Monthly Archive for April, 2011

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Lakers Pre-Playoff Injury Update

Heading into Game 1 of the playoffs, here’s an injury update from L.A.’s Friday afternoon practice:

ANDREW BYNUM:
- The 7-foot center, who hyperextended his right knee, resulting in a bone bruise in the Lakers’ Tuesday win over San Antonio, missed the team’s final game at Sacramento but practiced fully on Friday. Assistant coach Brian Shaw and Kobe Bryant alternatively said that Bynum looked “normal” and “good,” while Phil Jackson said ‘Drew looked a bit loose at the start, but fine as practice continued.

Bynum weighed in himself, saying that he was “fine” and had “no limitations” but was merely excited to get the first game started. Good news for the Lakers, certainly, after what initially looked like a potentially serious injury.

IN SHORT: Bynum will start Game 1.

MATT BARNES:
- Barnes did not practice on Friday after sitting out the team’s final two regular season games. Barnes missed 26 games from Jan. 7 (incidentally against the Hornets) to March 4 while recovering from a surgical procedure to repair torn lateral meniscus in his right knee. Barnes has been experiencing soreness this week, but a Wednesday MRI revealed no structural damage.

IN SHORT: Barnes is listed as “probable” for Game 1 and is expected to play.

STEVE BLAKE:
- Blake came down with the chicken pox earlier in the week and continues to have the “indefinitely” tag upon him as far as when he might return. Jackson revealed that he drove over to Blake’s house to drop off some video shown to the rest of the team, and described his backup point guard as “speckled.”

IN SHORT: Blake is definitely out for Game 1.

New Orleans Hornets: 10 Questions

Complete Lakers – Hornets First Round Series preview.

If you’re looking to go a bit deeper into the New Orleans Hornets, we’re here for you.

Two days away from the start of LAL’s quest for a three-peat, we enlisted Hornets.com writer Jim Eichenhofer to answer 10 questions about the Hornets ranging from Chris Paul’s health, David West’s absence, how the Hornets plan on dealing with L.A.’s size, the mindset of coach Monty Williams and more:

1) Chris Paul appears to be moving better now than he was earlier in the season, but how is his knee and what can we expect from Paul in the playoffs?
Eichenhofer: Chris has said periodically throughout the season that he realizes he’s not 100 percent, but he’s always been the kind of player who is averse to acknowledging the presence of injuries. He says that if he’s healthy enough to be on the court, he won’t use injury as an excuse. Certainly though, he hasn’t shown as much explosiveness or been able to take over games individually as frequently as in the past. There have been glimpses of vintage Paul, as the Lakers witnessed Feb. 5 during a dominant stretch when the four-time All-Star drilled three straight three-pointers in rapid succession at the end of the third quarter. He also had a three-game stretch in March in which he averaged 28.7 points, one of the best scoring weeks of his career.

2) What’s the net effect of losing David West, with Carl Landry sliding into the starting line up and the obvious weakening of the bench? Also, how has center Emeka Okafor’s game developed this season?
Eichenhofer: Monty Williams said on multiple occasions that his biggest concern after West’s injury wasn’t Landry’s production as a new starter, but what the Hornets would get from their backup frontcourt players, so that definitely was a significant question mark. Though the reserve unit certainly was hurt by losing the offensive punch Landry provided, the bench has benefited from a pair of positive developments. Jarrett Jack has been the Hornets’ most effective reserve in recent weeks, averaging double-digit points in March and April. Specifically at the 4, Jason Smith suddenly began playing more over the last five games of the regular season and played well in about 19 minutes per outing.

After a self-described disappointing 2009-10 debut with the Hornets, Okafor has been one of the team’s most improved players. His numbers have always been there, but the impact he’s made this season has been significant. Perhaps the biggest evidence of Okafor’s value to New Orleans took place when he was was sidelined by injury for 10 midseason games. The Hornets went 3-7. Prior to Okafor’s injury, they had put together a 10-game winning streak that tied a franchise record.

