Lakers pick up the intensity
"It was actually a very good practice," said a smiling and sweat-soaked Pau Gasol. "We got a lot of stuff done. We worked intensively and it was probably one of the best days that we had all year."
The team practiced longer than usual, staying on the floor for two-plus hours, and every player on the roster went through the full activities, other than injured backup center Theo Ratliff.
"We were all able to be a part of the practice, which hasn't happened all year," Gasol said. "Everybody was in it. That was probably the first practice all year we had that."
Added Lakers coach Phil Jackson: "It was much more running, a little more duress out there playing hard and working on some things we have to do as a team."
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The practice was as much a preparation for Miami as it was a recovery from Milwaukee. The Lakers' last game was a 19-point loss to the Bucks -- their largest margin of defeat this season -- and Thursday was the team's first practice since then after an off day Wednesday.
"I told the players today, I thought their comeuppance might come against Miami, but Milwaukee delivered the blow," Jackson said. "So maybe it got their attention so they can get focused on basketball."
Said Gasol: "It's a game that we want to win, it's a game against a team that's playing really well and is one of the contenders. We have to make sure we bounce back also from the game that we just screwed up."
Miami was able to put its early-season troubles behind it. After a 9-8 start, the Heat won 12 of their next 13.
"If I watched a team like that lose 10 in a row, I would put money on it that they would win their next 20 in a row," Lamar Odom said. "As a fan of the game you can't help but [watch the Heat]. The dynamic players that they have, as a fan of a game it makes it easy to watch."
The Lakers will be looking to make up for a letdown game played against LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers last season. They were beat so bad, 102-87, that L.A. fans started to throw promotional foam fingers onto the court near the end of the game.
"We understand that as champions on a day like this, what might be just another game to you, to another team is like their season," Odom said. "We understand that they're going to come out firing, playing really hard, trying to prove to everyone that they're championship contenders. I think we learned from that, I think we understand we have to raise our level of intensity early in the game."
The game will receive a lot of attention with a national audience as it will be aired on ABC at 2 p.m. PT on Saturday. But just because more people will be watching, it won't make the outcome any more meaningful.
"Our game is built on a lot of our individual guys and stars and talent," Derek Fisher said. "Rightfully or wrongfully, that's how it is and so when you have a game that has a matchup like a Kobe Bryant and a Pau Gasol and a Lamar Odom, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James and Chris Bosh and the personalities that are going to be matching up in this game, I don't know if it can get any bigger than that from that standpoint. Although, there will be other games in this regular season that could mean more."
Jackson was asked how he wanted his team to view the matchup with Miami.
"I don't know how to answer that question," Jackson said. "What do you mean, 'How to view it?' Like it's a championship game, like it's a playoff game? No. It's not a playoff game, it's a Christmas Day game so you go out there and play and play hard and enjoy the day after it's over."
On Tuesday, Jackson criticized the NBA's five-game Christmas schedule, saying, "I don't think anybody should play on Christmas Day. ... It's like Christian holidays don't mean anything to them anymore."
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Jackson's players didn't seem to mind the holiday hoops quite so much.
"To play on Christmas Day means you're one of the best teams in the league," Gasol said. "So, that's always a good thing. I have no problem with it."
Said Odom: "It's cool. We kind of play pretty early, so we have the rest of the day [to ourselves]. I mean, the fans love it, so whatever the fans want."
It will be Jackson's 26th Christmas Day game. He played in eight as a player with New York, coached seven with Chicago and Saturday will mark his 11th on the sidelines for the Lakers.
"The one I always remember that's interesting is that the 9-73 Philadelphia 76ers beat the future championship Knicks on their court on Christmas Day one time," Jackson said.
The Sixers actually beat the Knicks on Christmas in the 1976-77 season when Philadelphia went 50-32, not in 1972-73 when the Sixers set the all-time futility mark for the league.
What will he do next year if he's no longer coaching?
"I want to go to Christmas Island on Christmas," Jackson said with a smile. "Either that or Christmas, Mich."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.