Practice report: Conditioning, Dwight's back, Sacre (black and) blue

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- In the exhibition opener against the Golden State Warriors last Sunday, the Lakers starters all sat during the second half and, along with key reserve Antawn Jamison, played fewer than 20 minutes.

Tuesday against the Portland Trail Blazers, Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace each logged approximately 30 minutes, Jamison was on the court for just under 28 and Steve Nash played a little more than 25. To some degree, this was the byproduct of Kobe Bryant (who should play on Saturday against Utah), Dwight Howard and Jordan Hill all donning street clothes. But as he explained the next day, it was also part of coach Mike Brown's master plan to get his core players properly conditioned.

"I was just trying to increase some of the guys, let them get some work on their conditioning," Brown said. "Basically, it was a bump up in their minutes from the first game, and it'll probably stay like that for a couple of games."

After Tuesday's game, Brown noted that Gasol in particular was "working into game shape," so I asked if the forward's conditioning to this point was beneath expectations. As Brown explained, the issue wasn't Gasol being out of shape, but actually worn down a bit from too much exertion. Last season featured heavy minutes, Gasol played this summer with Spain's national team and training camp has already featured some tough practices. That wear and tear may be catching up to him, but the only way to get through it is ultimately by forcing Gasol to push through.

"You gotta understand that a guy like Pau, a guy like Kobe, those guys have played some heavy minutes this summer and they've practiced quite a bit," Brown said. "So it's gonna take them a little while to get back to form, even though they're in great shape. Not only that, I've been practicing these guys pretty long and pretty hard, so these guys have to continue to try to get minutes to slowly to build up to where they would be again.

"If I make it uncomfortable for them now, hopefully, later in the year, that uncomfortable feeling that they're getting from me right now won't ever come up again because they've been through stuff like that."

While addressing the media, Howard opened up in great detail about the nature of last season's back injury, his "dead" left leg, and the grueling rehab process. Ramona Shelburne has some details pieced together nicely in a report, but the videos below also include some details left on the cutting-room floor.

And finally, while Howard is admittedly still a ways off from "game shape," he's getting closer by the day, and Robert Sacre has the bruises to prove it. The second-round draft pick and Superman went head to head in a series of low-post sequences clearly at full speed. Sacre's head was drenched with sweat as he talked with reporters, and while the three-time defensive player of the year is quite a handful, the rookie is grateful at the opportunity to be overmatched.

"He's a He-Man, but it's all good," Sacre said with a smile. "I know every day, he's going to make me better."

I also liked his response when BK asked about playing with Nash. Cliched as it may sound, Nash's court vision and pinpoint passing really does create the effect of "making everyone better." But at the same time, those passes often come out of nowhere, so if a teammate isn't ready, Nash can just as easily make him look bad. But while Sacre is pretty inexperienced and (honestly speaking) fairly raw on the offensive end, he insists the latter scenario isn't an issue.

"He's the quarterback," Sacre said. "I'm the receiver. So if he throws it, go get it. I'll be a tight end in the league, so might as well go get those balls when I need to."

For those not aware, there's literally "tight end" in Sacre's blood. His father, Greg LaFleur, played the position in the NFL in the early 1980s, mostly for the St. Louis Cardinals. Oddly enough, my family had season tickets during that time -- we were quite the gluttons for punishment -- so I most definitely saw LaFleur live on the gridiron. And now I'm watching his kid play basketball. Quite the quirky bit of generational full circle for me.