Lakers need to show some backbone

Times Staff Writer

Kobe Bryant didn't practice, didn't even shoot the ball Tuesday, but reiterated he would be part of the Lakers' most important game so far this season.

He seemed loose and relaxed as he talked to reporters, a contrast to the lower back spasms that had gripped him since Sunday, biting into his sleep patterns and making him grit his teeth on the long freeway ride from his Newport Beach home to the Lakers' training facility in El Segundo.

He said he was still in "quite a bit" of pain but felt better than Monday and, obviously, Sunday, when he was floored twice in the Lakers' Game 4 loss to the Utah Jazz because of the spasms.

Less than a week after he hoisted the MVP trophy in front of an amped home crowd, Bryant wasn't sure he could do it again -- "I would just leave it on the table and look at it," he said -- but he remained committed to playing Game 5 tonight at Staples Center.

The Lakers' two-game lead over Utah withered away in front of an unyieldingly loud Jazz crowd, setting up a portal for one of the teams to take a 3-2 lead tonight.

Bryant hoped to get in some work at today's shoot-around if his back permitted, but he was already pointing to tonight, regardless. "I think that the key is to try to know what you can and can't do," he said. "I don't think it will be that bad again, but if it is, I kind of know what I can and can't do."

Bryant also had fun with reporters Tuesday, smiling as it became obvious he would give only one-word answers at first.

Did he do any shooting Tuesday? "No."

If the game was Tuesday, would he have played? "Yes."

Are there any circumstances that would keep him out of tonight's game? "No."

Is the treatment making a difference? "Yes."

Was his mood better Tuesday? "Yes."

He eventually opened up. His teammates and Coach Phil Jackson also provided insight.

"There's the possibility he may not shoot the ball well, but that doesn't really concern us that much because he'll find a way to do what is necessary in the ballgame at some level," Jackson said. "As long as he can play, we're satisfied. We'll be OK."

Bryant is averaging 34.8 points, seven rebounds and 7.5 assists in the series and shooting 48.3%. Pau Gasol and Lamar Odom would be the apparent go-to players if Bryant can't fully function.

"If I need to, of course," Gasol said. "I have no problems with being aggressive and taking more responsibility if that's the case."


Forward Trevor Ariza was cleared to practice but is still probably at least a week from being able to play in a game.

Ariza has been out since Jan. 20 because of a broken bone in his right foot. He consulted with doctors this week and was told that the bone was not completely healed, but the chances of fracturing it again were remote.

He will probably need to work on his conditioning before being put into a game situation.

"I said a week or two, he said one week," Jackson said. "We'll see what it's going to be."


Jordan Farmar has only four points and four assists in the second round, a slump that has been magnified because of Derek Fisher's foul troubles.

Farmar has made one of 16 shots against Utah and has had trouble stopping point guard Deron Williams.

"I think that it started in the Denver series," Jackson said. "He started feeling like he was being attacked [defensively] every time he came out on the floor. I think that's something [where] he's got to get back the aggressive nature of his game."

Farmar averaged 9.1 points and 2.7 assists a game as a steady backup during the regular season.


Lakers assistant coaches Kurt Rambis and Brian Shaw are being considered as possibilities for the head coaching job in Phoenix, though the Suns have not formally contacted the Lakers for permission to speak to them.

Rambis, 50, coached the Lakers during training camp last season while Jackson recovered from hip surgery, and he had experience as a head coach in 1999, going 25-13 after taking over for Del Harris as the Lakers' interim coach.

Shaw, 42, has been a Lakers assistant since midway through the 2004-05 season and played for the Lakers during their three-championship run from 2000-02.

Both coaches interviewed for vacancies last season, Rambis with Sacramento and Seattle, Shaw with Sacramento and Indiana.

Mike D'Antoni left Phoenix after five seasons with the Suns to take the New York Knicks' job.


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