The available joke goes like this: Had Lamar Odom hurt his right hand, he could keep playing and never know the difference.
His right foot, though, is another matter. Doesn't matter how left-hand dominant a guy might be, he still needs both feet to run. After complaining of sharp pain in his foot after Sunday's loss to Phoenix, Odom underwent an MRI exam Monday. The results: a bone bruise, not insignificant, but also not expected to force him to the sidelines for Tuesday's game in Milwaukee. Losing Odom would have been a huge blow, even before this season's all-star caliber play. That he'll likely suit up vs. the Bucks is top-shelf news. Still, bone bruises are painful and can linger. It would, particularly while Andrew Bynum is on the sidelines, benefit the Lakers to figure out ways to limit Odom's minutes until the injury heals up, because the Lakers don't have much depth up front should the problem worsen.
Particularly given the other half of Monday's injury news: Theo Ratliff will require arthroscopic surgery to relieve the pain in his left knee. There's currently no timetable set for his return.
Ratliff is averaging only 8.4 minutes a game but provided some depth behind Pau Gasol, himself playing more minutes (38.7) than the Lakers want. Now they're left without another center on the active roster (putting aside for a moment that Gasol would be starting at power forward were Bynum available), meaning rest for the Spaniard will have to wait. And while it remains to be seen how much Odom's injury will limit him, if at all, from game to game, the Lakers can't afford to mess around with Odom's foot, and won't.
I imagine we'll see a little more of Ron Artest at the four, and Derrick Caracter's minutes will increase as well. Ratliff has missed the last two games, but the impact of his absence was mitigated by the way in which Denver (by choice) and Phoenix (by definition) went with small lineups. The Lakers should manage against the Bucks, since Andrew Bogut represents most of their size and he averages under 34 minutes a game, but opponents with more legitimate backup fives could force matchup problems or extra minutes for Gasol. Ratliff doesn't play much, but his absence will require a few tweaks in the rotation.
If Odom plays without limitation, the Lakers will be fine. If he can't, look for Phil Jackson to go small himself, and try to speed up games. The Lakers aren't necessarily a fast-break crew, but play very quickly, whether in transition or the halfcourt and are certainly capable of pushing pace when required. Odom would obviously be a catalyst for that sort of lineup, but the Lakers have enough left over to make it work.
More than anything, though, Monday was a reminder of how fast a season can be altered by injury.