It’s not all fine and dandy for Lakers
The Lakers congregated all day Thursday, first the coaching staff and later the players, everybody hoping to put together a successful game plan against the Oklahoma City Thunder before anyone else got hurt or fined.
The latest injury news wasn’t favorable for the Lakers, with reserve guard Sasha Vujacic sidelined a lengthy period because of a severely sprained left ankle, and the financial trends weren’t great either when Phil Jackson got hit with his second $35,000 fine in 10 days for criticizing referees.
Neither event was met with open arms by an organization that is getting short on healthy employees.
“It could take two weeks, it could be 10 weeks [for Vujacic]. We don’t have a crystal ball,” Lakers spokesman John Black said Thursday. “Everybody’s body heals differently, but it will be on the longer end.”
Jackson was fined again by the NBA, this time for criticizing referees because they often reward Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant with a bevy of free-throw attempts, he said.
“I think a lot of the referees are treating him like a superstar,” Jackson said Tuesday. “He gets to the line easily and often. He’s got the ability to create fouls. That’s a big part of scoring, to get to the foul line.”
The NBA often cringes when coaches say players get superstar treatment from referees. Neither Jackson nor Lakers players were available for comment Thursday.
Jackson was also fined $35,000 on April 5, a day after saying Kobe Bryant was hit unnecessarily with a technical foul against San Antonio.
Meanwhile, the Lakers continued to monitor their injured.
Bryant was seen shooting around several hours before Wednesday’s regular-season finale against the Clippers, even making eight in a row from the deep perimeter before sitting out the game because of lingering knee and finger soreness.
Andrew Bynum is expected to go through a full practice Friday, his biggest test since sustaining a strained left Achilles’ tendon March 19.
Ron Artest will play in the series opener Sunday despite sustaining a mild ankle sprain against the Clippers, and Jordan Farmar said he would “absolutely” play despite a strained left hamstring.
Vujacic was hurt when he landed on the foot of Clippers guard Mardy Collins after shooting a 20-footer. He was averaging only 2.8 points a game and recently had to climb out of Jackson’s doghouse after shouting at assistant coach Brian Shaw in a game against, coincidentally, Oklahoma City.
Many eyes, however, were on Jim Cleamons at the team’s training facility Thursday. Nobody on the Lakers knows the Thunder better than him.
When Jackson assigned each assistant coach nine or 10 teams to study throughout the season, Cleamons was charged with tracking and game-planning for the Thunder.
If Oklahoma City is on a winning streak, Cleamons knows why. If Durant sneezes, Cleamons knows who hands him a tissue. Russell Westbrook’s breakthrough season? Cleamons can tell you all about it.
Just three weeks ago, the Thunder pounded the Lakers in Oklahoma City, 91-75, ending the franchise’s 12-game losing streak against the Lakers by forcing 18 turnovers, nine by Bryant, and leading by as many as 33.
“They had their way with us,” Cleamons said. “If you turn the ball over above the free-throw line or if you take quick shots and there are long rebounds, they’re off to the races.
“This team reminds me of the Lakers in the mid-'80s, the ‘Showtime’ teams. They run to get layups. They don’t run for jump shots. They don’t run to the three-point line. The heck with the cutesy stuff. They run the ball all the way back at you.”
Westbrook has pushed the pace in only his second year out of UCLA, and Durant is on the cusp of NBA eminence in only his third season.
Durant has already fired back at Jackson, saying it was “disrespectful” of the Lakers coach to say how easily he gets to the free-throw line, an obvious attempt by Jackson to put some doubt into the referees this series, if not Durant.
Durant isn’t a selfish type, Cleamons said, despite averaging an NBA-best 30.1 points and tying Cleveland forward LeBron James for the league lead with 10.2 free-throw attempts a game.
“He gets his shots, he gets his numbers, but at the same time, he’s not a Gatling gun,” Cleamons said. “I don’t think he goes out and forces those opportunities. I think he has a conscience. He just as easily could have eight or nine assists. Obviously he will have our attention.”