Los Angeles Lakers: Injury News
Starter Steve Nash has already missed five games and is out at least another week after suffering a non-displaced fracture in the head of his left fibula Oct. 31 against the Portland Trail Blazers.
Now Steve Blake, who has started every game in Nash's absence, could miss time with a lower abdominal strain. Blake aggravated the injury early during the Lakers 103-90 win over the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center, and played just over two minutes in the third quarter before pain forced him to the bench.
The Lakers said Blake will miss Monday's practice in El Segundo, Calif., then undergo an ultrasound Tuesday, after which he will be reevaluated.
The Lakers host the San Antonio Spurs on Tuesday night.
"It's something I've been dealing with for the last couple games. I've been trying to push through it, but tonight it was hurting pretty bad," Blake said. "I think I can try to play through anything, but I don't know if it would be good for me to try and play through it because it will probably never heal. It's one of those things where we have to make a decision."
Blake is averaging 5.7 points and 3.3 rebounds on the season.
Given the Lakers aren't entirely sure who will coach them on Tuesday -- interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff could still be on the sidelines while the Lakers continue negotiating with Phil Jackson -- determining who will start should Blake miss time isn't an exact science. Still, second-year point guard Darius Morris has served as Blake's backup and would appear to have the inside track.
In five games this season, Morris has averaged 6.5 points and 2 assists, shooting 39.1 percent.
With Blake largely unavailable in the second half, Chris Duhon -- acquired in the Dwight Howard trade on Aug. 10, played a season-high 12 minutes Sunday and would be in line for increased minutes should Blake's injury keep him on the sidelines.
Kobe Bryant participated fully in shootaround Tuesday morning, and unless his strained right foot acts up in the interim he'll suit up for tonight's season opener against Dallas.
Very good news for the Lakers, both in terms of the game itself and as an indication of how his strained right foot is healing after a week on the shelf.
The news ran the gamut from excellent to worrisome. Unfortunately, the worrisome part happens to be about Kobe Bryant.
As it was Monday, as the Lakers held practice this afternoon Bryant was sidelined because of a strained right foot, and while the team called his status for Wednesday's preseason tilt against the Clippers "day-to-day," when asked whether he would suit up, Bryant's reply was pretty clear.
And if it was a regular-season game?
Which could very well mean he sits in Thursday's preseason finale as well. More on this in a moment, but first the rest of the injury rundown:
- For reasons described as "precautionary," Dwight Howard was a limited participant, and will be a gametime decision Wednesday. Coach Mike Brown says they'll evaluate him after shootaround and go from there, but fair to say the Lakers will continue giving Howard the kid-glove treatment, particularly while still in the fake-game season.
- Jordan Hill, who hasn't played since the first preseason game and has been rehabbing a herniated disc in his back over the last couple of weeks, went full speed and could be in the lineup Wednesday.
- Metta World Peace again practiced, with the middle finger he dislocated in the second half Sunday night wrapped heavily in blue tape. He'll play Wednesday, and said he won't require any special support for the injured digit. As he put it, "Splints are for chumps."
- Steve Nash, who had his ankle stepped on Sunday, is fine.
So again, the news isn't all bad. Nobody seemed all that worried about Howard, whose maladies seemed more of the "guy who hadn't played a game in six months" variety than anything serious. But I'd be lying if I said there wasn't a little bit of concern creeping in regarding Bryant. A couple of weeks ago, he said he was as healthy as he has been in years. Now, not so much. And it's not just the injury, but the location. A player of Kobe's skill and resourcefulness can work around an elbows, shoulders, or (as we've seen) even mangled fingers.
Feet offer fewer workarounds. Moreover, they are by definition foundational, and when something messes with an athlete's foundation other problems often pop up, be it in the knees, hips, back, or wherever. Not saying with a few days of rest he won't be fine, but if asked to come up with a malady not including the words "torn," "broken," or "ruptured" giving me a feeling of, as Phil Jackson often put it, "dis-ease," a foot problem would be right up there. It's the sort of thing with the potential to nag.
That the Lakers need a healthy Kobe is self-evident, and at this point in his career, Kobe understands the need to take time for his body when it is required, and the upgrade in talent this offseason gives him more flexibility to rest. He'll do so as long as required. In the meantime, this sort of thing hampers attempts to build continuity in the preseason and makes the hair on the back of many a Laker fan's neck stand up.
