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February 19, 2013

NBA to resume, with Lakers in funk and Heat on top

HOUSTON (AP) — Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers turned their attention Monday from bad basketball and trade talk to more somber matters.

The death of Jerry Buss, their longtime owner, was a blow for a franchise that was so often in championship chase under his leadership. With Magic Johnson and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, and finally Bryant and Pau Gasol, the Lakers won 10 titles under since Buss became owner in 1979.

The Bryant-Gasol-Dwight Howard-Steve Nash combination wasn’t working nearly as well.

The Lakers are 25-29, currently in 10th place in the Western Conference, miles behind the Clippers in their division and their own building, and out of the playoff race. Gasol is hurt and Howard has been unhappy, leading to speculation he could be dealt before Thursday’s trade deadline even though the Lakers have said otherwise.

Yet Bryant spoke confidently of a turnaround Sunday after the All-Star game, just hours before Buss’ death at 80.

“I think we’ve been playing pretty well coming into the break,” Bryant said. “We laid a couple of eggs there against the Celtics and the Clippers, but all in all we’ve been playing pretty well, much better than we have been. We just have to continue to improve and we’ll do much better in the second half.”

It starts Tuesday, with the Lakers looking to get back on track, the Miami Heat in command in the East and LeBron James in command of everyone.

Bryant blocked James’ shots twice in the final minutes of the West’s 143-138 victory over the East on Sunday in the All-Star game. It was a rare failure for James, who has been sensational all season and whose Heat have hit their stride. Miami ran off seven straight victories going into the break and starting to build a comfortable lead in the conference.

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