3) Former Laker Trevor Ariza has really struggled with his shooting this season, hitting 39 percent from the field and 30 percent from three. Has he made up for it with defense and glue-type activity?
Eichenhofer: The most concrete evidence of Ariza’s impact on the defensive end is in New Orleans’ improvement from 21st in the league in points allowed per game last season to fifth. Williams has praised Ariza since early in the season for accepting the responsibility of guarding the opponent’s top wing scorers. Many people believed the Hornets were the least athletic team in the NBA last season, with older players logging substantial minutes at the 2 and 3 spots. Ariza helped greatly in that area. To his credit, he recently acknowledged that it’s been a frustrating time for him offensively. “Fans here have been great to me, even though I’ve had kind of a rough year,” he said. “They are still telling me to keep playing hard and have been very supportive.”

4) Who guards Kobe? We saw both Belinelli and Ariza on him in spots, and maybe even some Willie Green, with Bryant averaging 26.8 points on 48.8 percent shooting from the field.
Eichenhofer: I’m not sure. Williams has always avoided answering specific media questions about defensive assignments, so we’ll have to wait and see. Like many observers, I had expected to see Ariza defend Kobe almost exclusively during the regular season, so it was surprising when Belinelli guarded Kobe so often. Overall, I thought the Hornets did a commendable job against Kobe, but Bryant always seemed to drain that back-breaking mid-range jumper whenever the Lakers needed it most. I guess that made New Orleans just like every other frustrated Kobe/Lakers opponent in the league.

5) Do the Hornets believe they can beat the Lakers four times?
Eichenhofer: Great question. I imagine you’ve seen Monty Williams’ quotes before the Dec. 29 game, when he wondered out loud if the Hornets truly had the confidence to compete with a Lakers team that has won back-to-back titles. It’s impossible to get inside the players’ heads and know if they’re more confident vs. the Lakers now than they were at midseason, but one thing’s for sure: no one outside of New Orleans believes they can beat the Lakers four times.

6) What can Williams do to try and make L.A.’s major advantage in length dissipate a bit?
Eichenhofer: My first reaction is to say the Hornets should speed up the tempo, but there are at least two problems with that approach. For one, I’m not sure that playing a faster pace with more possessions wouldn’t actually play right into the athletic Lakers’ hands. Two, the Hornets haven’t pushed the ball much all season, playing at the second-slowest pace among 30 NBA teams. It’s difficult to imagine a team playing the 82-game schedule one way and then diverting from the style that got them to the postseason. Other than that, it’s probably a matter of the Hornets taking as many high-percentage shots as possible to prevent the long misses that lead to fast-break run-outs. New Orleans also could emphasis a gang defensive rebounding mentality.

7) What stands out to you most about the current Hornets’ bench? Jarrett Jack appears the best player on paper.
Eichenhofer: Without a doubt, during the second half of the season, Jack has been the bench’s best player. He struggled big-time in the first month or two after being traded here. I kept telling anyone around here who would listen “Be patient. I’ve watched him play with other teams. He’s a better NBA player than what he’s shown so far.” Right around when many fans were convinced that he wasn’t going to help, Jack put together an outstanding stretch of performances. His valuable contributions helped him reach the playoffs for the first time in his six-year NBA career. The bench in general has adjusted fairly well to the forced rotation changes that resulted from David West’s season-ending injury.

8) Who gets the most bench minutes in the front court in this series? Jason Smith? Aaron Gray? Is Smith willing to mix it up in the paint, or does he mostly settle for jumpers?
Eichenhofer: Gray’s playing time has often been based on the matchups that are presented by the opposing team. Since the Lakers possess one of the biggest frontcourts in the league, they’re a club that could cause the 7-foot, 270-pounder to log substantial minutes. Not that I’m comparing the two – and there certainly is no physical resemblance to the clean-cut Smith – but Smith is kind of a Dennis Rodman-type rebounder who tracks down misses and outhustles people for boards. He’s definitely not a bruiser who pushes guys out of the way or gets position rebounds. Smith gets most of his points away from the hoop, though he can finish too, as he showed in the paint during a 20-point game vs. Washington in February.

