29 Dec 2011

Welcome rest day for Lakers after hectic start to season

2:50 pm on 29 December 2011

With egos badly bruised after losing their first two games of the regular season, the Los Angeles Lakers have enjoyed a rare day off having avoided their first 0-3 start since 1978.

The 16-time NBA champions were beaten 88-87 by the Chicago Bulls in their season opener then 100-91 by the Sacramento Kings before returning to winning ways with a 96-71 romp at home to the Utah Jazz on Wednesday.

Three games crammed into three hectic days at least ended on a winning note after many Lakers fans despaired while watching their team squander an 11-point lead against the Bulls and then look worryingly old and slow against the younger, faster Kings.

New Lakers coach Mike Brown was delighted to watch his players finally earn him a win and he rewarded them with a day off, their first since training began on December 9th.

The Lakers have been perennial championship contenders in recent years with All-Star guard Kobe Bryant and Spanish forward Pau Gasol leading the way but their fans were hardly encouraged by the moves made, or not made, during the offseason.

Inspirational coach Phil Jackson retired and disgruntled forward Lamar Odom, the league's best bench player last season, asked to be traded to the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks.

Odom had felt more than slighted when he and Gasol were part of a three-club deal that would have brought four-time All-Star Chris Paul to the Lakers, only for that trade to be blocked by the NBA.

Paul ended up moving to Los Angeles, but he instead linked up with the once lowly Clippers who instantly became the talk of the town as genuine title contenders with former All Stars Chauncey Billups and Caron Butler also joining the franchise.

All of a sudden, the glitzy Lakers with their star-studded background and 'showtime' appeal were overshadowed by their city rivals.

Even worse, they knew they would be without Andrew Bynum for their first four games while the seven-foot center served a suspension imposed on him at the end of last season.

Erratically though the Lakers have begun this campaign, twice NBA Finals MVP Bryant has already seen enough from his team mates to believe they have the necessary grit to withstand whatever is thrown at them.

Bryant, who has guided the Lakers to five championships, says they're a very active team and a blue-collar team who will fight and scratch and claw for everything.

However, Bryant was relieved that the Lakers' back-to-back-to-back start, the only one to launch the 2011-12 NBA regular season, is now behind them.