Lakers have injuries on their mind following 107-91 loss to the Clippers
Next week, the Lakers won’t worry about limiting starters minutes. Instead, they’ll see of their strategy in resting Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum will pay off in the postseason. Next week, the Lakers won’t experience a game that is a buffet – with shots and minutes seemingly available for everyone. Instead the Lakers will find out if any of the unresolved issues involving team chemistry will work itself out naturally, an integral ingredient needed for a strong playoff run. Next week, the Lakers won’t remember much from their ugly 107-91 loss Wednesday to the Clippers, which tied the season series. Instead, they’ll be trying to put away a young and inexperienced Oklahoma City Thunder away in the first round of the NBA playoffs, beginning Sunday.
There’s one thing, however, that will still remain prevalent from the season-finale. And that’s the team’s health.
Lakers reserve Sasha Vujacic sprained his left ankle with 2:51 left in the second quarter after Clippers guard Mardy Collins fouled him on a three-point attempt. After Vujacic attempted a 20-foot jumper from the left corner, he landed on Collins’ foot. Vujacic lay on the sideline wincing in pain before team trainer Gary Vitti and reserve Jordan Farmar helped him off the court.
Vujacic, who plans to have an MRI Thursday, didn’t talk to reporters after the game, and was seen being carted away from the team’s entrance tunnel. The news, however, didn’t sound too promising, with the team labeling the injury as “severe.”
“That’s a difficult sprain,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said of Vujacic, whose x-rays were negative. “That one is going to be a while. He could miss the first round, easily.”
That wasn’t the only concern. Jackson revealed afterwards Lakers forward Ron Artest played only 15 minutes because of a twisted ankle he suffered during the game. Artest was equally as vague, saying he didn’t remember how he hurt his ankle and even which ankle he hurt.
“I’ll be fine,” said Artest, who is also nursing a sprained left thumb. “I don’t worry about it.”
The Lakers should. They treated the last two games of the regular season as glorified scrimmages, particularly because Sacramento (25-57) and the Clippers (29-53) aren’t making the playoffs. But the reason also pointed to the team’s desire to become as healthy as possible entering the postseason. Bryant sat out four of the last five contests to heal as best he can an assorted amount of injuries including a fractured right index finger, a left ankle sprain and a sore right knee. Bynum missed 13 consecutive games because of a strained left Achilles’ tendon, and the training staff penciled in his return date to coincide with the beginning of the postseason. Farmar sprained his left hamstring in the Lakers 106-100 victory Tuesday over Sacramento, and played only 1.3 seconds to ensure an 82-game season. Otherwise, he’s just waiting for the playoffs to begin.
“Just trying to get it as right as I can,” Farmar said. “It’s unfortunate Sasha had to go down. Hopefully we get him back as soon as possible. We have other people who can hold down the spot. We want him healthy and contributing to our team and we wish him the best.”
Vujacic isn’t the main concern, however, though he had been on a recent tear, most notably scoring a season-high 13 points against Sacramento. Instead, Vujacic’s injury extends a larger issue that has plagued the Lakers all season with overlapping injuries disrupting team continuity.
“It’s a part of basketball,” Artest said. “It’s a part of it. It’s a part of what happens. Even tonight, Sasha was playing well and he was driving the ball a little bit and playing aggressive the last couple of games and he gets hurt. That’s an injury to our team. But we move on.”
The verdict is still out on that, but as far as Wednesday’s performance goes, Vujacic’s injury coincided with the team’s poor play, with Jackson noting, “From the end of the second quarter on, we pooped our pants.”
The Clippers opened the third quarter with a 9-2 run en route to a 26-16 mark in the third quarter, while the Lakers shot 23.8% during that time period. All in all, it made for a performance that featured the Lakers allowing the Clippers to end a disappointing season on a high note. Free agent guard Steve Blake recorded his first triple double, with 23 points, 10 rebounds and 11 assists. Clippers center Chris Kaman owned the paint inside, scoring 22 points on eight of 16 shooting. The Lakers shot 39.5% from the field, while allowing the Clippers to manufacture 29 fast-break points, an effort that happened without Baron Davis (sprained right ankle), Drew Gooden (sore right knee) and Eric Gordon (viral infection).
But the performance wasn’t the thing that mattered. What mattered was the fact the Lakers didn’t rest their starters as much as they would have liked. Lakers forward Pau Gasol, who scored 18 points on seven of 14 shooting, played the entire third quarter. Lakers forward Lamar Odom, who had 21 points on seven of 12 shooting, played the entire fourth quarter, even with nursing an injured left shoulder. And Lakers guard Derek Fisher logged 30 minutes, since Shannon Brown took Bryant’s starting spot and Vujacic and Farmar were limited.
“We didn’t have any bodies,” Jackson said. “We only had six or seven guys who could play.”
The postseason presents another animal and the Lakers expect to ratchet up their intensity. But they’re not entering the postseason as in good shape as they had hoped. Jackson acknowledged disappointment in the team’s overall performance in the regular season, saying that 60 games was a minimum I thought this team could win and we didn’t match it. He also expected a transition period for Bynum to fully phase himself back into the lineup, which Jackson said will hinge on his conditioning level. And now, injuries to Vujacic and Artest. We’ll soon find out how everyone else will fare staying healthy.
“That’s the first concern. If you’re not healthy, it’s hard to work on the other things,” Farmar said. “Get as healthy as you can in these next couple of days.”---Below is the Lakers' playoff schedule
Game 1 at L.A. (Sunday April 18, noon, ABC)
Game 2 at L.A. (Tuesday April 20, 7:30 p.m., TNT)
Game 3 at O.K. City (Thursday April 22, 6:30 p.m. TNT)
Game 4 at O.K. City (Saturday, April 24, 9:30 p.m. ESPN)
Game 5* at L.A. (Tuesday April 27 TBD)
Game 6* at O.K. City (Friday April 30)
Game 7* at L.A. (Sunday May 2)
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Photo: Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic lies on the floor in pain after spraining his ankle during the first half of the Clippers' victory over the Lakers on Wednesday. Credit: Wally Skalij/Los Angeles Times.