9) From afar, Monty Williams seems like a really good coach whose players respect what he’s trying to do. Is that a reason for N.O.’s improved defense this year, ranking fourth in points allowed (aided by a slow pace, obviously) and 12th in FG defense?
Eichenhofer: Without a doubt. During the Hornets’ surprising 11-1 start and their emergence as one of the NBA’s most improved teams, players have often been asked how their first-year coach managed to make such a rapid impact. The players have repeatedly cited three things: A defense-first mentality; an emphasis on preparation; and a consistent message from the coaching staff. Emeka Okafor: “I attribute all of the success we’ve had to (Williams) and his way. He’s very organized and methodical. He’s been very consistent – he says something and sticks to it. His game plan was ‘ We’re going to be a defensive team, and this is how we’re going to do it.’ For him to do that in his first year, that’s amazing.”

10) What else should we know about the Hornets?
Eichenhofer: The March 24 season-ending injury to West has made the Hornets less conventional in their lineup usage, forcing Williams to often alternate between big and small lineups late in the regular season. This might make the Hornets a bit more unpredictable and difficult to prepare for, but without West as a go-to option, offensive production is at a premium. “To say that we can (implement any major style change) post-David West, it’s hard,” Williams said recently. “I think we’re going to be re-inventing ourselves on a night-in, night-out basis, because of the situation. Some nights we’re going to be able to go small, some nights we’ll go big. Because of David’s (absence), we have to. If we can be good at different facets of our scheme, it may give teams one or two more things to prepare for.”

Lakers First Round Schedule

The second seeded Lakers take on the seventh seeded New Orleans Hornets in the first round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs. Here’s the entire schedule.

Game 1 – Sun April 17 New Orleans at L.A. Lakers 12:30PM ABC
Game 2 – Wed April 20 New Orleans at L.A. Lakers 7:30PM TNT / FS West
Game 3 – Fri April 22 L.A. Lakers at New Orleans 6:30PM ESPN / KCAL9
Game 4 – Sun April 24 L.A. Lakers at New Orleans 6:30PM TNT / KCAL9
Game 5 * Tue April 26 New Orleans at L.A. Lakers TBD TBD / FS West
Game 6 * Thu April 28 L.A. Lakers at New Orleans TBD TBD / KCAL9
Game 7 * Sat April 30 New Orleans at L.A. Lakers TBD TNT / FS West

(all times pacific, local broadcasts TBD)

Lakers 116, Kings 108: April 13 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Wednesday evening road contest at Sacramento, the Lakers looking to secure the West’s No. 2 seed with a win, along with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Odom* and Gasol
Kings: T. Evans, M. Thornton, F. Garcia, S. Dalembert, D. Cousins
*Odom was starting for Andrew Bynum, who suffered a hyperextended knee/bone bruise in the second quarter of L.A.’s Tuesday win over San Antonio. The good news was L.A.’s 7-foot center was expected to be ready for the playoffs, avoiding more serious damage.

FIRST QUARTER
6:11 L.A. hit 6-of-11 shots as all but Ron Artest scored in the first six minutes, but the D wasn’t as good, the Kings getting some good looks inside and out in the absence of Bynum. Nonetheless, it was a focused effort from the Lakers, who knew it needed to win to secure home court advantage over the Mavericks in Round 1. Dallas had beaten New Orleans earlier, meaning a win would bring either the Hornets or Memphis (if the Grizz beat the Clippers) to STAPLES Center this weekend.

1:48 Two free throws from Odom got him to seven points, matching Bryant’s early output and putting L.A. up 27-23. Before the game, Odom said that Bynum’s injury scare made him re-focus a bit, made him take a step back and value the time he’d spent on the court. It’s the kind of thing, he said, that could help him and his teammates mentally heading into the playoffs.

0:00 Bryant couldn’t get a last-second shot off through a triple team in transition, but the Lakers finished the quarter off well, opening a 31-26 lead by getting at least four points from all five starters. Bryant’s nine points led, the way, while Gasol added six points, four boards and two assists.

SECOND QUARTER
12:00 With Steve Blake out with the chicken pox and Matt Barnes back in L.A. working on his sore knee, in came D-League call up Trey Johnson, who hadn’t been with the Lakers since the preseason. In the next few minutes, Johnson would team with Brown, Walton, Artest and Gasol to push L.A.’s lead to 10 at 40-30, when “pushing the lead” hadn’t been a common phrase associated with the bench in a while.

