Monthly Archive for March, 2011

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Lakers 106, Wolves 98: March 18 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Friday evening home contest as the Lakers played their first game since Monday evening, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Wolves: L. Ridnour, W. Johnson, M. Beasley, K. Love, D. Milicic

6:00 Halfway through the first quarter, the Lakers didn’t look like a team with three days between games, instead coming out focused on both ends while building a 13-9 lead. Pau Gasol had six of those points, the Spaniard looking to remind people that he can fill the box score when he wants to even as Andrew Bynum’s numbers have been the focus of late.

2:11 That didn’t last long. Focused start, perhaps, but the next four minutes were poor. Four turnovers from the home team showed the suddenly sloppy play, which Minnesota took advantage of to take a 19-15 lead. The Wolves had already collected 15 rebounds, including seven on the offensive end.

8:00 It got better for L.A. when Gasol returned to the floor, the Spaniard reaching 13 points rather quickly, alongside three boards and three blocks, to bring the Lakers within one on the scoreboard. One interesting thing out of the first quarter came as Ron Artest was subbed out with about a minute left, and he paused to chat with Phil Jackson, who did not appear happy with Artest (0-for-5) or his shot selection. Also 0-for-5 in the first was Bryant, playing on that sore left ankle, contributing towards L.A.’s 37 percent in the period.

2:34 Fourteen minutes into it for Bryant, and he’d still yet to score. He didn’t attempt a field goal in the second, instead trying to get the ball inside to Bynum (10 points) and Gasol (15), while the Wolves continued to hold a narrow lead at 44-40.

0:00 The Wolves had led by as many as 10 in the first half, but would take just a 2-point lead into the break at 51-49, trimmed in part due to two threes to close the half from Bryant. As has been the case for a few years, the Lakers tend to draw an opponents best effort, and they got that from a Wolves team with only 17 wins, just three fewer than the consecutive times L.A. has beaten Minnesota.

12:00 A piece of news out of halftime: Bryant didn’t start, actually not returning to his spot on the bench until the ball had been inbounded with Shannon Brown in his place. He would return, however, at the 6:18 mark of the third, leaving us to speculate that he was simply getting his ankle worked on for an extended period of time at the half.

5:56 L.A.’s first offensive possession with Kobe back on the floor saw No. 24 create an open three for Artest, which he sank to put the Lakers up two. Artest had made only one of his first eight attempts, but his triple was the sixth make for the Lakers, one more than Minnesota.

0:00 The Lakers closed the quarter on a 7-0 run to take a 78-74 lead into the fourth quarter, with Bryant scoring seven of his 13 points in his 6-minute stint, and the Laker D closing down angles at the other end. Meanwhile, there were about five kids occupying Jack Nicholson’s seats, with Will.I.Am of the Black Eyed Peas sitting to their left. Random.

7:07 Stepping up of L.A.’s bench was Matt Barnes, who first converted an and-1 in transition and then cut to the hoop and floated home his next shot off Odom’s feed. The Wolves, however, had been relentless with effort, as witnessed by 16 offensive boards, keeping the score tight.

5:57 And then things got kind of weird. Beasley had been jawing with several Lakers throughout the night, starting with Artest in the first half, and most recently Bynum. Well, after some contact on L.A.’s offensive end, Beasley drove to the hoop on the baseline and jumped up, only to be met with an elbow from Bynum that knocked him off balance, resulting in a real hard fall directly on his hip. Trash talk ensued, as Bynum stood his ground and Beasley obviously didn’t like it, and the always-up-for-it Barnes coming over to offer his positive thoughts. After all the bodies cleared, Bynum got ejected with a flagrant two foul, and Minnesota took a one-point lead.

1:57 As close as the Wolves kept things throughout, everybody in the building assumed the Lakers would eventually figure it out, and they did with an 8-0 run highlighted by Odom’s pull-up three-pointer. With all of the flagrant, uh, stuff going on, L.A. had picked up its defensive intensity, making things real tough on the road team. The game would end in kind, the Lakers clamping down on defense, Odom adding another jumper and a winning streak over Minnesota pushed to 15 games. Stay tuned for your Postgame Numbers in the next post.

Odom, Gasol Look to Limit Love

Such are the offensive skills of Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol that there is often less focus about their collective defense at the power forward position, which has generally limited good opposing big men throughout the season.

