Lakers hope to be healthy for playoffs
EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Los Angeles Lakers coach Phil Jackson walked into the Lakers' practice facility with the aid of a purple cane on Thursday, the day after having completed the 20th, and final, regular season of his career.
"OK, what can we talk about today?" Jackson said, rubbing the plush velour table cloth the Lakers had placed over his interview table to mark the occasion. "Let's talk about the playoffs, OK?"
The Lakers open up their three-peat bid at home hosting the New Orleans Hornets (Game 1 is Sunday at 12:30 p.m. PT on ABC).
While the Lakers accomplished their post All-Star goal of securing the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference playoffs, they stumbled into the postseason on a two game-winning streak that comes on the heels of dropping five in a row.[+] EnlargeJed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesAs they get deeper into the playoffs, the Lakers are going to need their injured players back to take pressure off Kobe Bryant.
Despite the fact San Antonio rested its big three and Sacramento was on its way to the second-worst record in the West, the Lakers' final two wins were tenuous as they dealt with injuries to their lineup.
Both Andrew Bynum (right knee bone bruise) and Matt Barnes (sore right knee) are expected back to practice on Friday when the team returns from its day off, but Jackson isn't placing any expectations on his starting center.
"I can't tell you that at all now. That's premature," Jackson said when asked how much Bynum would be able to contribute after hyperextending his right knee against the Spurs on Tuesday. "We anticipate that he'll be able to do some practicing, perhaps, before the series begins on Sunday and yet we don't know."
Bynum averaged 11.5 points, 9.5 rebounds and nearly two blocked shots during the regular season, and Lakers coaches and players point to the 7-footer's defensive attentiveness as the main reason for the team's 17-1 record it had coming out of the All-Star break.
"We hope that he can do that and better," Jackson said. "He played better for us during stretches of the year, but right now it's about physically being capable."
Bynum has been limited in the Lakers' past two championship runs because of knee injuries, but he was able to suit up at least. In 2008, when the Lakers lost to Boston, he was sidelined for the series.
"Three years ago he missed [the playoffs] and we had to play without him and we know that we didn't finish it off and win," Jackson said. "That's the difference in having Andrew and not having Andrew -- the rebounding and the strength that we can have in the middle."
Adding to the injury front, backup point guard Steve Blake could be out for another week with the chicken pox. The Lakers have bolstered their roster to cover the gap, dipping into their D-League affiliate, the Bakersfield Jam, to call up guard Trey Johnson and recall center Derrick Caracter. Rookie Devin Ebanks is also expected to return from a stress fracture in his right tibia, giving L.A. a full 15-man roster for their playoff run.
"We'll have some practices and some team effort that can contribute to playing basketball a little better than we finished the season," Jackson said.
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The Lakers swept the Hornets 4-0 during the regular season, and New Orleans lost its leading scorer David West to a season-ending ACL tear last month, but Jackson said the Lakers can't let their guard down.
"I hope it doesn't let us think that this is going to be anything easy," Jackson said. "We're just going to really attend to this one with a kind of seriousness. & They're a survivor-type team and they're a very feisty group of guys."
The 65-year-old coach, who was fined $75,000 by the league for comments made about how the looming NBA lockout has played into his decision to retire at the end of this season, said he is not milking his "last stand" as a motivational tactic for the team.
"It's something that we have to acknowledge and go through it, but it's not something about, 'Win one for the Gipper,' or 'Win one for Phil,'" Jackson said. "That's not what it's about.
"We haven't gotten into that at all. We'll digest this during the course of the playoffs, and yet it's imminent. It's the elephant in the living room or in the bedroom, depending upon where you want to put that elephant."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.