Their best player is nursing a bevy of injuries, their 22-year-old center has missed the last 11 games and the team has dropped six of nine.
Still, the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers aren’t concerned their recent stumble will impact them come playoff time.
With Kobe Bryant(notes) out for the last two regular-season games and Andrew Bynum(notes) also likely sidelined, the Lakers close out the home portion of their schedule Tuesday against the Sacramento Kings trying to avoid their first three-game losing streak at Staples Center in two years.
After sitting in Minnesota on Friday when the Lakers (56-24) clinched the top seed in the Western Conference, Bryant returned from a two-game absence and scored 20 points in Sunday’s 91-88 home loss to Portland. Bryant, who has been battling a swollen right knee, a fracture on his right index finger and a sprained ankle, missed 15 of 23 shots and two free throws with six seconds left that would have put Los Angeles up by one.
“I haven’t been shooting free throws very well anyway,” he said.
Bryant will have plenty of time to practice his foul shots after the team announced Monday that the 12-time All-Star will sit out the remainder of the regular season ahead of its first-round playoff series with Oklahoma City, which clinched the No. 8 seed.
“There should be two to three days between our (final) game and the start of the playoffs, so I think he’ll find a rhythm,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of Bryant being ready for the postseason.
Bynum is not expected to return until the start of the playoffs due to a strained left Achilles’ tendon, but Jackson—the league’s all-time winningest coach in playoff history—doesn’t seem too concerned with the team’s recent slide.
“I think this is an end of the season type of thing that’s happened to other ball clubs and other ball clubs I’ve coached,” he said. “I don’t think we’re quite as worried as (the media) make it out to be.”
While Jackson looks to lead his team to a four-game season sweep of Sacramento, Kings coach Paul Westphal hopes for a solid effort in his club’s final game.
After opening the season 14-16, Sacramento (25-56) lost 23 of 27 and will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season following an eight-year postseason run. Despite the second-half struggles, the Kings picked up Westphal’s option for the 2011-12 season Monday. Westphal signed to a two-year deal with an option after Sacramento went a franchise-worst 17-65 last season.
“It shows that the ownership and management and coaching staff and players have taken a step in the direction that everybody wants this franchise to go,” Westphal said prior to Monday’s 117-107 loss to Houston.
Evans scored 24 points Monday to become the fourth rookie in NBA history to average 20.0 points, 5.0 rebounds and 5.0 assists. The first three were Oscar Robertson, Michael Jordan and LeBron James(notes).
“That’s just an elite three right there. To have my name added is just a blessing,” said Evans, who missed a 109-108 New Year’s Day loss at the Lakers with a sprained right ankle.
Los Angeles, which overcame a 20-point deficit in that matchup to win on Bryant’s buzzer-beating 3-pointer, has won four straight at home versus Sacramento. The Lakers have not dropped three straight at home since March 23-28, 2008.
Los Angeles needs a win to tie Denver for the West’s best home record at 34-7.