5:36 The terrific stretch from a group that hadn’t played together once, even in practice, continued as Johnson hit his first two jumpers as a Laker, Gasol converted a few tough drives and Walton tossed an alley-oop for Brown that put L.A. up 48-34. When Sacramento scored four straight out of a time out, however, Phil Jackson looked over his right shoulder and said: “Kobe.” No. 24 to the scorer’s table.

0:38.1 The Kings went on an 8-0 run as Jackson tried to get Gasol his first rest of the game, cutting L.A.’s 16-point lead in half. Evans then matched Bryant’s jumper, the Lakers having to settle for a 56-48 lead at the break. L.A. shot 51.2 percent from the field and made all 12 of its free throws, notching 13 assists on 21 field goals, Gasol and Bryant combining for 24 points and nine boards.

THIRD QUARTER
9:39 Back to business for L.A. out of the break, with Fisher’s reverse layup opening a 13-point lead at 63-50. Fisher and Artest both had eight points, looking to join Bryant (13), Odom and Gasol (11 each) in double figures.

6:43 Sometimes one wonders if teams watch tape on Fisher … apparently Tyreke Evans does not, as he ran the obviously-looking-to-set-up-for-a-charge Fisher over on a 3-on-1 break. How many times have we seen Fisher quell an odd-man break with a drawn charge this season alone? Alas, it was an important play at that juncture, the KIngs having crept within seven points once again.

2:28 Not one, or two, but three head fakes later, Bryant snuck the ball around three Kings bigs to put L.A. up 80-66. He’d been terrific all evening, converting 9-of-13 field goals (69 percent) for his 23 points. Fellow stars Gasol (16 points, nine boards, four assists) and Odom (15 points, five boards, five assists) had been similarly effective, with a first round matchup with New Orleans (Memphis was getting destroyed by the Clippers) looking ever more likely.
Continue reading ‘Lakers 116, Kings 108: April 13 Running Diary’

Trey Johnson Gets the Call

On Wednesday morning, Trey Johnson was of the mind that he’d be playing a playoff game for the Bakersfield Jam of the D-League when he got a call from agent Brad Ames.

Johnson, taking a nap at the time of the call, assumed there must have been some sort of interest from a European team or an opportunity to make some more money after the D-League season, and begrudgingly answered his phone.

Much to Johnson’s surprise, Ames told him the Lakers wanted to sign him for the remainder of the playoffs, and somewhat facetiously asked Johnson if he were interested.

“I was like, ‘Heck yeah!’,” said Johnson. “We started laughing, and he told me I had to get outta there pretty quick. I called my mom right away … she and my dad have been extremely supportive, and they were both just very thankful.”

A few hours later, there was Johnson, waiting for the rest of the Lakers on the team plane destined for Sacramento.

Johnson says he understands the gravity of the situation he’s entering, with Phil Jackson going for his fourth three-peat, Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher seeking title No. 6 and so on. But he said his sole focus is to find a way to contribute, and not think too much about history.

“I’m extremely confident in what I can bring to the table,” he said. “For me to go to camp with the Lakers and come back now, it’s just perfect timing.”

For the past four seasons, Johnson has been one of the best players in the D-League, this season ranking second league-wide in scoring at 25.5 points per game, plus 4.5 assists in 35.9 minutes. For his D-League career, he has averaged 20.7 points, 4.7 assists and 3.8 rebounds in 36.0 minutes.

A 6-5 guard out of Jackson State, Johnson spent the preseason with the Lakers, playing well in pockets before being waived on October 21. He signed two 10-day contracts with Toronto, playing in seven games and averaging 4.0 points, 1.0 rebounds and 1.6 assists in 11.6 minutes.

Kobe’s For Free!
While we talked, Johnson was lacing up a new pair of Kobe Bryant VI’s, much to his delight. You see, after going through the few pairs he kept from the Raptors, Johnson had to buy his own Kobe’s to use while playing for the Jam. Now, he’s got all the Kobe’s he can handle.

Human Rights Campaign (HRC) on Bryant

The Human Rights Campaign Released a Statement after president Joe Solmonese spoke with Kobe Bryant on the phone on Wednesday evening:

Washington – In a pre-game phone call to HRC president Joe Solmonese just moments ago, Los Angeles Lakers star Kobe Bryant apologized for using a homophobic slur. Bryant expressed understanding and regret for how his words were hurtful and could be used by some to discriminate.