With Minnesota coming into STAPLES Center on Friday evening, that defensive focus turns to Kevin Love, a first-time All-Star having a breakout statistical season with averages of 20.7 points and 15.7 rebounds. In Love’s first game in Los Angeles this season way back on Nov. 9, he exploded for 23 points and 24 rebounds in a 99-94 loss to the Lakers.

Odom in particular seemed to have that in mind when L.A. went to Minnesota a few weeks later, holding Love to without a single point on 0-for-7 shooting, which subsequently set off a 53-game double-double streak that was snapped at Golden State on March 13.

Within that streak was a 13-point, 11-rebound effort in a 90-79 loss to the Lakers in Minnesota on Mar. 1, though Gasol’s length and Odom’s activity combined to hold him to only 2-for-10 from the field, his points coming at the foul line (9-of-10).

Altogether, Love’s average of 12.0 points in three games against L.A. is his second lowest against any team, with Sacramento — another team with elite length at the four and five positions — holding him to 9.5 points. Thanks to his Nov. 9 effort, Love’s boards are at about average against L.A. at 14.0 per game, but he’s shooting just 26.5 percent from the field, his low against any team in the league.

The Art of Coaching

Throughout the 2010-11 Lakers season, Phil Jackson has maintained that this will be his last campaign, and his players are trying to send him out with a would-be ridiculous fourth three-peat, picking up their play to win 10-of-11 games out of the All-Star break.

On the other side of the Atlantic, some of Jackson’s core coaching principles are being carried out by a soccer (er, futebol), coach named José Mourinho.

The 48-year old Portugese skipper, currently of Spain’s Real Madrid, has led three different club soccer teams from the top leagues in Portugal (F.C. Porto), Italy (Inter Milan) and England (Chelsea) to 14 major titles, including soccer’s version of the world club championship, the Champions League, twice.

Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl recently profiled Mourinho (“What’s So Special about José Mourinho) for the magazine, where we learned of the connection to Jackson.

As Mourinho has risen to the summit, he has expanded his horizons, analyzing the management styles at Microsoft and Apple, reading Colin Powell’s autobiography and Phil Jackson’s books, studying John Wooden’s Pyramid of Success.

We had a chance to ask Jackson if he was familiar with Mourinho (yes), relayed Wahl’s quote about having his books read by one of the world’s best in a different sport and asked Jackson if he could see certain parallels between coaching the two sports.

“It’s a compliment, I’ll take it as such,” Jackson replied. “I think soccer is a game that’s very much like basketball in the fact that you’re almost running triangles. It’s a bigger group of guys, but it’s similar to what we’re doing in many ways because it’s about chemistry, it’s a flow game like basketball.”

Jackson pointed out that while the Lakers will score roughly 50 field goals per game, and Real Madrid two or three goals, other similarities exist, both technically and philosophically.

“The aspect of getting good shots and opportunities, setting it up and deploying the defense while committing to an extra pass or two (is similar),” he said. “To get guys to really commit to their teammates and what the purpose is of what you’re doing out there is where the similarity is.”

The latter being a central tenet of the greatest coaching career in NBA history.

“The thing that separates Phil is that he teaches his teams how to problem solve,” said Lakers star Kobe Bryant over the summer. “That’s the big thing, so we can make adjustments on the fly ourselves. As a result, you see him sitting back and we’re doing most of the talking, that’s because he’s taught us to be able to figure things out on our own.”

Jackson mentioned the word “flow” while describing soccer, recognizing that the coach can do little compared to many sports once the game begins. It makes creating a system that players buy into all the more important, as well as the aspect of motivation where Wahl says Mourinho excels.

Ask people what makes Mourinho unique, and one common response is this: His players almost universally adore him. Didier Drogba, the prolific Chelsea striker, says he felt “like an orphan” after Mourinho departed West London in 2007. “He’s a great man,” Drogba says. “You can see how close players are with him. He has a way of getting into players’ minds as a manager—and as a man, the kind of man who’s ready to give you all his confidence and trust because he expects that you’ll give it back.

“Getting into players’ minds as a manager” and inspiring “confidence and trust” are things we’ve long heard from Jackson’s players.

“He has a great knack for bringing guys together,” said Bryant. “He’s not a rah-rah coach. I think (certain coaches) lose attention because they’re always trying to pump guys up. He focuses on execution, the triangle offense, and a consistent message every single day.”

Lakers backup point guard Steve Blake has played 68 games under Jackson, and said he’s been fully on board from the onset.

