Bynum says he'll play through pain
LOS ANGELES -- After Andrew Bynum's first day of on-court basketball drills since straining his left Achilles' tendon on March 19 at the Los Angeles Lakers shootaround Wednesday, the Lakers center was energized at the prospect of returning to the lineup for the playoffs in a matter of days.
Los Angeles coach Phil Jackson took a more cautious outlook when considering Bynum's return.
"I'm not going to get into trying to anticipate [how much Bynum will be able to play]," Jackson said before the Lakers' 107-91 loss to the Clippers in their regular season finale. "We don't know whether he can play six minutes a half or if he can play 10 minutes a half. We'll look and see how his conditioning is and measure it from there, after Friday-Saturday, if things go right."
Jackson said the team won't know how much it can use Bynum until it sees how the injury reacts to Bynum playing through game conditions.
"Being asymptomatic is really an issue and he may not be asymptomatic after five minutes [of playing time]," Jackson said. "It may start to affect him in a way that he has to come out of the ballgame. If it's something that bothers him in the first half, will we play him in the second half?"
While Jackson planned to give the team an off-day Thursday as a respite for a completed season, Bynum was expected to come in and go through an individual workout.
"He'll go through a little bit of contact [Thursday]," Jackson said. "[He'll] have a little weight-bearing stuff on him in probably an isolated-drill fashion with just the coaches and whoever else we can get out there to body up against him. Friday he'll go through a practice and we'll see how it goes."
Jackson said that extra body would not be D.J. Mbenga.
"D.J. would not be a mild-mannered dummy for him to play," Jackson joked. "He'd be a live-body against him."
The Lakers should have a full roster available to practice Friday, with Kobe Bryant expected to return from sitting out four of the last five games to rest his legs and to alleviate swelling in his right knee and discomfort in his fractured right index finger.
"I have every intention in having [Bryant] out on the court if he's at all possible to get out there," Jackson said.
If Bryant decides to take the extra time to heal, Jackson is confident he will still be able to perform when the playoffs begin despite the long layoff.
"I can remember a year in which he didn't practice the last week of the training camp and then he came out and got a 40-point game to start the season," Jackson said, referring to 2007 when Bryant scored 45 against the Houston Rockets on opening night. "He's capable of doing that. That's his ability to rise above the crowd and play an elevated game is not unusual for him."
In his 14th season Bryant is still scoring at a rapid rate and remains as clutch as ever, but Jackson admits his guard's game has changed, if not declined.
"The inability to just go over people and shoot the ball with people on him, or at him, I think that's something he has to adjust to," Jackson said. "Sometimes he would draw a crowd and still rise above the crowd to score or get fouled. I think those are things that now have to be measured. He just has to watch what that action is."
When Jackson was asked if Bryant's health was the No. 1 factor deciding his team's success in the postseason, he downplayed the individual and focused on the team.
"I think he's going to be just fine," Jackson said. "But how we play together as a team, I think the connectiveness, the ability to play in unison as one mind is really the critical element of playing in the playoffs. That ability to get in each others' heads and know where everybody is going to be on the floor at the same time offensively and defensively is ultimately the most important thing that happens in the playoffs."
Take it from a native
Los Angeles Clippers forward Blake Griffin might not know what it feels like to play in the NBA yet after missing his entire rookie season with a knee injury, but he knows what it will be like for the Lakers when they travel to Oklahoma City next week: He grew up there.
But even after spending most of his life there, Griffin didn't have many recommendations for places to go to get a taste of Oklahoma City nightlife.
"When I was growing up there I was mostly hanging with my high school friends," Griffin said. "We didn't really go downtown. We'd just go to somebody's house or something like that. Then in college, you never really leave campus, so I really couldn't tell you what the best spot is if you're an adult."
He's heard the cracks about his hometown ever since he entered the league.
"I mean you always get the questions about whether it's all country out there," Griffin said. "Do you hang out with cows and horses all the time? Stuff like that. You kind of do, but I grew up in the city so I'm far away from livestock and buggies pulled by horses. I don't know it to be a country place, but I guess when you land on that plane you see hay bales and stuff like that."
One place he did endorse was the Ford Center, where the Thunder plays its home games.
"It is a college crowd," Griffin said. "That's all they know really ... Those games are unbelievable. When you're watching you see the fans like stand up until they score the first point. They come early, they stay the whole game even if they're losing. I'm interested to see what the playoff atmosphere is going to be like."
After seeing his team finish the regular season with six losses in its last nine games, including a 107-91 drubbing in the season finale to the cross-town Clippers, Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson did not hide his frustration in his postgame press conference.
"I said at the start of the season, if we don't win 60 games, we'll be disappointed and we're disappointed with our team's effort at the end of the season," Jackson said. "Sixty games is kind of a minimum, I thought, for this team to win and we [couldn't] match it."
Jackson was particularly disappointed in his team's effort Wednesday when 14 Lakers turnovers led to 29 fastbreak points for the Clippers. The Lakers also shot just 39.5 percent from the field to the Clippers' 50.6 percent and trailed at one point by 21 points after leading by five at the end of the first quarter.
"From the end of the second quarter on, I thought we pooped our pants and it looked it out there," Jackson said.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.