Archive for the 'Practice News' Category

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Lakers Open Practice in Beijing

practice1Lakers practice on Sunday morning had all of the usual components: dissection of the offense; drills on defense; shooting work; and on the bright side for the team, participation from Steve Nash (ankle), Wesley Johnson (strained foot), Jordan Farmar (strained calf) and Ryan Kelly (foot).

And, oh yeah, the team is in Beijing, China.

“It’s really exciting to be here,” said Farmar. “I was actually here with the Nets once before, but it’s great to have this much time to spend with teammates, and have a cultural experience from some huge basketball fans.”

nash1Farmar strained his left calf in L.A.’s first preseason game last Saturday, and has yet to return to game action, but said he’s feeling better by the day and hopes to return to game action soon. The team’s next game is on Tuesday, against Golden State in Beijing, and he’s calling himself a question mark at this time.

Kelly is also a question mark for that game, but the second round pick out of Duke continues to ramp up his work in practice and participated in all of Sunday’s session.

Johnson left the team’s second preseason game (Sunday vs. Denver) in the first half and has yet to return to action, but did practice fully for the first time, and hopes to play on Tuesday. Likewise, Nash thinks he’ll play against Golden State. His ankle continues to be bothersome, but he practiced in full before icing down (pictured) after the fact.

As such, everybody on the roster but Kobe Bryant (Achilles) practiced. Though in fairness, Bryant’s handling of his incredible celebrity in China appears* to be pretty hard work in its own right.
*Check for videos throughout the week.

After practice, the players and team staff boarded some buses destined for the Great Wall of China, the first of many cultural experiences of the week in the Far East.

Quote Round Up: Thursday Practice

130425_dantoni_practiceHere’s a transcription of interviews from Thursday’s practice from *coach Mike D’Antoni, Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard.

*Click on each name to watch the full video.

Q: On the status of Steve Blake, Steve Nash and Jodie Meeks for Game 3:
D’Antoni: Well, obviously, Steve Blake isn’t going to have a chance. He’s out for sure. Realistically, (Jodie) Meeks is more doubtful than (Steve) Nash, but we’ll see. Tomorrow is a new day and we’ll see how they feel. Obviously it’ll be a game-time decision, but we’ll see what happens.

Q: On if Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock will see the bulk of the minutes in Game 3 should Blake, Nash and Meeks not play:
D’Antoni: Yeah, and (Chris) Duhon. We’ll get a look at the rest of the guys.

Q: On his feelings about possibly starting that backcourt:
D’Antoni: Again, it is what it is, and it’s not something you may wish, but at the same time, we need to dominate inside. That’s Pau (Gasol) and Dwight (Howard). They’ll play hard and they’ll be defensive. I know it’s hard, but at the same time, I feel we have enough to do it. We’re going to come out fighting and give it all we got.

Q: On what the team needs to do win Game 3:
D’Antoni: We have to dominate the glass, offensively and defensively. We have to make good plays. We’re going to have some of our guys step up, and I trust them to do it at this time. Antawn (Jamison), Earl (Clark), Metta (World Peace), Darius (Morris) – somebody’s going to have to have a good game. A couple of them have to have really good games. They can, and they’re capable.

Q: On his status:
Nash: I had the procedure (two epidural injections and cortisone shot) done this morning, and fingers crossed it’ll help (for Game 3).

Q: On when he tweaked his injury in Game 2:
Nash: I’m always in pain. (I’m) not right so to speak, but I felt OK enough to feel like I could be effective. The last three seconds of the half, I tweaked it trying to sprint the ball up court before the halftime buzzer, and then it just went downhill from there.

Q: On the chances of him playing in Game 3:
Nash: I don’t know. We’ll see. I have fingers crossed that it helps. I could play. I have been called a doctor of chemistry by certain people in the media, but I couldn’t make a prediction.

Q: On how he feels physically:
Nash: I’m still in a lot of discomfort, not only from last night, but getting a bunch of darts stuck in me.

Q: On if there is a chance he won’t play:
Nash: Absolutely. I’m very concerned. It’s really frustrating, especially because I was at the point where I was excited to start the last two games even though I still couldn’t sprint completely and I was not moving as well as I’d like. I still thought I could still be effective and find a way to help the team and impact the game. Obviously to tweak it before the half and for it to deteriorate set me back.

Q: On what the team needs to do to win Game 3:
Gasol: We have to come out with a lot of energy, and be able to sustain it for 48 minutes. We’re going to need our fans’ support, and feed us as much energy as possible to continue to carry it throughout the game. Continue to fight and not let our frustration from the two games and two losses to carry over. They know they have an opportunity to really have a huge advantage in the series and put us in a corner, so right now, the pressure is on us and we need to do the job at home just like we’ve done all year.

