Vujacic, Mbenga out vs. Thunder
LOS ANGELES -- Kobe Bryant was the first Lakers player to step on the court Sunday, hoisting up shots with assistant coach Chuck Person 2 ½ hours before tipoff, but not all of the injured players on the team are having as smooth a recovery.
D.J. Mbenga underwent emergency laser surgery on his left eye Saturday to repair a retinal hole. "He got hit twice in the head, once in the temple [Friday] and [Saturday] right about in the eye," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said during his pregame media session. Mbenga will not be available for Game 1 and will be reevaluated Tuesday.
Sasha Vujacic is also out for the game and possibly the series, with a severely sprained left ankle.
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"It's bothering him a little bit, but he said it's something he can play with," Jackson said.
Andrew Bynum will start at center after missing the last 13 games of the regular season with a strained left Achilles tendon.
"[Bynum's] going to make a difference on the way we play and he's going to have an effect on the game, I just hope he can do it for 24 minutes or so," Jackson said. "I'm not trying to look at him for anything more than that right off the bat."
With all of the injuries his team has, Jackson said he will be mindful of doling out playing time and hinted that he expects a long series.
"I [will] try to watch [playing time] a little bit, this series particularly," Jackson said. "We're playing seven games in 13 days, so we're going to watching minutes a little bit."
Lamar Odom has played in the playoffs five times before in his 11-year career, but he still anticipates them with the same tossing-and-turning anticipation as a kid on Christmas Eve.
"I was getting up and checking the time, it was six in the morning," Odom said. "I went back to sleep, got up about 7:30. I finally woke up and it was time to come to the arena ... I just get anxious to come out here and play on this incredible stage.
"You kind of envision yourself making a move, seeing the crowd, things like that. Just the intensity pumps you up a little bit."
The ring's the thing
If the Lakers needed a tangible reminder that they're the defending NBA champions, Jackson provided it, wearing his 2008-09 championship ring to the game, a big diamond-encrusted piece with a face about the size of a half dollar.
"I always wear the last one," Jackson said. "I've been wearing 2002 for too many years. I have a replacement this year, it's a very difficult ring to wear. It's a beautiful thing, in regards to that, but no clapping the hands and watch shaking hands with people, particularly ones that want to squeeze your hands really hard."
When asked if he had to worry about the ring setting off metal detectors, the artificial-hip having coach quipped, "I have so much metal on my body it really doesn't matter."
The box score from Oklahoma City's 91-75 win over Los Angeles on March 26 was posted in the white board in the Lakers locker room with "Look @ this" and an arrow pointing towards the stat sheet written in black marker above it. Several stats were either circled or underlined for emphasis, including the Lakers' field goal percentage (39.2), 3-point percentage (13.3), free throw percentage (62.5), team assists (seven) as well as the quarter-by-quarter scores, points in the paint and fastbreak points, all of which the Thunder led by a wide margin.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.