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Injuries will begin to test new depth

Times Staff Writer

The injury bug can wreck any NBA roster, but the big names on the Lakers managed to avoid it last season: Lamar Odom sat out only two games and Kobe Bryant didn’t miss any because of injuries, a nearly flawless escape by NBA standards.

But the Lakers aren’t as fortunate 22 games into the 2006-07 season, hit with the news Wednesday that Odom will be out at least four weeks, possibly as many as eight, because of a sprained medial collateral ligament in his right knee. They are already without Chris Mihm the rest of the season because of another ankle surgery, and Bryant has missed three games because of knee and ankle troubles.

If Odom returns four weeks from today, he will have missed 15 games. If it’s eight weeks, he will have missed 28 games.

“These are the cards that we’ve been dealt,” Bryant said. “We’ll have to play the best hand of Texas hold-'em that we can with, like, a pair of 10s.”

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Their team depth is markedly better than last season. It will be put to the test quickly.

“It’s a bit of a challenge,” Bryant acknowledged. “If this happened last year, we’d be in big trouble. We’re deeper now, though. [Vladimir] Radmanovic is getting a chance to get some more minutes out there. When Lamar comes back, we’ll be a better team.”

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Was Odom on track for his first All-Star appearance?

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It would have been a crowded field for the frontcourt spots, with Shawn Marion, Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzki and Tim Duncan perennially making the team and Elton Brand making his first appearance last season.

And, as Coach Phil Jackson theorized, another forward spot has probably been locked down already.

“You think last year that Carmelo Anthony was not on the All-Star team, and this year you know for sure he’s going to be on the All-Star team, so who are they going to leave off?” Jackson said. “This Western Conference has a lot of players.”

Just the same, Jackson offered words of encouragement after Odom injured his knee.

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“I did tell Lamar [Tuesday] night that I thought this was his year to make the All-Star team, even though it’s not as important as us winning,” Jackson said. “I knew it would have been personally a great thing for him.”

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Forward Devean George, a Laker for seven seasons before signing a two-year, $4.2-million contract with Dallas, had six points in 25 minutes for the Mavericks. He had been averaging 4.5 points this season.

mike.bresnahan@latimes.com

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