Lakers' Walton delivers much-needed lift

Vladimir Radmanovic trudged to the bench after picking up two early fouls Sunday afternoon. Luke Walton peeled off his sweat suit and entered the game.

Many times during the regular season, that was a sign of impending trouble for the Lakers. Walton was injured and ineffective for most of the season. His ankle slowed him. So did his hamstring. So did his hip. He lost his job as a starter and his minutes dwindled.

Walton looked like a different player against the Denver Nuggets, however.

He filled a void created by Radmanovic's absence, scoring 16 points on 6-for-8 shooting in 27 minutes in Game 1 against Denver. He also had five assists and four rebounds, giving the Lakers' second unit a boost on a day when it was shorthanded.

Backup center Ronny Turiaf played only three minutes and scored only two points because of an unspecified illness.

"Ronny was not healthy, he was diseased," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

Walton stepped up when called upon, scoring on layups and spin moves close to the basket plus jump shots from the perimeter.

"I feel great," he said, then jabbed a reporter for mentioning his shortcomings during the regular season. "I forgot about the downs until you just brought them up. That's all in the past. It's all about moving forward.

"Whether you've had a great past or a terrible past, it's all about what's coming up. That's what I'm focused on."

Walton had a difficult time coming up with a reason for his fine play.

"I don't know," he said before listing a few possibilities. "The intensity. The excitement of the playoffs. Playing with guys who can hit you when you're open. Having an opportunity to make plays."

Radmanovic finished with eight points and six assists in 20 minutes.

Injured teammate

The Lakers seemed resigned to starting the playoffs without center Andrew Bynum. They haven't played with him since he injured his left kneecap Jan. 13, and he's not expected to play in their first-round series against the Nuggets.

"I don't think they've been looking over their shoulders for him at all," Jackson said. "I think they have been encouraging him and been positive with him, (saying), `Get back. We're going to need you. Get back. We want to see you.' That kind of thing.

"We've been really supportive of this process. He was at step five and he went back to step 2 1/2 or so (after a New York-based knee specialist declined to clear him for practice). He needs to get to step seven or eight before he can play, so there's still a process to go through to get to the spot he was at before he went to see his doctor."

Wake-up call

Jackson said he wasn't overly concerned about a noon tipoff for Game 1. He didn't believe the Lakers would start in sluggish fashion.

"No, Shaq is in Phoenix now," he joked, referring to former Lakers center Shaquille O'Neal who is with the Suns. "There are some guys who just can't get to bed at night. He was one of those kinds of guys. I did notice that during his years here."

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