While it would be great to get a couple runs in before the real games start, the significance isn't necessarily whether Dwight Howard returns for the team's sixth preseason tilt (at Staples against Sacramento), or the seventh, or the eighth. It's another in a series of maraging steel-strong signals he'll be able to play in the season opener on October 30th, and do so without restrictions in playing time or threats to his long term health.
The writing has been on the wall for a little while now, but keep in mind none of this was guaranteed when the Lakers made the big trade in August.
- I am not a doctor.
- I don't have any real reference point to know what a healthy Dwight Howard looks like when he's practicing.
- I am not a doctor.
All that established, I'll now say this: Between what we saw and what he and his teammates said Tuesday afternoon in El Segundo, Dwight Howard doesn't look like a guy too far off from game play. Certainly in the portion of practice we were allowed to view, Howard was running comfortably, working through 5-on-none offensive possessions as the Lakers install their new Princeton system. Even better, Howard participated fully in the portions of practice we weren't allowed to watch, and felt good after.
"We did a lot of work today. 2-on-2, 3-on-3, 1-on-1," Howard said. "We did a lot of drills. So it was pretty good."
Asked if he was surprised to do this much in his first official practice with the Lakers, Howard was quick to reply. “I didn’t surprise myself. I’ve been working hard to get on the court. I’ll continue to work hard, and we haven’t had any setbacks. I’ll continue to do whatever I can to get back on the court."
Whether by deflecting with the joke about the iPhone app measuring a player's health (material he recycled today) or simply avoiding the question, Howard has tried hard not to give any clues about when he might return. Still, he may have unwittingly flashed a signal when asked if it was possible he'd suit up for any of the team's seven preseason games. "Hopefully," Howard replied. "Hopefully I’ll be back for some preseason games. I think we’re going to need it, for chemistry and all that stuff. But like I said, I’m not going to rush. I’m going to continue to practice. We’ve had some great practices. Today was really good. So I’m happy."
When it was noted optimism about preseason games certainly implies greater optimism about the opener, Howard tried hard to backtrack. "I don’t know the date I will return, but I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s practice. I’ll see how my body feels when I wake up," he said, pointing out the goal is to be healthy for the entire year, and said goal won't be put at risk for a couple of meaningless games.
Certainly Howard's teammates were pleasantly surprised at his level of participation. "He worked just as much as everybody else, so that was good," Pau Gasol said. "I didn’t expect that to happen today."
Bynum spent the day with Gary Vitti getting treatment, but didn't require an MRI for what was called a "moderate" sprain during yesterday's game.
Whether he plays against the Nets or not -- if there's any question, he ought to sit -- it seems unlikely he'll miss extended time, obviously something the Lakers can't afford.
After speaking with a source familiar with the league's policy, here are few things to know:
- As part of the policy, during the preseason every player in the NBA undergoes baseline neurological testing.
- If a player is diagnosed with a concussion, he's no longer allowed to play until cleared in consultation with the NBA's director of the concussion program, Dr. Jeffrey Kutcher, an associate professor of neurology at the University of Michigan.
- To gain clearance, a player must return to his symptom free neurological baseline, then complete a series of exertion tests, each growing in difficulty (from a stationary bike to jogging, to agility and individual basketball drills) remaining free of symptoms after each test.
- There is no set amount of time that must pass between each exertion exercise. Testing is situation specific, and relies on the medical judgment of the doctors and other medical personnel involved.
Obviously this isn't an instant process, and it's one the NBA (and the Lakers, as I was told by a team spokesman) takes very seriously. Bryant will be re-evaluated Wednesday, but there's certainly a very good chance he misses that night's game against Minnesota.
More to come tomorrow following shootaround.
Blake originally suffered the injury Tuesday against Phoenix, then aggravated it in the third quarter last night in Salt Lake City against the Jazz. He didn't return, and will be re-evaluated in the next couple days, but it's reasonable to believe his availability for Friday's game against Cleveland, then Saturday vs. the Clippers is murky.
