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There’s no team quite like the Lakers, and Wednesday was proof of that again. So what if they’re playing tomorrow in one of the season’s biggest games? Luke Walton got to deny that he’s dating Britney Spears, Lamar Odom had a camera crew in tow and Andrew Bynum tipped us off that Kwame Brown might not play the rest of the season.

Didn’t you know the circus was back in town? I’m not sure whether to call Luke “Mr. Spears” or “Federline” right now but it’s amazing how two items in the British tabloids could catch fire. Spears has attended three Lakers games since getting divorced/leaving rehab and the Daily Star and Daily Mirror tried to connect the dots.

So you end up with some hilarious gossip from “sources” close to Spears. From the Star: “Luke’s all man – – not like Federline or any of the guys that she’s been used to. If anyone can sweep her off her feet, he can – – literally.”

Or my favorite from the Mirror: “Britney is certainly sports mad since dating Luke. She even chants his name when the rest of the fans do. Her face lights up when she sees him do well. She’s really fallen for him.”

It reached the point Wednesday where Walton was debating putting out a statement denying the rumors. As Kobe Bryant put it, “Youve got to do what youve got to do.” I did a Google News search and found Web sites mentioning the rumor in India, South Africa, New Zealand, Tunisia, Canada and England.

We’ll see if Britney shows up to watch the Lakers/Clippers game on Thursday night….Walton, by the way, is down to take part in the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders camps for the second summer in a row. He went to South Africa last summer and is going to Brazil this summer.

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Vladimir Radmanovic was hopeful that he could do more than just dress for the game. He played five-on-five Wednesday, had his “moments” on the floor, according to Phil Jackson, and said he hoped to play against the Clippers, his former team. “It felt good enough so that I can go tomorrow and give it a shot,” Radmanovic said.

Jackson on his team’s recent fourth-quarter struggles: “Maybe its the bad moon rising thats causing those things to happen to us where were missing free throws down the stretch or an errant play. But for whatever reason, were on the bad end of the stick right now, so weve got to reverse that.

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By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–With four games left in the regular season, the good news is that the Lakers are free from distractions as they make their playoff push. Unless, of course, you count Luke Walton having to deny that hes the new Kevin Federline.

Or if you ignore the camera crew that followed every move Lamar Odom made after practice. As it turns out, Odom is launching a new Web site and played host to a party Wednesday night for his record label and clothing line.

Just your typical day at the office, Britney Spears rumors and all, for the Lakers, who will play the Clippers tonight at Staples Center in one of the biggest games in history between Los Angeles two professional basketball teams.

Denied a Hallway Series last spring, the Lakers and Clippers will be part of the next-best thing tonight. The Lakers could move to the brink of qualifying for the playoffs with a win while the Clippers are desperate not to fall out of playoff position.

“They really need this game like we really need it, said Odom, who played the first four seasons of his career with the Clippers. “Plus it just happens to be Clippers/Lakers. Its a great time.

The two teams never have met in the playoffs and seldom have played a more important late-season game. At the same time, Wednesdays events showed just what a unique place the Lakers continue to hold in the city.

Instead of talking about the playoffs, Walton tried to pull his personal life out of the tabloids. Somehow the dots were connected from Spears attending two recent Lakers games to a relationship between the pop princess/rehab queen and Walton.

“The rumors arent true, Walton said. “Im sure Britney is a great person. I dont even know her. I have a girlfriend right now. Im in a relationship. Im very happy with my relationship. I dont know where its all started, but none of it is true.

Walton is dating Bre Ladd, a former volleyball player at the University of Arizona, who happened to be sitting five seats down from Spears at one of the games she attended.

That wasnt mentioned when “Entertainment Tonight ran with the story earlier this week. Walton said his girlfriend was amused at first but has grown irritated. For his part, Waltons been hearing from friends who havent called in years.

“If I was living in Milwaukee, this wouldnt have happened, Walton said. “Its definitely an L.A. thing.

Walton was asked if this really would be the best time to take on Spears “issues, including her recent head-shaving episode, and answered, “Weve got our own issues. Were trying to win some ballgames and do something in the playoffs.

Kobe Bryant was asked if the Lakers had a modern-day Madonna and Dennis Rodman situation on their hands and replied, “If Luke dies his hair, then Ill start answering some of these questions.