“It’s been awesome,” he revealed. “We can win a great game or lose a bad game and still, it’s just, ‘Let’s just come in the next day.’ Most coaches will yell or scream after the game, or jump up and down after a big win…

“I just appreciate how consistent he is, how he continues to make us better at both ends of the floor. A lot of teaching, a lot of watching film and correcting ourselves. I really enjoy the consistency and the knowledge he brings every day.”

“Our personality of our team is made up of his thought process, his philosophies,” concluded Bryant.

Perhaps Jackson will flip on the TV after Lakers practice on Wednesday and see how Mourinho has imparted his philosophy when Real Madrid takes on Lyon of France in the Round of 16 of the Champions League.

Lakers – Magic Postgame Numbers

We kept track of some of the more interesting numbers in L.A.’s 97-84 victory over the Orlando Magic, the Lakers winning for the ninth time in 10 games out of the All-Star break:

5 Turnovers for the Lakers, coming one short of the season low accomplished at New Orleans in a Feb. 5 win. A shot clock violation with 1:50 to go (Shannon Brown) kept the Lakers from matching the Hornets game.

7 Teams of the 10 L.A. has beaten since the All-Star break that will be in the playoffs this season.

9 Turnovers for Dwight Howard.

16 Bench points for Lamar Odom to lead L.A., eight coming in each half, including two fourth quarter three-pointers as the Lakers put the game away. Odom added seven boards and three assists.

17 Biggest lead for the Lakers after they didn’t lead at all in the first half.

18 Rebounds grabbed by Andrew Bynum, matching his career high. Bynum has been absolutely terrific since the All-Star break, but had his first chance to show off in front of his home fans in this one. He actually outplayed Magic star Dwight Howard, scoring 10 points with four blocks in just 27 minutes, while Howard needed 40 minutes to reach 19 points with 13 rebounds, plus the nine turnovers.

30 Minutes played by Kobe Bryant on his sore left ankle, which he sprained badly in Dallas on Saturday. “The swelling went down, you know, 60 to 70 percent each day,” he said after the game. “It was crazy. Felt good enough to go. It was like the size of a softball in Dallas, the next day it was a baseball, then (today) it was a lacrosse ball or golf ball.” Bryant said it affected his balance in the first half, when he was 2-for-10 shooting, but he figured it out in the second to make five of his next seven attempts.

34 Paint points allowed by L.A., with Howard being held to 22 points on 14 field goal attempts. The Lakers scored 44 points inside.

Lakers 97, Magic 84: March 14 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Monday evening home contest against Orlando, the Lakers looking for a home win after taking 3-of-4 on a tough road trip, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Magic: J. Nelson, J. Richardson, H. Turkoglu, R. Anderson, D. Howard

5:15 Andrew Bynum will tell you that he prefers going against opposing big men who are around his size. He relishes the contact, and recognizes that he has a unique skill set to accompany his size, giving him an edge over most guys his size. Orlando, of course, boasts All-Star Dwight Howard, whom Bynum outplayed in the opening stanza while going for seven rebounds, four points and a swat of Howard, who had three points and two boards, Orlando still up 13-12 thanks to 5-of-9 shooting.

0:00 Even with the Lakers falling behind 25-19 at the quarter due to their putrid shooting (27 percent), the arena was abuzz due to the outstanding play of Bynum, who continued to dominate Howard while amassing six points, 11 rebounds and three blocks (two of Howard) to just three points and four boards for Orlando’s big guy. Phil Jackson has mentioned how Bynum’s size is overwhelming for most opponents in the league, but most didn’t realize this included the smaller Howard.

8:21 After managing just six points in the paint in the first quarter, Gasol scored six points in the paint in two minutes, getting easy buckets thanks to Lamar Odom’s passing and Howard’s presence on Orlando’s bench. Gasol, who’d opened just 1-for-6 on contested shots from the middle of the lane, was up to nine points to lead all scorers.

6:24 Normally when Shannon Brown shows off his 45-inch vertical, he’s soaring through the air for a one-handed hammer dunk. This time, the hops came out for a big swat of Chris Duhon, bringing STAPLES Center to its feet.

0:22.1 Fisher’s pull-up jumper closed the first half scoring, bumping a very poor shooting percentage up slightly to 35.4 percent for the half. The Lakers hit only one three-pointer (also Fisher) to Orlando’s six, and couldn’t be too upset to be down only five points at 46-41 after such a poor shooting performance. Bryant, playing on that tender ankle from a bad sprain in Dallas, missed all but two of his 10 shots, coming up short on several attempts, while Ron Artest missed all four of his shots and Bynum five of his seven.