The following is a statement from HRC’s Solmonese:

“I applaud Kobe Bryant for his swift apology. We had a very sincere conversation in which he expressed his heartfelt regret for the hurt that his words caused. He told me that it’s never ok to degrade or tease, and that he understands how his words could unfortunately give the wrong impression that this is appropriate conduct. At the end of a difficult day, I applaud Kobe for coming forward and taking responsibility for his actions.”

The Human Rights Campaign is America’s largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

L.A.’s Western Playoff Picture: April 13

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE CURRENT STANDINGS:

The last day of the regular season is here, offering us the following playoff scenarios for the Lakers:

Lakers Get the No. 2 seed in the West IF:
1) L.A. beats Sacramento
2) L.A. loses to Sacramento and Dallas loses to New Orleans

Lakers Get the No. 3 seed in the West IF:
1) L.A. loses to Sacramento and Dallas beats New Orleans

Here’s whom the Lakers could play depending on what seed they get:

Lakers would face the Hornets IF:
1) New Orleans beats Dallas
2) New Orleans loses to Dallas, L.A. beats Sacramento and Memphis loses to the Clippers

Lakers would face the Blazers IF:
1) L.A. loses to Sacramento and Dallas beats New Orleans

Lakers would face the Grizzlies IF:
1) L.A. beats Sacramento, New Orleans loses to Dallas and Memphis beats the Clippers

Lakers 102, S.A. 93: April 12 Running Diary

Below is a running diary of L.A.’s Tuesday evening home contest against San Antonio, the Lakers looking to snap a 5-game losing streak with some comments drawn from our @LakersReporter Twitter account, and a few more details in case you missed any of the action:

Starters
Lakers: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol and Bynum
Spurs: G. Hill, G. Neal, R. Jefferson, D. Blair, T. Splitter
The Spurs, with the No. 1 seed locked up, chose to sit Tony Parker, Manu Ginobili and Tim Duncan.

FIRST QUARTER
3:39 Without their best three players on the floor and L.A. focusing on defense, San Antonio predictably had trouble generating good looks on offense, making just 5-of-16 shots as the Lakers opened a 21-11 lead on Andrew Bynum’s layup. Bryant was the early aggressor on O, making 3-of-6 field goals for nine points.

1:44 Few in the league are as good at drawing charges as Derek Fisher, who did just that to squash a 3-on-1 Spurs fast break, L.A. holding an 8-point lead at 23-15. Fisher, however, would not still be in the game — Bryant had been subbed out two minutes earlier — were Steve Blake not out indefinitely with the chicken pox. Instead, Fisher played all 12 minutes in the quarter for the first time this season. L.A.’s lead was 24-15 at the break, their D holding S.A.’s subs plus Richard Jefferson and DeJuan Blair to just 28.6 percent shooting.

SECOND QUARTER
8:11Uh oh. While running back on defense, Andrew Bynum stepped on DeJuan Blair’s foot and fell awkwardly, staying on the ground for a good 30 seconds while grabbing his surgically-repaired-in-the-offseason right knee. We couldn’t be sure whether Bynum tweaked something, hurt something or was just frightened, but it was at least a good sign that he got up and walked off under his own power. We’d have to wait and see…

5:49 While everyone in the building wondered about Bynum, L.A. put together a 9-0 run to open a 33-26 lead, capped by a jumper from Luke Walton, who would be asked to play a greater role in the absence of Blake and Brown. Meanwhile, we found out that Bynum hyperextended his right knee, would not return or travel to Sacramento in favor of an MRI in the morning.

0:00 The Bynum scenario ate away at L.A.’s focus, which San Antonio capitalized upon to come from 10 down to tie the game at 45 into halftime. Bryant had 16 and Gasol 11 points, the Lakers trying to pick themselves up off the mental floor.

THIRD QUARTER
9:08 They’d do just that to start the third quarter, with Bryant and Odom (of course stepping into Bynum’s slot in the starting line up) combining for nine points in a 9-2 burst that created a 54-47 lead. Clearly the Lakers would need a great deal from Odom were Bynum to miss any extended time, which he’d always been able to provide in the past, but we won’t start speculating about all that just yet.

