Their good start is just that to Bryant, Jackson

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

CLEVELAND -- Funny thing, the Lakers don’t seem that impressed by fourth place in the Western Conference.

Kobe Bryant and Coach Phil Jackson were both reluctant to make a big deal out of it, suggesting instead that the Lakers hadn’t touched their potential yet.

“I can’t say that I’m surprised,” Bryant said. “We’re playing well. I think we can get much, much better. I think we’re doing a good job right now, but the key is to keep working.


“These guys are young and a lot of times, a young team can get caught up in playing well . . . and that’s when you start slipping. It’s my responsibility to make sure we stay on top of what we need to do.”

The Lakers trail San Antonio, Phoenix and Dallas and are one of the bigger surprises in the West, overcoming the uncertainty surrounding Bryant’s unhappiness to jump to a 15-9 record. They have won six of their last seven and have defeated Phoenix, Utah, Houston, Detroit, Denver (twice) and injury-struck San Antonio.

They are third in the league in scoring (107 points a game) and have the third-youngest team in the league, according to Elias Sports Bureau. They were the ninth-youngest team on opening day, but that changed when they acquired Trevor Ariza for veterans Brian Cook and Maurice Evans on Nov. 20. The average age of the Lakers is 25 years 181 days, making them older than only Portland and Seattle.

Like Bryant, Jackson was forward-looking. After all, the Lakers aren’t quite a third of the way through the season and have played more home games (13) than road games (11). Plus, it’s only December and they got off to a 26-13 start last season.

“Well, we hope it’s the same when it comes to be April, whatever, 17th, 20th, whatever day it ends,” Jackson said. “We’d like to do as well as we can and we think we can still improve as a basketball team.”

So now the Lakers can leave behind the concept of Bryant’s desire to go to Chicago, no?


“I would guess that seeing a team like that makes Kobe think that perhaps it’s maybe better off that he didn’t end up there in the first place,” Jackson said of the 8-14 Bulls before starting to smile. “But knowing him, he’d probably think that if he was there, it’d be different.”

Kobe vs. LeBronJames? Whatever.

Although he and James are friendly, Bryant has been part of too many over-hyped matchups to be affected by tonight’s game against Cleveland.

“This is my 12th year,” he said. “It does nothing for me.”

Bryant did, however, have kind words for James.

“I think he’s a great facilitator,” Bryant said. “He’s scoring the ball now for his team. His team pretty much needs him to do everything, so he’s been able to kind of elevate his game accordingly.”

Smush Parker is making news in Miami, although not the type the Heat envisioned when signing the former Lakers starter to a two-year, $4.6-million contract during the off-season.

Parker has not been with the team since a Nov. 26 altercation with a valet-parking attendant and has contacted the NBA Players Assn. for assistance in resolving his issues with the team, according to the Miami Herald.

Miami continues to pay Parker his full salary, limiting the NBAPA’s options, and Heat Coach Pat Riley said he had not decided what to do with Parker, whether it be trade him, release him or buy him out of his contract.

Parker, 26, was averaging 4.8 points and 1.7 assists in nine games with the Heat.


at Cleveland, 5, TNT, Channel 9

Site -- Quicken Loans Arena.

Radio -- 570; 1330.

Records -- Lakers 15-9, Cavaliers 11-15.

Record vs. Cavaliers (2006-07) -- 0-2.

Update -- The Lakers have lost three consecutive games against the Cavaliers, including a 99-90 loss last season in Cleveland. Bryant had 36 points on 12-for-24 shooting in that game, and James had only 18 points on five-for-16 shooting, but the Lakers couldn’t build on a 79-76 lead with 4:43 to play.