Health, homecourt advantage and team chemistry among the Lakers goals after All-Star break
The Lakers made a significant step Monday regarding their never-ending injury issues, with guard Kobe Bryant and center Andrew Bynum practicing and planning to play Tuesday against the Golden State Warriors.
Of course, as it has seemed to happen all season so far for the Lakers, the team saw another example of injuries overlapping each other. While Bryant and Bynum appeared to have made progress over the All-Star break with their respective left ankle and right hip injuries, forward Luke Walton will be out an unspecified amount of time because of continuing problems with a pinched nerve in his lower back. Lakers fans surely will prefer Bryant and Bynum to be healthy, but from a pure numbers standpoint and knowing that athletes are human beings too, it's never good for a player to get hurt, even if Walton's impact is fairly marginal.
The latest development raised legitimate questions whether this alters the Lakers' approach as Thursday's trade deadline is quickly approaching, especially with Dallas' recent trade to Washington that brought Caron Butler, Brendan Haywood and DeShawn Stevenson to the Mavericks in exchange for Josh Howard, Drew Gooden, James Singleton and Quinton Ross. Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said the Dallas trade "won't force us to make a deal. I don't think it's necessary." Guard Derek Fisher thinks the team is fine the way it is, saying, "We’ve always believed since the day that training camp opened that we had 13 guys that all can play and at times deserve to play." And then there's General Manager Mitch Kupchak recently telling The Times' Mike Bresnahan it's unlikely the Lakers will make a significant trade. We'll find out by Thursday.
In the meantime, Jackson, Fisher and forward Pau Gasol say the top priority for the 28 remaining games entails ensuring a healthy lineup, a factor that could help with securing home-court advantage in the postseason, a goal Jackson said is more "psychological" but still a goal nonetheless.
Bynum is far from fully healthy. Though he plans on playing against Golden State, he acknowledged to reporters that he only felt 80%. Nonetheless, Bynum said that doctors instructed him that he's still good enough to play, but he will have to monitor if time on the court yields to any more pain and continue his treatment consisting of ice and light massaging.
It certainly beats the alternative, something Bynum knows all too well, missing 46 games in the 2007-08 season because of a left knee injury and 32 games last season because of a right knee injury.
Though it's been nearly a month since Gasol missed six games because of a left hamstring injury, he admitted that he only feels "OK." He also said, "Sometimes I get a little tight." That was evident last week when he looked tired during certain stretches, but Gasol thought a day off last week made that not much of an issue.
Regardless of his fatigue level, Gasol averaged 21.5 points, 19 rebounds, six assists and five blocks in the games against San Antonio and Utah. Though the Lakers had taken a by-committee approach during Bryant's and Bynum's absence, Gasol helped ensure the constant ball movement and team chemistry. The latter factor is something Gasol ranks as the second most important variable behind health for the remaining 28 games.
Fisher extrapolated on that team chemistry issue, saying "the key will be for us to try to continue to do what we were doing while Kobe was out and Andrew was out." The Lakers obviously welcome their return, but Fisher rightfully recognized that the offensive dynamic will inevitably change simply because there's two more members to add to the pie in shot distribution and ball movement.
With Bryant and Bynum the first- and third-leading scorers on the team, that pie will certainly change. But there's one thing Fisher knows doesn't have to change: "We’ll have to make sure that we’re utilizing them and taking advantage of their matchups and the guys they’re playing against. The rest of us, three or four guys out there on the floor still have to move, keep the ball moving and most importantly, it’s about that defensive intensity that really seemed to be better in those three games."
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Photo: Pau Gasol goes for two of his 22 points to help the Lakers snap Utah's nine-game winning streak with ease, 96-81, Wednesday night. Credit: Steve C Wilson/Associated Press.