10:48 The game started with a Ryan Anderson made three and Gasol missed hook, but the third quarter was exactly the opposite, Anderson missing and Gasol converting a short hook. Bynum followed with an and-1 after collecting his 14th rebound, tying the score at 46 thanks to a 5-0 run.

5:30 Gasol’s a night owl, preferring to start his days later as many of his fellow Catalans do from his home in Barcelona, and that proved to reflect upon his game against Orlando. He opened just 1-for-6 from the field, but then made 6-of-7 shots in the next two quarters to reach a game-high 15 points. Following his seventh field goal, Odom hit a transition layup and Fisher a driving reverse layup in transition to put the Lakers up 60-55, their biggest lead of the game.

0:00 The teams played even for the final five minutes of the period, L.A. maintaining a 5-point lead at 71-66, outscoring the Magic by 10 in the first six minutes of the period. The Lakers improved their poor first half shooting in a big way, making 62 percent of their shots (13-for-21) including Bryant’s 5-for-8.

6:04 The starters returned after a terrific stretch of basketball from L.A.’s second unit, who turned that five-point edge out of the third into a 12-point advantage when Bryant, Gasol, Fisher and Artest returned alongside Bynum. The lead reached as many as 16 points when Odom followed fellow subs Matt Barnes and Brown with three-pointers, the first two coming from Steve Blake. After an up-and-down road trip from the bench, a comfort level was clearly reached by the second unit behind a very active STAPLES Center crowd.

3:52 Bynum capped off a memorable individual night by matching his career high with 18 rebounds, the Lakers leading 92-76 as he and Bryant were replaced by Odom and Barnes. Bynum received a standing ovation for his boards, 10 points, four blocks and play against Howard, while Bryant walked straight back to the locker room to begin treatment on his surely-sore ankle.

0:00 The final score, 97-84, reflected L.A.’s terrific second half in it they outscored the visitors 56-38, getting something from all nine players who appeared. More coming soon in the postgame numbers, the Lakers improving to 10-1 since the All-Star break, eight of those teams headed for the playoffs.

Kobe Bryant: “Game-Time Decision”

Lakers guard Kobe Bryant is officially listed as a “game-time decision” for Monday evening’s game against Orlando.

Bryant sprained his left ankle in the third quarter of Saturday’s win over Dallas and was unsure about his status for the Magic game, but Phil Jackson told reporters that the ankle was “much better” on Monday morning.

As is his custom, Bryant began rehabilitation of the ankle literally as soon as the game was over, even walking up and down the aisle of the team plane on the flight back to Dallas to work on range of motion.

Assistant coach Brian Shaw told us that if he had to guess, he’d say Bryant would play, citing the fact that … well … Bryant has played through more injuries than any player he knew, and had the “highest pain tolerance I’ve ever seen.”

Shaw said that the team is prepared to make some adjustments particularly on defense if, in fact, Bryant is unable to play. In that setting, Shannon Brown would likely start as he did when Bryant missed games last year, and the Lakers would have to adjust for Jason Richardson post ups of Brown up, which Orlando’s starting shooting guard would not often, if at all, attempt on Bryant.

Jackson may reveal whether or not Bryant will play for sure at his 6:15 pregame presser, otherwise we’ll literally have to see who’s on the line up card just prior to the game.

Q & A with Pau Gasol

Prior to L.A.’s game against Miami last Thursday, we had a few minutes to chat with Pau Gasol in a discussion that was initially about the improved play of Andrew Bynum, centered upon his willingness to focus on defense and rebounding.

“I think it’s a very mature thing for Andrew to understand,” said Gasol. “Just like when I got to this team, you have to understand, where can you contribute the most, what can you do to be the biggest contributor. What do we need out of a player the most?”

That got us to thinking. What does Gasol consider to be the areas in which he can most contribute? Our ensuing discussion involved his mindset in general with the team, his ever-developing relationship with Kobe Bryant (Black Swan, Black Mamba?) and more. Below is a transcription of the conversation:

MT: Versatility and efficiency are two things upon which I know you pride yourself. Do you have to re-evaluate which elements of your game to use in specific contests on a game-by-game basis, or is there one area in particular that you always focus upon?
Gasol: Well, yes, I evaluate every game how things are going … but you do have to keep certain things consistent. I focus on being a facilitator and making plays, and then defending and rebounding. Those are the things that I’ve tried to improve since I got to Los Angeles because those are the things that really put you at a different level as a player and as a team.

