With the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference clinched and their first playoff opponent decided, the Los Angeles Lakers would probably prefer to just skip their regular-season finale Wednesday night against the lowly Los Angeles Clippers. Because at this point, another injury is the last thing the defending champs need.
After securing home-court advantage throughout the West playoffs Friday in Minnesota, it would appear that the Lakers (57-24) will have a significant advantage against No. 8 seed Oklahoma City on Sunday when the team’s are expected to open first-round play at Staples Center.
However, the Lakers have lost six of 10, and even one of the worst teams in the West is questioning the defending champs’ ability to repeat.
“I truly think any team making the playoffs in the West can win it,” Clippers interim coach Kim Hughes said following Monday’s 117-94 loss to Dallas. “I think the Lakers have lost their karma a little bit, and they’ve lost their chemistry.”
The Lakers like their position atop the West, but with Jordan Farmar(notes) straining his left hamstring in Tuesday’s 106-100 win over Sacramento, there’s a potentially huge hole to fill off the bench.
“We feel pretty good about what we’ve done, though,” Pau Gasol(notes) said after scoring 28 points against the Kings. “We don’t like the injuries and all, but hopefully (Farmar’s leg) won’t be too bad.”
Kobe Bryant(notes) has missed three of the last four games to recover from a slew of injuries, including a swollen right knee and a fracture on his right index finger, and he will not play Wednesday in order to rest for the Thunder.
Andrew Bynum(notes) will also miss the regular-season finale after being sidelined the last 12 games with a strained left Achilles’. Lakers coach Phil Jackson, though, believes the 22-year-old center could start practicing Friday or Saturday and be ready for the postseason opener.
While the Lakers try to escape without injury in their final regular-season game, the Clippers cap off another disappointing campaign that will have them miss the postseason for the 15th time in 17 seasons.
The team’s hopes for a successful 2009-10 were dampened a day before the season started when it learned that No. 1 overall pick Blake Griffin(notes) had suffered a broken left knee cap in the final preseason game.
With Griffin sidelined the entire year and Hughes taking over on an interim basis for Mike Dunleavy on Feb. 4, the Clippers (28-53) will finish with fewer than 30 wins for the third straight year. While they haven’t advanced to the postseason since 2006, the Clippers remain optimistic of 2010-11 playoff run.
“Honesty, I think that with Blake Griffin and the five guys we already have under contract coming back the team is very close to being a playoff team,” said forward Rasual Butler(notes). “We just need to get a core group together and keep them together.”
If the Clippers can end their season with a second victory over the Lakers - they also defeated the defending champs 102-91 on Jan. 6 - it will give them a season split after being swept each of the last two seasons.
If Orlando loses to visiting Philadelphia on Wednesday and the Lakers defeat the Clippers, Los Angeles will have home-court advantage if it faces the Magic in a finals rematch.