Obviously I can't say with certainty it's the same thing, but in my glory years I had a rib cartilage injury that sounds awfully similar, and in my case at least it was almost comically painful. There's a reason Blake looked like he wanted to lie down and die last night on the tv broadcast. Later, he told ESPNLA's Dave McMenamin basic things like breathing and laughing brought the hurt.
(Meaning if you see Blake on the street, don't lead him up steep hills and keep those witty one-liners to yourself.)
By now we all know the Lakers aren't rich with high end point guards, so losing any depth there hurts. It's all relative, but Blake has been the team's most consistent point producer at the 1, showing far more comfort in Mike Brown's offensive system than he did in the triangle. He'd also playing substantial minutes, over 24 a night, including key stretches late in games. Missing games means likely means more time for Derek Fisher, and presses Darius Morris into service.
I'm a fan of Morris' long term potential, but as we saw Wednesday putting him on the floor means a wide variety of results. Some good (penetration, more quickness,etc.), some bad (tendency to dribble too much and to places he shouldn't go, slower decision making due to lack of experience, and so on), but almost all unpredictable. If there's anything the Lakers don't need offensively, it's another injection of unpredictability. Fisher meanwhile, at least through 12 games, has offensively been the wrong kind of predictable.
Hopefully Blake is able to return soon. Otherwise, the lack of depth with which L.A. entered the season, already problematic, just got worse, likely adding more to Kobe Bryant's plate.
Which is fine, because he's not really doing any heavy lifting these days, right?
Fortunately, they should take the floor reasonably whole.
Forward Josh McRoberts, nursing a sprain to his left thumb suffered on Christmas against Chicago, left Monday's loss in Sacramento at the 8:15 mark of the third quarter with a sprained left big toe and didn't return, but is expected to suit up against the Jazz. Starting at center in Bynum's absence, Pau Gasol wore a large pad on his right shoulder Monday protecting his own Christmas sprain, but suffered no additional damage and is also expected to play.
At Tuesday's shootaround, Mike Brown explained how losing McRoberts on Monday night put the team in a bind, forcing him to play Metta World Peace at power forward after Luke Walton was, in Brown's estimation, "laboring a little."
It was hardly an ideal setup.
"Metta has not had an opportunity to get a rep at the four in over 2 1/2 weeks. The first day or two, we started to give him some reps at the power forward spot, but I didn't like it at the time," he said. "I didn’t want him trying to learn two positions. He did not have another opportunity since about the first or second day of training camp to get reps at that power forward position."
With McRoberts available, World Peace can try to build on a strong performance against Sacramento from his reserve small forward spot. Gasol, meanwhile, is still looking for a true breakout game, though upon further review Brown had good things to say about his performance last night.
"He did a terrific job, going back and watching the tape, of facilitating. We played through him a lot, especially in the second half on the post, where he might not have scored, but man he made some very good passes to his teammates from that post up position," he said.
I asked if, with Bynum still out, Brown wants Gasol to be more "selfish," calling his own number more. “If he was I’d be OK with it, because he’s very skilled. But because he’s playing the way that he is, a lot of the passes that he made were set-up passes. Guys got some very easy looks from it, so I’m OK with that," he said.
"When I was in Cleveland, people asked me that about LeBron all the time. But when a guy is making the game easier for his teammates, you’ve got to be OK with that. Other guys will step up."
Wednesday night, Derek Fisher suggested Kobe Bryant would probably hack off his injured right wrist and play left-handed if it meant getting on the floor for Sunday's opener against Chicago. Friday afternoon, Bryant practiced and declared himself fit. Even better, there wasn't a saw anywhere in sight.
Bryant said the torn lunotriquetral ligament, suffered in Monday's exhibition loss to the Clippers, is painful and has forced some "subtle" measures to compensate, but ultimately he's just trying to forget about it. Neither coach Mike Brown nor Bryant's teammates noticed anything different about him this afternoon, so apparently Kobe is doing fine in that regard.
That Bryant is taking the floor will shock ... nobody. The big question, as it generally is with Kobe, isn't about "if" but "should." Is Bryant doing the smart thing by suiting up?
Barnes participated in the non-contact portions of today's workout, and deemed it a success. All the salient details are contained here, in this handy news story.
