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It’s Time to Crunch Lakers’ Numbers

In honor of Kobe Bryant’s new number -- and one of my favorite TV shows -- here are 24 thoughts on the Lakers.

24 Those digits sure look strange beneath Bryant’s name on that gold jersey and it will never feel quite natural, like Joe Montana wearing a Chiefs uniform. Bryant says he wore No. 24 in his first year of high school ball, and that it also represents maximizing every hour of every day.

23 Luke Walton was signing an item Bryant had already autographed, saw a 24 next to Bryant’s name, and did a double-take. “It’ll be a little strange at first,” Walton said of his teammate’s new number. “But you kind of always know where Kobe is, no matter what his number is.”

22 Andrew Bynum looks like a different person, as if someone replaced the skinny kid with a veteran power forward. He says he weighs 285 pounds. That’s what they listed him at last year. Trust me, he’s bigger. “He’s not a boy anymore,” Phil Jackson said. “He’s got that man-type body.”

21 The coaches think the returning players have enough of a grasp on the triangle offense that it won’t be emphasized at the start of training camp.

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“We feel we need as a ballclub to pick it up on the defensive end to do the things we need to do to have a shot at postseason play,” said Kurt Rambis, who will handle the main coaching duties while Phil Jackson recovers from hip replacement surgery.

20 It was painful just to watch Jackson walk around Monday during Lakers media day. He also sounded weaker, his voice raspier and less authoritative than usual. It’s hard to imagine him coaching after this season, let alone after his contract expires in 2008.

19 Two counter-arguments: 1). Rambis said he knows five people who had hip replacement surgery and felt much better afterward. 2) Last time I thought Jackson was gone, after he had angioplasty to clear an artery in 2003, he came back feeling strong the next season. (Then the Lakers let him go.)

18 Speaking of being let go: Mitch Kupchak should really hope the Lakers make the playoffs this season and Bynum shows signs he can be an impact player.

17 Lamar Odom remembers what went right at the end of last season, when all of his numbers went up. “Just finding my places in the post,” Odom said. “Knowing how to manipulate a little bit. Knowing how to break it and still be within the offense.”

16 With Odom playing that way, and with Kwame Brown giving them an inside presence, well, here’s how Walton put it: “When we did what we were supposed to last year...we were one of the better teams in the NBA.”

15 They won’t be one of the better teams until Bryant fully recovers from surgery on his right knee. I teased Bryant -- who avoided jumping this summer -- that I could outleap him right now, and he didn’t dispute it. When 6-foot sportswriters have more hops than Bryant, the Lakers are in trouble.

14 When Bryant had surgery on his knee three years ago he didn’t return to his old attacking style of play until December. Of course, he didn’t do any rehabbing that summer because he was preoccupied with the pending sexual assault charge. Bryant spent this summer working out with the Lakers training staff and says he’ll be ready to go come opening night.

13 Bryant got to the gym at 5 a.m. some mornings. He said the next one in was Bynum. Jordan Farmar also logged a lot of hours at the Toyota Center, Bryant said. It sure looks like it; Farmar is much thicker than the guy I saw at UCLA.

12 Bryant is also convinced Kwame Brown is bigger.

11 Bryant is very relaxed. This is the first training camp in four years that he hasn’t had some negative issue hanging over his head. The controversy over his second-half disappearance in Game 7 against Phoenix appears to have dissipated, and Bryant can just talk about what’s next, for a change.

10 When Lakers public relations director John Black tried to wrap up Bryant’s interview sessions on media day, Bryant took time to do a couple of TV interviews in Spanish, took questions in English from a Japanese reporter, then chatted informally with reporters.

9 For the Lakers’ sake, it might be better if Bryant were angry at the world. Didn’t it seem as if some of his best games came when he was under duress?

8 Vladimir Radmanovic will do well with the Lakers. Dead-eye shooters such as Jim Paxson and Craig Hodges have flourished in the triangle.

7 After the Lakers blew that 3-1 lead to Phoenix and lost in the first round, it left a bad enough taste to keep the team motivated. “I think everybody feels like they’ve got a lot to prove,” Odom said. “The spotlight is on us, being Lakers.”

6 The TV lights are on them, that’s for sure. They’ll make 24 appearances on ABC, TNT and ESPN. (That’s as many as the Miami Heat.)

5 One reason Bryant better be ready by December: the Lakers have eight road games that month.

4 I have Dallas, San Antonio, Phoenix, the Clippers, Houston and Denver (somebody has to win the Northwest Division) as locks to make the playoffs.

3 That leaves the Lakers fighting with Utah, Minnesota, Sacramento, Memphis and the Hornets for the final two spots.

2 Can’t wait for the new season of “24" in January.

1 In another dramatic story line, the Lakers, after a sluggish start, will ride another strong second half to grab the eighth playoff spot.

J.A. Adande can be reached at j.a.adande@latimes.com. Read more at latimes.com/adandeblog.


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