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LAKERS RAISE THEIR OWN EXPECTATIONS.

Byline: Howard Beck Staff Writer

MILWAUKEE - First the Lakers raised eyebrows with an impressive winning streak. Now they've raised their own expectations, too.

Their 15-game string will be severely tested with a tough three-game road trip that opens tonight against the Milwaukee Bucks, then concludes with back-to-back games at Indiana and Minnesota. But the Lakers no longer view such challenges in traditional terms.

``I think that going on a road trip, I'd normally say to win two out of three would be our expectation,'' said coach Phil Jackson, ``but at this level we're playing, we'd like to win all three of them. And we're going into every game thinking we're going to do it.''

Gettimg to 18 won't be easy.

The Bucks, who are 12-5 at home, feature an offensive trio that nearly rivals that of the Lakers. Milwaukee's Glenn Robinson, Ray Allen and Sam Cassell average a combined 62 points per game, and the Bucks just dismantled the Charlotte Hornets 137-87 on Monday.

Indiana, despite recent struggles, leads the Eastern Conference with a 22-11 record and is 13-2 at home. The Timberwolves have shaken off an early slump and had won five straight through Monday.

``It's going to be tough for us,'' said Glen Rice, but he was in line with Jackson's expectation of a three-game sweep - ``I think he's absolutely right about that.''

``We have a very good chance of doing that if we go out and play up to our capabilities.''

And what about an 18-game winning streak? ``Let's take it one game at a time. When we get to 18,'' Rice said with a smile, ``I'll rap to you about it.''

--UNGLOVED: Kobe Bryant has made 23 of his last 36 shots - a stunning 63.9 percent clip - including 9 of his last 13 from 3-point range. His jumper has become almost as deadly as his dribble drive, and it's no coincidence the surge comes after Bryant ditched the padded glove that protected his right hand.

``I can feel the ball a lot better,'' said Bryant, who tossed the glove aside last week. ``My release is a lot better. It's fundamentally correct.

``And plus, people have been playing off me, been giving me the (open) jumpshot. I find that to be very challenging. So if they're going to play off me, I'm just going to continue to shoot them.''

And make them. Bryant, who wore the glove through his first 16 games after recovering from a broken hand, was 6 for 25 on 3-pointers before the recent two-game surge. Now he's added another dimension.

``I'll tell you what, that's going to make him even more dangerous,'' said Rice. ``When he's popping that 3 like that and guys gotta get up on him, that's when he's going to throw the dribble drive on them and that's scary.''

LAKERS vs. BUCKS

--Tipoff: 5 p.m., Bradley Center.

--TV/Radio: KCAL-Channel 9 (6 p.m., tape delay); KLAC-AM (570).

LAKERS (30-5) UPDATE: A win tonight would be their 16th straight, matching the second longest streak in franchise history (1990-91). The Lakers hold a seven-game winning streak over the Bucks, though the teams haven't met since the 1997-98 season.

BUCKS (20-15) UPDATE: Under George Karl, they've become an offensive juggernaut - third in the league in scoring (103 points per game) and field-goal percentage (,469). But the Bucks rank 25th in points allowed (102.3) and like a typical Karl team, 28th in rebounding (40.6 per game).

- Howard Beck

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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 12, 2000
Words:588
Previous Article:BASKETBALL BEAT; HUNTING DOWN THE PROBLEM.
Next Article:USC ATTEMPTS TO END ANOTHER UCLA STREAK.


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