In terms of a timetable for returning to game action, Barnes said he'll need three full practices before he's ready. Looking at the schedule, the Lakers play tomorrow at home against Atlanta then Wednesday night in Portland. It's unlikely they'll practice Thursday afternoon ahead of Friday's game against the Clippers. Assuming Phil Jackson has them on the court Saturday and again Monday (after Sunday's tilt vs. OKC), the third practice would have to wait until after next Tuesday's game against Minnesota.
If that's the case, for the sake of spitballing, it would be reasonable to look for Barnes in uniform a week from Friday at home against Charlotte. The Lakers have jimmied with these sorts of things before (Andrew Bynum, for example, was moved back into the starting lineup faster than expected), but won't risk a setback for Barnes. At this point, his presence is far too valuable.
Better to wait the extra game than rush him back. However it's sliced and diced- perhaps a bad metaphor referencing a guy coming off surgery- the news is positive for the Lakers. Given the inconsistencies of Ron Artest as the starting small forward and the second unit generally over the last few weeks, Barnes' ability to defend multiple positions, create second-chance opportunities on the offensive glass, and general tendency to cut to the paint is sorely needed.
An MRI Saturday revealed a small tear of his anterior horn (i.e. the front) of his lateral meniscus in his right knee. Say it five times fast. I'll wait...
Bynum is officially listed as day-to-day, and he's questionable for tomorrow's Game 1 against Utah at Staples.
Interestingly, the injury isn't necessarily new. Writes McMenamin: "The Lakers said they became aware of the tear last June when Bynum came in for his end-of-season exit interview, but Bynum was able to play with the injury without it bothering him during the 2009-10 season. When Bynum hyperextended his right knee... (Friday), the tear went from "very small" to "small."
Obviously the tenor of the series changes from the start if Bynum can't go. In combination with Pau Gasol, his presence gives the Lakers more size than the relatively small Jazz can comfortably handle. If Bynum were to miss time, Jerry Sloan's defensive game plan gets a lot less complicated.
More on this as it develops...
No, over there. That's where I'll be sitting in street clothes for the final two games of the regular season.
One need not believe in unicorns and jackelopes to also believe Bryant could use a few more days of R-and-R.
Particularly since the games remaining aren't steeped in meaning. First, the Lakers should be able to beat Sacramento (Tuesday) and the Clippers (Wednesday) without Kobe. We're talking about opponents with one and two wins respectively over their last 10 games. Moreover, the Lakers have fallen behind Orlando for the second seed overall in the playoffs, and even with those two winnable games appear unlikely to catch the Magic. Orlando also has two games remaining, tonight in Indiana, then Wednesday hosting Philly.
Indy is hot (winning eight of 10), but I'll still toss my lot in with Orlando in both tilts. If form holds, the Lakers have nothing to play for relative to the standings.
Finally, any lingering hopes the Lakers had to gain some continuity and momentum heading into the postseason died heading into the weekend when Kobe made the (wise) decision to sit against Denver and Minnesota. Rhythm will have to be built on the fly over the course of this week and into the postseason. At this point, health becomes paramount, with Kobe's health being paramountiest.
Frankly, like a lot of people I was a little thrown he actually sat himself down in the first place. (Happy, because he needed it, just a little surprised he did.)
So what happens if Kobe misses time? What would the Lakers look like?
Between Saturday's win sans-24 and Friday's loss to a Nuggets team without Carmelo Anthony, it's pretty clear good teams can continue to succeed without star players.
Here are a few ways in which things change, and how the Lakers have to adjust:
EL SEGUNDO- Ron Artest was examined today in Los Angeles by a neurologist. Diagnosis from his examination showed that Artest did suffer a concussion in last night’s fall. Artest’s condition has improved since last night; however, he will continue to see a neurologist on a daily basis until he is cleared to return. He is definitely out for tonight’s game against the Kings at Sacramento and his status beyond that will be considered day-to-day.
Obviously not as good as "Artest hopped a plane to Sacramento," but not necessarily reason to sound the alarm. That the Lakers make a point of noting his improved condition is nice, and speaking with the LA Times Artest's agent David Bauman seemed reasonably unconcerned, but given the nature of concussions it can be difficult to make projections on a possible return date. We're certainly not going to do without more information available.