Not much doing today in El Segundo, as everyone was in a hurry to shower up, then hop a plane to Portland (although not so much of a hurry that Ron Artest, Shannon Brown, Jordan Farmar, Derek Fisher, Adam Morrison, Josh Powell, Sasha Vujacic, and Luke Walton couldn't find time to play a spirited game of four-on-four, with only Fisher taking a few quick questions before scramming. It's times like these when I wonder if players don't actually relish their daily shot at speaking with the media... although it's probably more those other guys, because I'm nothing if not a fascinating chat.) However, Phil Jackson did hold court before heading out to Rain Country, and here are the high points:
-Despite Portland's almost comical battle with the injury bug (Jeff Pendergraph and Juwan Howard weren't in the preseason plans at 20-30 minutes per game), PJ doesn't think the Blazers are too short-handed to maintain a staggering ability to beat L.A. in their house. "I don't buy that at all," said PJ, citing factors like sound defense and the talented Andre Miller/Brandon Roy backcourt. In terms of the lock down, between approaches like high-siding, fronting, and well-timed double teams in the post, Jackson says Portland's become pretty adept at taking Kobe Bryant "out of the mix." Plus, there's the Mamba's fractured right index finger, which definitely was hurting last night and seems to be providing intermittent problems.
-Kobe's job becomes easier if the team gets off to a good start, a goal more difficult without Pau Gasol. (He'll accompany the team to the Northwest, but isn't expected to suit up any earlier than Sunday, which still struck me as wishful thinking.) "We're still struggling to find something offensively that we can go to right away," said Jackson of the offense sans El Spaniard. "We're used to going Kobe right away with that type of lineup without Pau in there. We've got to find some other guys going and they're not clicking right off the bat. "
-Phil talked about problems with offensive execution, which made me wonder if Walton's return might help along these lines. Not against Portland, of course, as Walton isn't expected to practice in full until next week, but just in general. He's got limitations and will only get about 10-15 minutes of run, but Walton tends to keep the offense humming. Phil thought he could help, but rightfully stopped short of pegging the BBQ mogul and Soap Opera legend a "cure-all" of sorts. "Luke is a great passer," noted Jackson. "Execution wise, I don't think I'm gonna throw it on his back and says it's his execution. He's gonna look to pass first, and that's always a process in which guys cut. It gets guys open. It makes easier baskets for us."
-I mentioned last night how the inability to make a run during a tight fourth quarter defined everything that went wrong for the Lakers. Phil wouldn't disagree.