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Los Angeles Lakers players say team in Las Vegas would work

Forward Ron Artest: Las Vegas deserves professional sports team

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Sam Morris

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers drives past Carl Landry of the Sacramento Kings during a preseason game Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Lakers won the game 98-85.

NBA Fans

Los Angeles Lakers fans greet a player before their preseason game against the Sacramento Kings at the Thomas & Mack Center Wednesday, 13, 2010. The Lakers won the game 98-85. Launch slideshow »

Lakers vs. Kings Preseason 2010

Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers drives past Carl Landry of the Sacramento Kings during a preseason game Wednesday at the Thomas & Mack Center. The Lakers won the game 98-85. Launch slideshow »

Las Vegas was home to NBA basketball Wednesday, as the Thomas & Mack Center hosted a preseason game between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Sacramento Kings.

Unfortunately for local professional basketball fans, it’s the last time it will happen this year.

Despite a summer filled with rumors that multiple NBA teams were interested in relocating to the city in the future, Las Vegas will open the 2011 season with no such deal in place.

According to at least one member of the Lakers, that’s a shame.

“Las Vegas should have (a team),” said forward Ron Artest. “I think the fans here deserve one. They deserve an NBA team.”

Mayor Oscar Goodman hinted throughout the summer that a deal was close to bringing a professional sports team to Las Vegas, but there were several roadblocks in the way.

In August, Goodman announced that a deal with an unnamed MLB team had fallen through and cited the city’s small market, small media market and struggling economy as the primary deal breakers.

The impact of the economy might have been on display Wednesday, as a game featuring the league’s reigning champions drew a crowd of 15,134, about 3,000 short of capacity.

Although Wednesday fell short of a sellout, that didn’t stop certain Lakers players from predicting a team in Las Vegas would receive plenty of support.

“Las Vegas is a great place,” said guard Steve Blake, who’s entering his eighth year in the league. “It seems like the fans really enjoy their sports. I was expecting a great crowd tonight, and I’m sure that’s what a team here would expect every night.”

Blake went on to add he was certain more than a few players would enjoy seeing a team surface in Las Vegas, a city he views as a desirable place to live.

“If there ever is a team, I know a lot of people who would want to live here and play for them,” he said.

Lakers forward Matt Barnes said a Las Vegas team might struggle to keep its focus for a full NBA season.

“Other cities aren’t like Vegas,” Barnes said. “It’s a great place to hang out and, as far as a professional sports team, I think a lot of guys would get in trouble.”

Despite that concern, Barnes said, as the league expands, Las Vegas should be involved in the plan.

“I think if a professional team came here, it would definitely draw a crowd,” Barnes said. “If we’re going to move to Europe and see NBA Europe, I’d like to see a team here.”

Game Notes:

The Los Angeles Lakers survived a late push from the Sacramento Kings to hang on to a 98-95 victory. It was the first preseason win for the defending champions, improving its record to 1-2.

The two teams have now met in preseason play in Las Vegas nine times. The Lakers hold a slight edge in the series 5-4. No game has been decided by more than seven points.

Kobe Bryant saw a little less than 19 minutes of action. The two-time Finals MVP was held to seven total points on 2-of-10 shooting.

The Lakers closed out the third quarter on a 21-7 run to lead by as many as 17. The Kings closed the game on a 11-2 run.

Notable figures in attendance included former boxing world champion Mike Tyson, rapper and television star Flava Flav, professional poker player Scotty Nguyen and UNLV men’s basketball coach Lon Kruger.

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