Monday, May 17, 2010

Is Lakers Ready For The Western Conference Finals?

Basketball superstar Kobe Bryant recently had fluid drained from his right knee and has not practiced in the week since their last game, and Andrew Bynum says his torn knee cartilage feels a little worse. Both will try to shake off their injuries Monday when Lakers face Phoenix in Game 1.

The Lakers haven't played since completing a sweep of Utah a week ago, but the circumstances are more considerable, the results more weighty when they begin the Western Conference finals Monday against the Phoenix Suns at Staples Center.

They're four victories away from a 31st appearance in the NBA Finals, but they'll get there only if Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum shake off knee injuries that have basically kept them off the practice court the last week. Kobe Bryant recently had a significant amount of fluid drained from his swollen right knee, The Times has learned, and hasn't practiced since the last round. Andrew Bynum practiced only once and said the torn cartilage in his right knee was "getting a little worse" after making it through Saturday's scrimmage.

Ready or not, here come the run-and-gun Suns.

"We need some different company out on the court," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said with a smile Sunday after yet another day of practice.

Phil Jackson was a little more somber when discussing Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum, the former averaging a solid 32 points a game in the conference semifinals, the latter totaling only six points the last two games against the Jazz.

Jackson, on Bryant: "He came out [Sunday] and shot a little bit and tried to get in rhythm. We hope that he's on board and his game is right at that point where it needs to be."

Jackson, on Bynum: "I thought he played well [Saturday] and we're hopeful that he's going to be at that level."

Neither Kobe Bryant nor Andrew Bynum spoke to reporters Sunday, but it's been unusual to see Bryant off to the side watching and Bynum padding around in flip-flops as teammates run up and down the court at the team's El Segundo training facility.

Their teammates have shrugged off their absence.

"At this point of the year, we need those guys during the game," forward Lamar Odom said. "If they've got something that's ailing or something that's aching, that's bothering them, I'd much rather have them ready for game time."

Phoenix Suns won't take pity on the Lakers, bringing an offense that created a sweep in the last round, the Suns throttling the San Antonio Spurs behind the ageless legs of Steve Nash, the lively pick-and-roll game of Amare Stoudemire and the suddenly consistent shooting of Jason Richardson.

The Suns are shooting an impressive 41.7% from three-point range and averaging 105.8 points in the playoffs, almost five more than the Lakers. They will push the pace with the ever-crafty Nash in an up-tempo offense that somehow has a degree of control to it.

"It's not so full-out run as, say, Oklahoma [City]," Jackson said. "This team has some sense behind what they're doing on their runs."

The Lakers will counter by pounding the ball down low to Pau Gasol and, if possible, Andrew Bynum. They also have put a premium on getting offensive rebounds to limit the Suns' fastbreak opportunities.

"That's something we're going to focus on," Lamar Odom said.

The Suns will have gone eight days since their last game, one more than the Lakers, and they'll have a minor slice of history on their side, having eliminated the Lakers in the first round in 2006 and 2007.

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