LAKERS NOTEBOOK: JACKSON: SHAQ CAN'T DO IT ALL.
EL SEGUNDO - Get ready for a new-look Lakers, and we're not just talking about lineup changes. With Shaquille O'Neal's game crimped by injured thumbs, coach Phil Jackson wants his team to take the opportunity to wean itself from an overreliance on the big fella.
Sunday was a perfect example of the new Lakers paradigm: Shaq scores 14,Lakers win anyway. O'Neal's solid pick-and-roll defense and his six blocked shots were more than enough contribution, and Kobe Bryant (37 points) took over the scoring load.
``You know, one of the things I want to get across to people is Shaq doesn't have to score 30 points,'' said Jackson, who added quickly: ``I also have to get that across to Shaq.''
O'Neal has been the Lakers' scoring leader every season since he arrived in 1996, and was the NBA scoring champion last season. But with Bryant's growth, the Lakers can afford to have O'Neal ease off now and then.
``He gets six blocks, he gets some rebounds, he plays defense like he played (Sunday) night, we get a 16-point lead,'' Jackson said. ``He was playing great defense, and that's all we care about Shaq. His presence out there is enough to help us win. It doesn't have to be to score.''
O'Neal, laboring to shoot with a sprained left thumb and sore right thumb, said he won't mind a lesser scoring role.
``That's fine with me. I've been looking to get my guys involved, especially early in the game,'' O'Neal said. ``Like I said, I'm not looking to lead the league in scoring this year. So it doesn't matter whether I get 30 (points) or 14, as long as we put together wins and put together solid games.''
He might not have a choice as long as his thumbs are in pain. O'Neal is receiving treatment, but he has sworn off the big-time anti-inflammatories such as Indocin, which he believes contributed to Alonzo Mourning's kidney ailment. And his thumbs get smacked by defenders every game, making the healing process slow.
``I'll get better, I'll be all right,'' O'Neal said. As for the effects on his jumpshot, ``I just have to adjust to it. I just have to suck it up.''
Said Jackson, ``He'll adjust to it. All good players do.''
As for how long the injuries could be an issue, Jackson said, ``Probably until (his) next really good game, and then he'll feel a lot better.''
--Ch-ch-changes: Although Jackson was pleased with the results of Sunday's starting lineup - which featured Brian Shaw at off guard and Kobe Bryant at small forward - he wouldn't commit to using the same group over the long haul. Or even tonight against Denver.
``I'm usually pretty stuck in lineups, but I may not even stay with this for more than one day,'' he said. ``It was something I thought our team needed, some offense, our team needed a little bit of ball movement. Brian helps us get into some things really quickly as a guard.''
It's possible Jackson will move Rick Fox back into the lineup, although he liked his production (2 for 4 on 3-pointers) off the bench. Jackson also likes the versatile second-unit combination of Fox, Robert Horry and Isaiah Rider.
Bryant thrived with the freedom of playing small forward for much of the game, but Jackson also cautioned that he needs to show a little restraint. Bryant took 29 shots Sunday.
``Some of it's encouraging, and I like (his scoring), but there's a point in the game where Kobe took seven straight shots and that's no good,'' Jackson said. ``And he knows that and I know it and the team needs to know it.''
--Penberthy's shot: After giving Tyronn Lue an extended look,Jackson now wants to see what shooting ace Mike Penberthy can bring to the table. The Lakers activated The Master's College alumnus Sunday and sent Lue to the injured list.
``We just need to see who can succeed and fail,'' Jackson said. ``What(Penberthy) does is he makes people play him on the outside, and he can move the ball and operate the offense. What he has to find out and we have to find out is how to help him on defense.''
LAKERS vs. DENVER
Tipoff: 7:30 p.m., at Staples Center
TV/Radio: Fox Sports Net; 570-AM, 1330-AM (Spanish)
Lakers (4-3) update: After Sunday's victory over Houston, they're trying to build some momentum, and this is an opportune time. They play a relatively light schedule, with six games in the next 11 days. Thursday's game at Sacramento is the only tough one in the bunch. They get the Nuggets here and at Denver (Saturday), then are home against Chicago, Golden State and Minnesota.
Nuggets (3-4) update: Denver's road woes continue. After going 10-31 on the road last season, the Nuggets are 0-2 away from Pepsi Center. They've lost seven straight games to the Lakers in L.A. Antonio McDyess had been limited by back spasms but has recovered.
- Howard Beck