The Lakers are 19-10, well ahead of expectations and looking at the possibility of going 4-2 on a trip without Lamar Odom.
Seems like the perfect time for Coach Phil Jackson to knock a few Lakers off-balance with some zingers, a Jackson staple when things are going really badly ... or sometimes surprisingly well.
As the players finished up Thursday's practice, Jackson began to tweak and prod.
It began when he was asked a routine question about forward Vladimir Radmanovic, who has had more downs than ups this season.
"He's a space cadet," Jackson said. "He could be on Mars. I know it's not on Venus, but he could be on Mars. He's one of those guys that you go like, 'Do you understand really what we're trying to get accomplished here?' And he'll go, 'Yeah, I know what's going on.' And then you ask him the next day if he knows that and he goes like, 'Yeah, sure.' And then you go, 'OK, demonstrate it to me,' and he'll lose [focus]."
Radmanovic, who signed a five-year, $30.2-million contract before the season but has been bothered by a sprained ligament in his right hand, is averaging 6.9 points and only 16.6 minutes a game. He recently acknowledged he felt restrained by the offense, saying he was "thinking too much" about the intricacies of the triangle.
"He is kind of a free spirit on the floor," Jackson said. "He just can't get away from that aspect of his game. He's going to touch the ball and shoot it, even though I tell him those aren't usually good shots. He still wants to know if he's hot. If he's not hot, he wants to get hot. If he's not going to get hot, then he wants to shoot so he can get hot."
Jackson stayed with the frontcourt for more criticism, moving on to Kwame Brown, who implied after Wednesday's victory in Orlando that he does his best work on offense with isolation plays.
"That's the only way he knows how to play," Jackson said. "He only thinks he can play if his number's called. It's a real deficit that way. Most of the time, he either travels or loses the ball on the way to the hoop. The little things that he can do for us are very important. He doesn't have to worry about that [scoring] aspect."
Jackson probably picked Thursday as a fire-away day with the knowledge the Lakers complete an already successful six-game trip tonight against Charlotte, one of the worst teams in the league. The Bobcats stunned the Lakers last season with a 112-102 victory here, as former Laker Jumaine Jones scored a career-high 31 points.
"We were embarrassed last year when we came in here and played and kind of got a signal sent to us about coming to play hard and being prepared against the basketball club," Jackson said.
Guard Sasha Vujacic sustained a sprained left ankle in the final minute of a scrimmage at Thursday's practice. It is not known if he will play tonight.... Forward Luke Walton sat out practice because of a sore left knee. He is expected to play tonight.
at Charlotte, 4 PST
(tape delay, 5:30, Channel 9)
Site -- Bobcats Arena.
Radio -- 570; 1330.
Records -- Lakers 19-10; Bobcats 7-21.
Record vs. Bobcats (2005-06) -- 1-1.
Update -- In their third season of existence, the Bobcats are off to another slow start. They are 29th in the league in scoring (92.4 points a game), ahead of only New Orleans. Their 112-102 victory in February against the Lakers marked the first time they ever led a game from start to finish.