MT: To use the Kobe Bryant analogy that you’ve heard so many times now, how do you weigh the Black Swan versus the White Swan? It seems that you are very much aware of when and why to pick your spots?
Gasol: I know what to do, and Kobe and I (definitely understand each other). He’s not trying to take any credit for my level of play. I do understand, and I know that at certain times I have to be more aggressive, more productive and just initiate more instead of always trying to get other guys involved or make plays for other guys when I’m the one that has an advantage. But I always like to be the balance guy, a guy that brings balance, because if we have too many guys that are trying to be aggressive and do too much on their own, then it disrupts our system, our offense, so I always try to give our team a little balance. Just not too much that you’re not aggressive enough, and you’re too unselfish because sometimes you have to be determined and produce.

MT: With Bryant being who he is, how aggressive can you be without doing too much of what he does for the team? Do you actually have to pick your spots at being the Black Swan when the Black Mamba is on the other side of the floor?
Gasol: You just have to understand the needs of the team and what is asked of, demanded of you. What does the team need from you? That’s what I try to always keep in mind. It’s not so much about me having the chance to attack more or shoot more, it’s just about winning. I try to do what it takes so our team is more successful. If I can get Andrew (Bynum) a few looks inside or (Derek) Fish(er) a few looks in the corner when I’m a pretty good top-of-the-key jump shooter than I will, instead of taking that shot, because I feel like it’s important that those guys get a few more looks so that they’re involved in the offense. That’s going to get their energy level up defensively … you have to get everyone connected, and that’s something that I try to do in this system with this team more so than if I were on another team with different needs.

MT: How would you describe how your relationship has grown, or just is, with Phil Jackson?
Gasol: We understand each other. To me, he has great trust in me and I value it. He expects a lot out of me, and I value that too. I have a good understanding of what we’re doing and our relationship and I like it, I appreciate it..

Editor’s Note: Gasol had to run at that point, as the interview as the media session came before practice and Jackson blew the whistle as Gasol was speaking about him. We had a chance to ask one other follow-up question the next day, in advance of L.A.’s win at Dallas, to see if Gasol cared about being the best European player.

MT: In January, La Gazzetta dello Sport named you the European Player of the Year for the third straight year. The previous five awards went to Dirk Nowitzki. Do you put any particular focus on trying to be better than him individually, or any special pride in the trophy?
Gasol: Yeah, no matter what you want to be recognized as one of the best, if possible the best. To be named the best of something – your country, your continent, the world – that’s something you strive for. It’s also one of the reasons why you work hard and try to better yourself. Against Dirk? I mean, when I match up against other top European players or top players, I just try to outwork them or outplay them that particular night. But he’s a different player than I am so it’s not (just about) a 1-on-1 matchup.

Kobe Bryant Injury Update

With around two minutes left in the third quarter of L.A.’s Saturday evening win in Dallas, Kobe Bryant’s ankle literally touched the court.

That’s how badly he sprained it, landing awkwardly after trying to create a foul against Shawn Marion while rising for a jump shot.

“I thought I was done,” said Bryant in the locker room. “I was just praying that when I stood up, that my foot was lined straight.

“All jokes aside, that really scared me. I wasn’t really sure how it was going to respond, jogging around back here then going back out to the floor and playing was a little different. It felt okay.”

Of course, he is Kobe Bryant, known perhaps more than any current player for pushing through injuries, so the Lakers aren’t counting him out of Monday’s game against Orlando. As expected, Phil Jackson called him a “game-time decision.”

Jackson was then asked if the fact that L.A. has three days between the Magic game and a Friday contest against Minnesota would factor into the decision, since Bryant could potentially have five days to rehabilitate the ankle were he to miss Monday’s action.

“Yes and no,” Jackson responded. “It’d be great to have him get three days off to get better, but if he’s capable of playing, he’ll play.”