Odom, meanwhile, couldnt even make the short walk for a bottle of Gatorade without a documentary crew on his heels. They were filming a video for lamarodom.com while he had a red-carpet event scheduled at a Venice club.

“Its really a blessing, Odom said. “I feel like Im talented as far as basketball is concerned and I have people around me who are just as talented as far as music, fashion and the arts are concerned. So Im really fortunate and lucky.

The Lakers (40-38) would be hard-pressed to say the same on the court, where they have lost six of their last eight games, a slide unlike any before for a Phil Jackson-coached team so close to the playoffs.

They still can wrap up a playoff spot with a victory tonight and one loss by eighth-place Golden State, thanks to tiebreakers they would hold over the Clippers and Warriors.

The Clippers beat the Lakers 90-82 last week but have lost their past three games to slip a half-game behind Golden State. The only way for the Clippers (37-40) to feel secure about their playoff position is to sweep their final five games.

There also was the small matter Wednesday of the continuing saga involving injured center Kwame Brown, who is bothered by a bone bruise in his left ankle. Brown has missed the last four games and said he wouldnt play again tonight.

Jackson has said he wont push Brown to return but also makes no secret of how much he needs his size on the court. He said nothing had changed Wednesday in regard to Brown, though teenage center Andrew Bynum made a most curious comment.

Bynum said hed “learned recently that Brown would be out the rest of the season. Brown seconded Jackson that nothing had been determined but for the second straight day would not commit to returning for the playoffs.

“Im just being real honest with them, letting them know how it feels, Brown said. “I definitely dont want to go out there and put myself in a situation where Im going to hurt myself even further or put the team in a situation where they think Im going to be able to play a certain way when I know I cant right now.

Brown pulled away in his pick-up truck as reporters headed back to hear Walton joke if there were any questions about defending the screen-and-roll. As Odom summed up so neatly, “You never know in La-la land.

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By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

EL SEGUNDO–Out of the mouth of a child – – OK, Andrew Bynum is 19 years old and some 7 feet tall – – might have come truth Wednesday regarding injured center Kwame Browns status for the rest of the season.

Brown has struggled to overcome a bone bruise in his left ankle and is expected to miss his fifth straight game tonight. And Bynum said he was preparing as if he was going to start in Browns place the rest of the way.

“Thats something that I just learned recently that he was actually going to be out for the remainder of the season, Bynum said. “I didnt know that. I just hope that he gets better. Were going to need everybody for the playoff run.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Browns status was unchanged “unless Kwames talking to guys in the locker room that he hasnt been telling our trainers or myself. Yet Brown again couldnt guarantee that he would be able to return for the playoffs.

That could leave the Lakers starting the 19-year-old Bynum and using a center rotation of Ronny Turiaf and Brian Cook. Bynum played all of two minutes in last seasons playoffs and his recent play has been underwhelming.

“If we had our druthers, Jackson said, “wed rather have Kwame taking the load out there and Andrew doing some things that would be unique and different for a team to have to handle. Its going to be the way it is. We have to deal with it.

Bynum finished with 16 points Monday against Denver – – his most since a Feb. 23 game against Boston – – but played only 19 minutes because of foul trouble. Jackson wants Bynum to split minutes (24 or more) with Turiaf and be more of an inside presence.

“I need to go out there and just be more aggressive, Bynum said. “Thats what everybody keeps telling me. Just start demanding the ball more, and on the defensive end, being more of a help to my teammates, not so much worried about my guy and picking up fouls.

Welcome back: Vladimir Radmanovic practiced for the second consecutive day and said he wants to play tonight against the Clippers. Jackson said Radmanovic had his “moments in practice while Kobe Bryant joked about his new nickname of “Igor.

That would replace “Half-pipe, the nickname given to Radmanovic after his snowboarding mishap over All-Star weekend. Radmanovic suffered a separated shoulder and was fined $500,000 by the Lakers for violating the terms of his contract.

Daughter-in-law? Luke Walton was able to joke about what his father Bills reaction would be to the news – – spawned by a British tabloid, all of it untrue – – that he was dating Britney Spears.

“My dad probably just thinks its true, Walton said. “He probably just thinks I havent told him. Im sure next time Ill see him, hell be like, `Luke, I see you have a new girlfriend.

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