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Medvedenko, Divac Hope to Fill Hole in the Middle

Times Staff Writer

At times Friday night at Staples Center, the San Antonio Spurs appeared as if they were running a layup drill. Unfortunately for the Lakers, it was during the game. There were stretches of Friday night’s 105-96 Laker loss when the team’s interior defense was nowhere in evidence.

The big body who used to patrol that area, fellow by the name of Shaquille O’Neal, isn’t coming back. But two other big bodies hope to soon return for the Lakers. In the meantime, those two agonize over their absence.

“It’s frustrating to sit on the bench,” said 6-foot-10, 250-pound Slava Medvedenko, who hopes to make his season debut this week after being out because of a bruised heel.

Medvedenko is looking forward to playing in Coach Rudy Tomjanovich’s up-tempo offense after struggling at times in Phil Jackson’s triangle scheme.

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“I will have more space to move around,” Medvedenko said.

Just as eager to return, but not as close, is 7-1, 260-pound Vlade Divac, who is still several weeks away. Divac has been sidelined because of a herniated disk in his lower back.

“It’s tough,” Divac said. “It’s always been tough when you have to sit.”

Divac, the back pain now reduced to only morning stiffness, was a full participant in Saturday’s practice at the Lakers’ El Segundo training headquarters.

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Friday’s difficulties can be explained by a lack of familiarity by new teammates still learning each other’s moves, according to Divac.

“We let Tim Duncan get some easy baskets,” Divac said. “You have to learn to trust that your teammates will be there, that even when you make a mistake, you know someone [is covering] behind your back. Guys are going to have to explore each other a little bit.

“I tell them, ‘You are going to learn. You can either take the hard way or the easy way.’ ”

TONIGHT

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vs. Atlanta, 6:30, FSNW

Site -- Staples Center.

Radio -- KLAC (570), KWKW (1130).

Records -- Lakers 1-2, Hawks 0-2.

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Record vs. Hawks (2003-04) -- 1-1.

Update -- The Laker front line will get another test against Atlanta forward Antoine Walker, acquired from Dallas in the off-season. The 6-9, 245-pounder leads the Hawks in scoring (22.5) and rebounding (10.5). Winless in their first two games, the Hawks return to Atlanta after tonight for their home opener Tuesday against the Cleveland Cavaliers.


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