Q: On hearing of Steve Blake’s injury:
Gasol: It’s just hard to lose teammates, and teammates that are playing their hearts out. At this point in the year – a critical point in the year – we’ve fought so hard to be here, and it’s hard not to be able to have the players that we can have at this point to have a better chance against a really good San Antonio team.

Q: On the Spurs offensive performance from Game 1 to Game 2:
Howard: They just made some tough shots, and they did it in those last two or three minutes. We have to do a better job of closing out quarters, and making sure those last two or three minutes that we finish strong.

Q: On what the team needs to do to come away with a win in Game 3:
Howard: We just got to make shots. On the defensive end, we have to make sure we do a good job of keeping those guys in front of us. We got to make sure we control Tony Parker from getting in the paint and doing damage. The biggest thing is those last couple minutes of the quarter. We have to do a better job of closing them out.

Murphy’s Law Injury Season Continues

Los Angeles Lakers v San Antonio Spurs - Game TwoLakers Injury Report sponsored by UCLA Health SystemThings seemed bad enough from an injury standpoint with Kobe Bryant watching losses in Games 1 and 2 from his home in Orange County as his backcourt partner Steve Nash hobbled/battled his way through nerve issues in his back/hip/hamstring.

But in a season in which nearly everything has gone wrong from an injury standpoint, we learned on Friday that Steve Blake would be out indefinitely with a moderate hamstring strain, while Nash and Jodie Meeks (sprained left ankle) are doubtful for Friday’s Game 3.

Blake had an ultrasound on Friday to confirm the hamstring strain; Meeks had an MRI on his ankle; and Nash received two epidural injections in his back, in addition to a cortisone shot in his right hip.

Mike D’Antoni said that Nash is the more likely between he and Meeks to be able to play, but both are unlikely to see the floor.

As such, the Lakers would be without their top four guards, with 2011 second round picks Darius Morris and Andrew Goudelock (the recently called-up 2012-13 D-League MVP) and Chris Duhon remaining to try and hold the fort.

Morris will likely start at point guard, charged with defending Tony Parker, which Blake did exceptionally well in the first two games. Parker did manage to explode for 15 of his 28 points in the third quarter of Game 2, hitting 9 of 20 shots and 9 of 10 free throws, after 18 points on 8 of 21 field goals in Game 1.

Goudelock may get the nod at off guard, his ability to create his own shot and knock down open threes coveted, with Duhon backing up both spots.

INJURY MONSTER (bug doesn’t cut it)
In the regular season, the Lakers lost 81 games to starters, and 171 overall, with almost every key rotation player missing at least four games:

- Steve Nash: lower left leg fracture (24 games); right hamstring/hip issues (8 games)
- Kobe Bryant: sprained left ankle (2 games); torn left Achilles tendon (2 games)
- Metta World Peace: torn lateral meniscus in left knee (6 games)
- Pau Gasol: tendinitis in both knees (8 games); concussion (5 games); torn plantar fascia in right foot (20 games)
- Dwight Howard: torn labrum in right shoulder (6 games)
- Jordan Hill: left hip injury (53 games)
- Steve Blake: abdominal injury (37 games)

Add in two missed playoff games for Bryant, one for Hill and Jodie Meeks plus the potential for four guards out for Game 3, and things have gone beyond ridiculous. A qualifier is the team’s collective age, making injuries more likely, but even head athletic trainer Gary Vitti said he’s never seen anything like this season from an injury perspective.

For comparison’s sake, here’s how three other Western teams have fared on the injury front from a games missed standpoint:

Lakers: 171 total, 81 starting five
Spurs: 86 total, 50 starting five
Clippers: 86 total, 17 starting five*
Thunder: 12 total, seven starting five
*Chauncey Billups also missed 60 games

Pretty rough for the purple and gold, to say the least, particularly as the Spurs, Clippers and Thunder have all gotten their key players back for the postseason.

Tuesday Practice Update

nashtuespracThough it happens on occasion in the first round of the NBA playoffs, having consecutive days off between games is uncommon; but that’s what the Lakers and Spurs face as they prepped for Game 2 with a second straight day of practice on Tuesday at the AT&T Center.

The Spurs won Game 1 by 12 points, a scoreline that L.A. may have preferred the chance to reverse in short order. Would an extra day between the two games take away from the desperation the loser typically feels?

If the Lakers thought so, they weren’t collectively revealing an excuse after practice.

“When the ball goes up in the air, we’re going to be ready to play,” said Steve Blake, who played well especially on defense with four steals and two blocks in Game 1. “It’s a huge game … if we want to win the series, we have to steal at least one on the road.”

While Blake and Steve Nash will be in the backcourt, what the Spurs expect to continue is L.A.’s offense running through the NBA’s most skilled big man (with apologies to Tim Duncan), Pau Gasol.

“He’s a great player and he’s got a lot of skills, so that’s why you see the ball in his hands as much as you do,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich.