6:27 Remember how Bryant has his 14th technical of the year rescinded by the NBA? Well, since then, he’s gotten two legit ones in the last two games, bringing his total to 15, one away from a mandatory suspension, by arguing after being called for an offensive foul. Meanwhile, San Antonio was hanging tough, down 62-60 after a Splitter hook shot.

53.1 Shannon Brown had been struggling for weeks to find himself on offense, so it was good for him to see the ball go through the net off glass late in the third to put LAL up eight points. He’d missed all but one of his first six attempts, and knew that his team needed better from him. The Spurs would pull a hoop back to trail 70-64 heading into the final quarter.

FOURTH QUARTER
10:03 Rotations all out of whack, Phil Jackson tried to get a few minutes out of Theo Ratliff for just the second time since Nov. 9 (he played for two minutes in a blowout of Dallas in late March when Dallas selected him to shoot FT’s for an ejected Steve Blake), San Antonio scored the first four points of the quarter to get within one. A Brown J and two Kobe FT’s put the lead back to five, however.

5:39 Hanging tough, the Spurs tied it up with a Matt Bonner three, before Odom’s and-1 layup got him to 15 points in the second half and put L.A. up 86-83. Nothing easy at STAPLES on this evening, with Jack Nicholson even jumping up irate after a no-call on a Gasol play.

1:36 Odom, terrific all half, finished off in style with an and-1 layup, then a three-pointer that put the Lakers up 102-88. Of his 23 points, 21 came in the second half, to go with seven boards and four dimes. Meanwhile, Bryant checked out of the game without a smile, himself posting 27 points with six boards and four assists. The game would end at 102-93, L.A. just hoping for good news on Bynum after the young center’s MRI in the morning.

POSTGAME NUMBERS
9 Healthy bodies L.A. will take to Sacramento with Bynum (knee), Barnes (knee) and Blake (chicken pox) all staying in Los Angeles: Fisher, Bryant, Artest, Gasol, Odom, Brown, Walton, Smith and Ratliff.

13 Minute played by Bynum before he hyperextended his right knee, a cloud that hung over L.A. for the rest of the game.

17 Rebounds for Pau Gasol, who also played solid defense in Bynum’s absence.

21 Second half points for Lamar Odom, who had only two at the half, but scored nine in both the third and fourth quarters.

35.2 Spurs shooting percentage in a game where they rested their three best offensive players in Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker, the No. 1 seed locked up a bit ago.

Bynum Hyperextends Right Knee

With 8:11 left in the second quarter of L.A.’s Tuesday evening game against San Antonio, Andrew Bynum slipped on the foot of DeJuan Blair and hyperextended the right knee he had surgically repaired in the offseason.

Bynum stayed on the ground holding his knee for about 30 seconds before slowly getting up under his own power and walking off the floor directly into the locker room.

The young center did not return to the game and would not accompany the team to Sacramento for Wednesday’s game, instead staying in Los Angeles to undergo an MRI, the results of which would surely be of high interest around Lakers and NBA circles.

Bynum missed the first 24 games of the season, but since the All-Star break, was averaging 11.5 points on 60.5 percent shooting with 12.7 rebounds and 2.4 blocks, anchoring L.A.’s defense. As the season wore on, Bynum had regained much of the explosion in his legs that when coupled with his touch and sheer size made him a dominant center, helping key the team’s 17-1 record out of the break.

Bynum’s teammates Steve Blake (chicken pox) and Matt Barnes (knee) would also not travel to Sacramento, leaving L.A. with only nine healthy bodies.

Blake Out with Chicken Pox

Lakers backup point guard Steve Blake is out indefinitely after being diagnosed with the chicken pox on Tuesday morning.

The team learned of Blake’s condition after the team’s shootaround in preparation for Tuesday’s game against San Antonio. He’ll very likely miss Wednesday’s game at Sacramento as well in advance of the playoffs, which start either Saturday or Sunday. Blake will be monitored throughout the week.

Meanwhile, Matt Barnes is having soreness in the knee that kept him out of 28 games, and is listed as “questionable” heading into the Spurs game.