Jackson Says It's Sink-or-Swim Time

Times Staff Writer

It couldn't quite compete with the "death knell" assessment Phil Jackson delivered when the Lakers were in playoff jeopardy against the San Antonio Spurs two long years ago, but the Laker coach served notice Monday that the next stretch of games was critical to team success.

Jackson outlined a nine-game string that began Monday against Indiana and ends Jan. 27 against Golden State, with games against Cleveland, Miami and Phoenix included in the mix.

"I think we're really under the gun as a team," Jackson said before Monday's game. "Sink-or-swim type of time for our team right now. [We're] re-banding, patching up a team that looked like we were going to play pretty well in December and then had some struggles with finishing games and now have a little bit of an opportunity to come back and see if we can't reestablish that [momentum] and win some games at home."

Jackson, in his 15th season, usually reserves do-or-die terminology for the playoffs, such as when he famously said another loss against the Spurs would be "pretty much be a death knell" before Game 3 of the 2004 Western Conference semifinals. The Lakers won the next four games to eliminate the Spurs.


General Manager Mitch Kupchak is scheduled to meet with Ronny Turiaf's agent Wednesday morning to discuss contract possibilities for the second-round draft pick.

"We hope to have something happen," agent Bouna Ndiaye said. "We'll wait and see."

Turiaf, who had heart surgery in July, had 21 points and 11 rebounds Sunday for the CBA's Yakama (Wash.) Sun Kings. He is averaging 12 points and six rebounds in eight games.

Ndiaye had established Wednesday as a deadline for the Lakers to sign Turiaf or else the second-round draft pick would play in Spain.

Kupchak will attend the Sun Kings' home game today against Sioux Falls.

"We'll be happy to have him on the team," Jackson said. "He's a good-spirited guy. He's a Mark Madsen-type of guy who's going to support guys off the bench. If he can contribute six or eight minutes in the first month, it'd help us out."


Smush Parker's contract becomes officially guaranteed today, and Jackson issued him a challenge to become a more consistent scorer.

"He usually has trouble picking himself up in the middle of the game if things haven't gone well for him in the first run, so we're trying to get that aspect of that," Jackson said. "He's the one player [behind Bryant and Lamar Odom] that does have some credible ability to do more and fill out his resume a little bit better."

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