Lakers 96, Mavs 91: March 12 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Saturday evening road contest against Dallas, the Lakers looking to get back in the win column after a narrow loss to Miami, with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Mavericks: J. Kidd, R. Beaubois, S. Marion, D. Nowitzki, T. Chandler

4:10 Before a game in Dallas that the Lakers had clearly circled on the calendar, particularly as it could very well impact home court advantage in the playoffs, Phil Jackson had warned his team to pay attention to Shawn Marion. Nonetheless, Matrix scored nine early points with four rebounds in a back-and-forth game, getting consecutive hoops in transition and also taking advantage of his extra few inches over Ron Artest.

2:00 The refs were allowing a healthy amount of contact in the paint at both ends, and after being thwarted early, Gasol respond as Phil Jackson likes by pushing through for two straight hoops, giving his team a three-point lead. L.A. held Dallas to 30.4 percent shooting in the period, but the Mavs hung around by grabbing eight offensive rebounds, staying true to promises they made in local papers to focus on the glass. Pau Gasol led the Lakers with eight points, and Andrew Bynum six as L.A. took a 22-21 lead out of the quarter.

9:20 It was a productive start for the Lakers’ bench: Steve Blake notched his third assist on Bynum’s fifth field goal; Matt Barnes had grabbed three boards in three minutes; and Shannon Brown had four points with a board, helping L.A. to a 28-24 lead.

6:30 Bynum continued a very strong effort with his fourth dunk of the game, coming before a transition jam for Barnes that kept L.A. up 34-31. The 23-year-old center led all scorers with 12 points and six boards at that point, making up for a less productive first half at Miami.

0:00 The Lakers had struggled to close out quarters in their previous game, but did OK this time around even as Dallas got a Marion runner to cut an 8-point lead to six at the half (50-44). Bryant had inspired a solid final six minutes of the quarter with eight points and some ball-hawking defense to allow L.A. a certain semblance of control.

7:40 An unexpected energy boost filled American Airlines Center when a random fan in a Dirk jersey sank a half court shot to win an 82-inch TV. A few things here: 1) That same shot would have won him like $160,000 dollars from Mirage at STAPLES Center; 2) He needed an extra attempt to do it; 3) He hit it from 10 feet to the right of the center circle, which doesn’t make sense to those of us that like throwing up half court heaves, since you can have the glass if going straight on; 4) Dirk promptly hit two jumpers, clearly inspired, to cut L.A.’s lead in half.

3:14 Marion, ever the tweener, continued to give the Lakers problems with his unique game that happened to be clicking, as he reached 19 points for just the fourth time since Feb. 1 to cut L.A.’s lead to

1:52 When “Kobe Bryant” and “injury” are included in a sentence, it’s usually the worst news Lakers fans can hear, but after trying to draw a foul on Marion, Bryant landed awkwardly on his left ankle, which he’d hurt two games ago, and limped very slowly off the court. He’d head back to the locker room with Lakers Head Trainer Gary Vitti, his status to return unsure.

0:00 With Bryant in the locker room, stepping up in a big way was Blake, who hit two triples in the final moments to give the Lakers a 10-point margin all quick and in a hurry. Marion did manage a bucket to close the quarter, L.A. holding a 73-65 lead.

8:48 Bryant headed back to the bench, testing his ankle during time outs and telling the staff he wanted to return to the game, watching his teammates protect their lead at 78-70 after Barnes hit 1-of-2 free throws. Barnes, an All-American HS football receiver, took a real hard foul from Mavs reserve Brian Cardinal and seemed to love it.

5:45 It was probably silly to even wonder whether Bryant would return despite how badly his ankle must have been hurting, but return he did, with L.A. up nine points. Dallas, however, got the boost upon his return, scoring four straight to cut the lead to five.

3:25 The Mavs just couldn’t handle Bynum, who promptly grabbed his 14th board and got to 20 points after drawing a foul, putting the Lakers up eight. A series of key plays followed as Kobe hit his first J since returning, a tough fadeaway on the baseline, which Dirk answered with a jumper. Bryant then had his shot blocked by Marion, and Gasol was whistled for a loose ball foul going for the rebound, Dirk’s ensuing FT’s cutting L.A.’s lead to four with two minutes to play.

0:54.4 Huge play, Ron Artest. After Bryant narrowly missed a pull-up J, Artest slid in and collected the board and stuck it back in, which he wasn’t quite able to do on Sunday at Miami, putting the Lakers up six. The Mavs, however, got a quick hoop in the lane from Terry, then quickly turned Fisher’s running miss into a Marion dunk at the other end to get within two.

