Lakers hope practice means something
The Lakers practiced for a long time Friday, which might be the most optimistic thing written about them in a while.
Kobe Bryant proclaimed to be well-rested, Andrew Bynum can’t wait to be game-tested and players were still digesting the latest let’s-get-going speech from Derek Fisher.
The Lakers are showing a brave front despite a 3-6 skid to end the regular season. Even Coach Phil Jackson spoke to the media despite being irritated by another $35,000 fine from the NBA.
The Lakers’ first-round playoff series against Oklahoma City starts Sunday. They say they’ll be ready.
“I feel pretty good,” said Bryant, who sat out four of the Lakers’ last five games to rest a trio of injuries: a broken right index finger, a sore right knee and a sore tendon in his left ankle. “It was good to get up and down. We worked on quite a bit of things. It was one of the longest, hardest practices we’ve had all year.
“My legs feel better. The ankle thing was still kind of lingering a little bit, so that feels a lot better. Rest never hurts.”
Bryant, who said his knee was “much improved,” wasn’t the only one coming off a layoff.
Bynum had not been on the court since March 19 but completed practice without any pain in his strained left Achilles’ tendon.
“I thought the inside of the ankle was going to hurt a little bit, but it feels good,” he said. “I’ve got to get my timing back and conditioning back. But I’ll definitely be able to be out there and be effective.”
Said Fisher: “He looked great today. If it’s based on how he looked today, he’s ready.”
Bynum was averaging 15 points, 8.3 rebounds and 30.4 minutes a game and probably would start Sunday in place of Lamar Odom, who would move back to the bench after looking worn down in recent weeks, scoring under 10 points in four of the Lakers’ last eight games.
This being the Lakers, Friday didn’t pass without anybody getting hurt. Reserve center DJ Mbenga was elbowed in the head during practice and went to a neurologist. He had a headache but, it turned out, not a concussion, and was expected to play Sunday.
Meanwhile, Jackson and Thunder forward Kevin Durant continued to nudge each other from long distance, Jackson wondering why Durant felt the need to call the Lakers’ coach “disrespectful” after Jackson noted aloud that Durant gets to the free-throw line an awful lot.
“I really don’t know what he was upset about,” Jackson said. “It really wasn’t that upsetting. I voted for him on the All-Star team. We know he’s a great player. Congratulations.”
Jackson also said coaches could “get to be robotic” because of heavy-handed fines from the NBA. He has been hit twice this month for a total of $70,000, the latest coming Thursday for saying Durant was being treated like a superstar by referees.
“That’s a gift to the NBA charity,” he said. “The NBA cares. They really care a lot about me.”
Then he started to get up from his chair and laughed. “I’ve got to get out of here before I start something,” he said.
The Lakers will face a younger, quicker Oklahoma City team and have been continually professing the importance of not turning over the ball.
Durant, this season’s NBA’s scoring champion at 30.1 points a game, will be guarded by Ron Artest. Fisher will be charged with slowing down 21-year-old Thunder point guard Russell Westbrook.
Thursday night, as the Lakers met for a video session, Fisher implored his teammates to also step up after an unsteady 17-day span that included losses to New Orleans, Atlanta, San Antonio, Denver, Portland and the Clippers.
Fisher said to “put all your personal stuff down” and “pick that back up in the summertime,” according to Bynum, who referred to the Lakers’ locker-room leader as “Mr. Fisher.”
“We had a great meeting,” Bynum said. “It really got everyone’s mind headed in the right direction.”
Don’t count Jackson among the switch-flippers. “I’m not a believer in turning the switch on,” he said of the Lakers’ lackadaisical play. “That’s what we’ve been harping about here, as you guys know, for the last three weeks."…Bryant said Jackson’s decision to return or retire after this season was not based on the Lakers’ postseason performance. “If we win, he might not come back,” he said matter-of-factly. “It kind of is what it is.”