Lakers have big problems for this trip
If the Lakers thought they already scratched the bottom of this season, they were mistaken. Incredibly.
A Monday afternoon injury report adds the latest blows to a team that can’t do anything right on the court: Dwight Howard is out at least a week because of a torn labrum in his right shoulder, Pau Gasol is sidelined two or more games because of a concussion, and their backup big man, Jordan Hill, is out at least a week because of a hip injury.
It left the Lakers with rookie Robert Sacre as their likely starting center for a two-game trip against Houston and San Antonio. Sacre had 15 points and nine rebounds Monday for the Los Angeles D-Fenders, the Lakers’ Development League affiliate, in a loss to the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
Metta World Peace might also get some time at center, Coach Mike D’Antoni said.
This injury news came after Magic Johnson lambasted the Lakers via Twitter (again), saying Howard needed to stop complaining, Gasol should stop playing soft, Kobe Bryant needed to improve his leadership, World Peace should play better defense, Jodie Meeks needed to work on his shot selection and D’Antoni had to do a better job coaching pick-and-roll defense.
Good times for a team that’s 15-18 and 11th in the Western Conference.
After their two games in Texas, the Lakers return to Staples Center to play Oklahoma City on Friday.
No wonder D’Antoni paraphrased Winston Churchill. “When you’re going through hell, you put your head down and keep going, and that’s what we’re going to do,” he said a day after falling to 10-13 as the Lakers’ coach with a 112-105 loss to Denver.
The Lakers somehow showed a sense of humor Monday, with Bryant posting a photo on Twitter of his getting into a mock fistfight with Howard as D’Antoni watched in horror from a trainer’s table at the Lakers’ practice facility.
It was their answer to a New York Daily News report that Howard and Bryant nearly came to blows and had to be separated after Bryant called Howard soft following a Jan. 1 loss to Philadelphia, an account denied by both players and D’Antoni on Monday.
“Obviously, there are fake stories coming out, somebody has something against our team,” Howard said. “Me and Kobe don’t have a problem with each other. We’re not beefing. So for somebody to come out with a random story and say me and him got into a fight? It’s ridiculous.”
Said Bryant: “It’s not true. We all try to be professional about what we do. I guess some [journalists] skate around that a little bit.”
It’s not to say all is well with the franchise.
Howard and Bryant aren’t exactly best buddies. They had a public blow-up last month in New Orleans after Robin Lopez scored two easy baskets. During a timeout, Howard accused Bryant of shoddy defense, but the two quickly made up.
They don’t detest each other by all accounts, but their on-court body language and lack of off-court activity together suggest they aren’t off to a great start.
Not that any of that matters this week.
The Lakers say Howard is out indefinitely, though it will be a little more than a week, according to a person familiar with the situation. He was initially injured Friday when Clippers forward Caron Butler struck him while trying to strip the ball.
Howard tied a career high with 26 rebounds against Denver, but a week’s worth of rest was determined as the next course of action. Surgery is not needed. “It should keep me out for a while, but [I need] to make sure that I’m cautious, to make sure that I get healthy,” Howard said.
Gasol was accidentally hit in the nose by JaVale McGee’s elbow with 1 minute 5 seconds left in Sunday’s game. He sustained a cut on his nose, and, it turned out, a concussion. He did not return to play.
Hill, who has a torn labrum in his hip, is more than a small loss. He was the Lakers’ first center-forward off the bench, meaning they will turn to Sacre down low and then … Earl Clark? Devin Ebanks? Antawn Jamison?
D’Antoni went through this last season in New York when Carmelo Anthony and Amare Stoudemire were sidelined by injuries at the same time. “Then ‘Linsanity’ happened,” D’Antoni said. “Who knows? Maybe ‘Morris-sanity’ is next.”
Darius Morris is the Lakers’ second-year guard. He did not play Sunday.
“At some point you hit rock bottom and then the only place you can go is up,” Bryant said of the injury flurry. “We’ve got guys who have been practicing hard and have been preparing for their moment. Now they have a moment to step in and contribute.”
The Lakers waived rookie guard Darius Johnson-Odom on Monday. The second-round draft pick would have had his contract guaranteed Thursday.
Sacre, on the other hand, will make $473,604 this season with his soon-to-be guaranteed contract. He was also drafted in the second round.
The Lakers now have 14 players on their roster, one fewer than the league maximum.
Times correspondent Eric Pincus contributed to this report.
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