0:11.0 The free throw line had been a big problem for the Lakers all night, but when it mattered most, Bynum — who missed his first five attempts — sank both to put the Lakers up five and the game out of reach. Bryant added a defensive board and two FT’s of his own to seal a 96-91 victory. Your numbers:

22 Points for Andrew Bynum to lead the Lakers. The 23-year-old center was terrific throughout the contest, also leading all who played with 15 rebounds, his length a serious problem for the Mavs all evening. Bynum also made the game’s two biggest free throws, sealing the win with 11 seconds left to make up for missing five initial free throws.

15 Offensive rebounds for the Mavs, though only two came in the fourth quarter when the Lakers were finally able to lock down the defensive glass.

10 Missed free throws for the Lakers, though they were able to make the ones they needed late in the fourth quarter.

6.5 Minutes played by Kobe Bryant to close the game after he sprained his left ankle late in the third quarter. He’d seal the game with a rebound and two free throws, reaching 16 points with five boards and four assists.

5 Assists off the bench for Steve Blake, who also hit three triples, two of which came in an important stretch to close the third quarter after Bryant went down with the ankle sprain.

Lakers Circle Mavs Game on Calendar

Saturday evening’s Lakers – Mavs game is set to take on even more importance than a March meeting between two teams separated by only 1.5 games in the Western standings normally would, thanks to the 2010-11 NBA schedule.

While each team plays most opponents in their own conference four times, and those in the opposite conference twice, each season there are four teams within a conference that a given team plays only three times. This year for the Lakers, the Mavericks (March 31) and Nuggets (April 3) come to STAPLES Center only once, while L.A. ventured to Oklahoma City (Feb. 27) and Houston (Dec. 1) just once.

Still with us?

“With a three game season series, there’s going to be a 2-1 winner out of that, so there’s a whole sway as to whether (Dallas) can win the game tomorrow or not,” explained Phil Jackson. “It becomes an important game in the race for positions.”

This because if both teams finish with the same record, whichever team wins twice will carry the tiebreaker, and thus claim the higher seed in the playoffs. In this case, if neither L.A. or Dallas catches the first place San Antonio Spurs (6.0 games up on Dallas, 7.5 on the Lakers), the team that manages to finish second would carry potential home-court advantage were the two teams to meet in the Western Semi’s.

Of course, Jackson was quick to remind that before any speculation about playoff seeding or potential matchups of any sort, the Lakers can only now focus on beating Dallas on Saturday, which they weren’t able to do on their last trip to Texas (Jan. 19).

“Last time we came out really well and controlled the game for the first 15 minutes or so,” recalled Pau Gasol. “Then they made a run and got back in the game and it got away from us.”

The Spaniard’s memory serves him well here, as the Lakers raced to an early lead at 24-16 that they’d build to as high as 10 midway through the second quarter at 45-35. L.A. had been able to convert in the paint on one end, and keep the Mavericks restricted on the perimeter at the other. Dallas missed its first seven three-pointers, in fact, but that would end up haunting the Lakers as L.A. stopped getting out to contest shots only to watch the Mavs sink seven of their next eight triples to trim L.A.’s lead to just four at the half.

It was more of the same in the second half, Dallas adding five more three-pointers, five total from Jason Kidd and four from Jason Terry, to win 109-100.

“We do have to identify the guys that are three-point shooters,” said Phil Jackson when asked about areas of focus. “Kidd hurt us, Terry hurt us.”

The Lakers did not allow the league’s best three-point shooting team, San Antonio, to hurt them from long range in L.A.’s blowout win on Sunday, with only four of S.A.’s seven hits coming before garbage time. But while the general game plan of packing the paint, contesting threes and conceding mid-range jumpers will be employed, Jackson noted what differentiates the Mavericks from the Spurs.

“They’re unique,” he said. “They have a lot of different flavors as far as offense goes. They rarely post up … they have isolations for (Dirk) Nowitzki, but it’s a team that tries to break you down using screen rolls. It’s not about dribble penetration as much as it is about covering especially players like Terry and Nowitzki who are unique in their games.”

The Lakers are aware of two players now contributing to Dallas that weren’t playing back in January, recently healthy Rodrigue Beaubois and recently acquired Corey Brewer, as well as two bigs who weren’t with the Mavs last season in Tyson Chandler and Brendan Haywood.

“They have a lot of personnel that can be dangerous, they play well together, move the ball well,” said Gasol. “They have a nice, balanced team with a lot of players contributing. That makes them dangerous, but I think we are a dangerous team ourselves.”