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Kobe’s Wife Gives Birth to Daughter

Times Staff Writers

Kobe Bryant missed the Lakers’ practice Sunday, but he had a good reason -- to attend the birth of his daughter, Natalia, born midafternoon, the first child for Bryant, 24, and his wife, Vanessa.

Trainer Gary Vitti said Bryant first called him between 7 and 8 a.m. to advise him that his wife had gone into labor.

Bryant is expected to play tonight at Staples Center against the Clippers. He is also expected to play, if selected, in the Feb. 9 All-Star game in Atlanta.

Bryant had said that he would not go to the game if it was too close to the birth.

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Teammate Shaquille O’Neal, already a father with another child on the way, had some advice for Bryant.

“With kids you’ve got to hold them, rub their heads, stand there through all their pain,” O’Neal said. “But Kobe’s a tough guy, he’ll be fine.”

O’Neal was asked to recall the birth of his first child.

“It was during the [1996] Olympics when I announced I was coming to L.A.,” O’Neal said. “I had to drive back from Atlanta for the birth, spend a couple of hours with him, then drive to the opening ceremonies. But it was fun.”

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Kareem Rush suffered a sprained right ring finger near the end of practice, and left the court with his hand wrapped in an ice bag. But Coach Phil Jackson seemed to think Rush would be available tonight.

“We were very concerned it was something worse than that,” Jackson said. “But right now it doesn’t look like a dislocation, just a sprain.”

Rush played a solid game against Houston on Friday, scoring 10 points on five-of-eight shooting. Jackson does not want Rush to lose any playing time.

“He’s starting to play more like a veteran than a rookie, and that’s not easy in our offense,” Jackson said.

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The Lakers split two games on their quick trip, and that’s no longer good enough, according to Jackson.

“All we’re doing right now is treading water,” Jackson said. “We have to get to .500 to feel like ‘now we’re back,’ and we can start making a charge to play for a [playoff] spot. The real mark is when we secure a playoff spot, and that’s not going to be until the end of the season in April.”

O’Neal still feels the team is headed in the right direction despite the loss in Houston.

“We still can do a little better on defense and shot selection,” O’Neal said.

“But the guys are playing pretty good. We’re right there.”


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