The text message arrived on Phil Jackson’s cellphone Sunday at 8 p.m., a few hours after the Lakers’ latest loss.
Kobe Bryant wanted to sit out the last two regular-season games.
It was somewhat surprising, seeing how Bryant had just told reporters he wanted to continue playing because “you can’t rest too much . . . you get rusty,” but then came the text, eventually followed by the Lakers’ official announcement Monday afternoon that Bryant won’t play another game until their playoff opener this weekend against Oklahoma City because of his broken right index finger.
Bryant did not give any interviews after Monday’s practice, but there was no denying that he wasn’t himself Sunday in a 91-88 loss to Portland after a two-game break to recover from swelling in his right knee.
He made only eight of 23 shots and was short on two free throws with 6.9 seconds to play that would have given the Lakers a one-point lead.
“I’m not worried about it that much. I think that he’ll find a way,” Jackson said. “There should be two or three days between our end game and start of the playoffs. I think he’ll find a rhythm. A lot of it is Kobe’s choice of shots. He’s taken some tougher-than-natural chances and I think that’s contributing to his poor eyes.”
But hasn’t Bryant looked bedraggled while fighting through knee, finger and ankle injuries this season?
“I guess you could call it a little worn down from the season, but maybe two, three years of playing long-term basketball too,” Jackson said.
Bryant would endure less contact in games if he faced the basket and played more like a guard instead of playing with his back to the basket like a forward, Jackson said.
Either way, Bryant was six for 21 Sunday until making a three-pointer with 49.3 seconds left and converting a three-point play after being fouled on a driving layup.
There were other oddities in his game beyond missed free throws with the game on the line. Near the end of the second quarter, with the shot clock winding down and Portland forward Nicolas Batum not falling for any pump fakes, Bryant tossed up an airball from inside the three-point line . . . left-handed.
“He was out for a week or so sitting,” forward Pau Gasol said. “It’s normal that he was a little bit off in his shooting, but I think he played hard and gave us a good effort and gave us a chance to stay in the game at the end. Bottom line, we’re going to need him at his best during the playoff run.”
Bryant was shooting poorly before the Portland game, going eight for 24 against San Antonio and five for 23 against Utah.
Despite it all, Jackson smiled often in a six-minute meeting with reporters. He admonished the negative tone of recent media, saying coverage of the Lakers’ 2-5 slide was “way overblown.”
“I think this is an end-of-the-season type of thing that’s happened to other ballclubs that I’ve coached,” he said.
Wait, the media is to blame for the Lakers’ recent struggles?
“You guys like to instigate stuff,” Jackson said before chuckling. “I don’t think we’re quite as worried as you guys make us out to be.”
The Lakers are a handful of days from postseason play, can’t seem to beat anybody of note, Bryant is asking out of games and Andrew Bynum is only beginning to run again, the other news of note to come out of Monday’s practice.
Bynum has not played since suffering a strained left Achilles’ tendon March 19, but he ran 20 minutes Monday on an anti-gravity treadmill that reduces stress on the body.
Bynum weighs 285 pounds and set the treadmill to take off 30 pounds, effectively making the impact of the workout on the body as if he weighed 255.
“It worked fine, no pain,” Bynum said. “I’ll do it a little bit longer [Tuesday], put a little bit more weight on.”
Bynum hoped to go through a mild shoot-around Wednesday and a full practice Thursday. He did not hesitate when asked when he would be back to game action.
“First game of the playoffs,” he said.
After all, he sensed he was missed defensively.
“Especially since when me and Pau are in at the same time, if somebody gets by one of us, the other one can kind of help alter more shots,” he said. “We’re giving up way, way too many layups.”
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Lakers-Oklahoma City first look
The Lakers had their way with Oklahoma City this season, winning three of four games against their first-round opponent.
But the Thunder beat the Lakers last month, 91-75, finally ending a 12-game losing streak to the Lakers that extended back to the franchise’s days in Seattle.
Three of Oklahoma City’s top four players are younger than 24, setting up an aging-vs.-ageless match-up: Forward Kevin Durant and guard Russell Westbrook are 21, while power forward Jeff Green is 23.
“There’s a lot of youth and enthusiasm and talent in Oklahoma City,” Minnesota Timberwolves Coach Kurt Rambis said. “There’s excitement about them making the playoffs this year. It’s such a brand-new experience for all the players and coaching staff and the town. It’ll be crazy there.
“But the Lakers have so much playoff experience. They know how intense and physical the game is going to become. The Lakers have seen all of that, and Oklahoma City hasn’t been in that environment yet. They have youth, athleticism and freshness on their side, but inexperience is going to be a factor out there.”