Lakers Mike D'Antoni, Dwight Howard look powerless in avoiding sweep to Spurs

SAN ANTONIO – Kobe Bryant is expected to be watching Game 3 from the Los Angeles Lakers' locker room Friday night with his left leg elevated. Point guards Steve Nash and Steve Blake could join him. Injuries have become so bad for the Lakers that Metta World Peace took the early bus to the arena Wednesday so he could get treatment before the training room got packed.

The beaten Lakers are showing heart against the title-contending San Antonio Spurs. But down 2-0 in this best-of-seven first-round series with injuries mounting, just how much fight do these battered Lakers have left?

"We've had a rough year, but we're not going to hang our heads," said Lakers center Dwight Howard, who is dealing with back and shoulder injuries, after a 102-91 loss Wednesday night. "Guys will go down, but we're still a team and still have a great opportunity in front of us. We just can't lose our faith, with guys getting banged up. With guys falling, other guys will step up and play.

"It hurts to see people go down. We've had guys go down all year. But we've still got to stay strong. We've still got to believe."

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These Lakers once had real dreams of a 17th championship after acquiring Howard and Nash. From training camp to now, what the Lakers looked like on paper has never had a chance due to injuries.

"During the season you usually have time to build into a power," World Peace said. "We didn't get that this year. You know how you blow people out and rest for the fourth quarter? Every game is a nail-biter. It's crazy."

Injuries are part of every season for a team. But it's hard to come up with another team in NBA history with such high expectations that has dealt with more pain.

"This has been by far and away the worst season for injuries I have ever been a part of personally and collectively," said Nash, who missed a career-high 32 games this past regular season, his 17th in the league.

He hobbled through Game 2 and missed the final six minutes after aggravating his hamstring and hip injuries. After saying he couldn't have another epidural shot for another three weeks, he plans on having one Thursday morning. His status for Game 3 is unknown.

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Blake suffered a hamstring injury in the fourth quarter Wednesday. He will have an ultrasound on Thursday in Los Angeles and his status for Game 3 is unknown. Blake missed 37 games this season with an abdominal injury.

Howard has said he could have returned as late as February from back surgery last year, but he returned probably too early at the end of the preseason. The brawny center has lost strength as he hasn't been able to lift weights all season because his back isn't strong enough. He's shown only flashes of his old stellar self as a Laker. His stats Wednesday: 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting, nine rebounds and four blocks.

The Spurs are making the Lakers' challenge much tougher as they've regained their old dominating form after finishing the regular season losing five of seven. Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili have shaken off injuries to become elite again while future Hall of Famer Tim Duncan is eluding Father Time. The Spurs are showing defensive tenacity, too, holding the Lakers to 79 and 91 points, respectively, in the first two playoff games.

"We got it back

for these two games," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said. "We'll see if we can continue to play good defense both individually and team wise when we get back to L.A."

D'Antoni noticed after Game 2 that his players' "emotions are down right now," but offered hope in the fact that the next two games are in Los Angeles.

"If you want to do anything, Friday is a big game," D'Antoni told his players.

The loss of the two limping Steves would force the Lakers to rely on seldom-used guards Darius Morris, Chris Duhon (who hasn't played in 11 days) and Andrew Goudelock, who was signed last week.

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The Lakers' "What if?" season could all be over Sunday with two losses and a legitimate excuse. Their pride, however, will not allow them to throw in their bloody towels.

"We still have Dwight Howard," World Peace said. "We still have Pau. [Injuries] is just a way out. It's an excuse. When you lose, you lose. It's that simple. You don't say the Lakers lost because of injuries. You lost. The score is the score. That is it. No excuses."

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