Gasol told Time Warner Cable SportsNet that he enjoys playing that role, that he’s just as happy to facilitate for teammates as he is taking advantage of his matchup. And that he did in the first half, notching all six of his assists, with coach Mike D’Antoni saying his teammates simply didn’t make shots in the second half. The Spaniard was well on his way to a third triple double in four games.

Gasol’s frontcourt partner, Dwight Howard, has also shown himself capable of finding open shooters out of double teams on the post, but 3 of 15 shooting from three-point range didn’t help assist numbers (one).

Hitting perimeter shots is always a key in the NBA, but particularly in the case of this Lakers group, who needs to see the ball go in from distance to open things up inside. The Spurs were content to allow open jump shots, in favor of sending constant attention towards Howard and Gasol that helped cause 18 total Lakers turnovers.

That’s perhaps the key adjustment for D’Antoni: finding ways to get the ball inside against an overloaded defense.

In other news, Jodie Meeks missed practice for the second straight day due to his sprained ankle, but did say he expects to be available for Game 2. Nash (back, hip, hamstring) practiced and reiterated his Monday claim that he’s simply not going to be 100 percent, but trusts himself to find ways to be effective if limited.

Both teams will hold shootarounds on Wednesday morning in advance of a 6:30 p.m. Pacific tip off.

Lakers Prep for Game 2

130422practiceAfter falling 91-79 in Game 1 of their Round 1 series against San Antonio, the Lakers gathered for a Monday practice at Texas Military Institute, intent upon making adjustments that might help lead to an improved all-around effort in Wednesday’s Game 2.

Searching for a split before returning home to Los Angeles, the Lakers know that they most need to cut down on the kinds of mistakes they made that led to a far-too-high 18 turnovers – the Spurs had just nine – in a statistic that was the major difference between winning and losing.

“I wasn’t happy with the 18 turnovers we had,” said Mike D’Antoni after the game. “That is, to me, probably the difference in the game … some of that was turning down shots that were open and trying to force it in a little bit too much. But we have to have the balance, and have to clean some things up to try and get the ball inside a little bit easier.”

Indeed, 10 of the team’s 18 miscues came from big men Pau Gasol (six) and Dwight Howard (four), as the Spurs constantly clogged the paint and sent multiple bodies at the two Laker bigs.

After Monday’s practice, Steve Blake said the Lakers have to focus on moving the ball, and moving bodies before putting the ball inside.

“There were a few times where we forced things that caused turnovers,” said Blake, who had three miscues. “A couple times I went to make a pass and I just lost it. I’m pretty sure that happened to a couple of guys. We will clean it up and we will be ready for the next game.”

While the offense struggled to 41.1 percent shooting, the defense was very strong, limiting the Spurs to just 37.6 percent from the field. But when an opponent gets to take 12 more shots (85 to 73) and one more free throw (25 to 24, the Spurs plus four in makes) the percentages matter less.

Aside from the extra possessions created off turnovers, San Antonio effectively limited L.A. from gathering misses, allowing only six offensive boards and grabbing eight of their own. Nonetheless, Gregg Popovich’s system of movement and cuts was held pretty well in check by Dwight Howard and Co.

Blake did an excellent job on one of the NBA’s toughest covers in point guard Tony Parker, who made just 8 of 21 shots towards his 18 points. And Steve Nash, never known for his defense, battled hard all night despite continued limitations in his back/hip/hamstring to be in the right places. Danny Green scored only six points, Nash taking care not to afford open looks.

On the other end, Nash – who admittedly does not feel like himself – scored 16 points on 6 of 15 field goals. He was sore after the game, as expected, but made it through Monday’s practice.

“It’s not great, it’s not going to be great but I (have) to worry about what I can do,” he told reporters inquiring about his condition.

Nash is determined to help however he can, and Mike D’Antoni certainly needs his ability to make plays and shoot against a Spurs team eager to load up on the bigs inside. That’s due in part to the absence of offensive machine Kobe Bryant, watching the games back in his Orange County home as he recovers from Achilles surgery. Some of Bryant’s minutes are being taken up by Jodie Meeks, who became the latest Lakers to make the injury report as he sprained his left ankle in the third quarter.

Meeks did not practice on Monday in favor of getting treatment, but he told us he will play on Wednesday.

Tip is at 6:30 p.m. PST; you can watch on Time Warner Cable SportsNet starting with the pregame show, and follow me (@LakersReporter) on Twitter for constant updates from San Antonio.

Nash Plans To Play In Game 1

IMG_2899Steve Nash participated in his second straight practice on Saturday in advance of the Lakers opening round series that starts in San Antonio.

“I plan on playing unless there’s a setback between now and (Sunday),” Nash said. “So far, so good.”

During Friday’s media session, Nash allowed he had not tried sprinting yet, but Saturday, he was able to get up and down the court with no problems.

“A little bit,” Nash said. “We went up and down I’d say 10 trips, and I got through it OK. It wasn’t playing a quarter or anything, but at least it was a little bit more of a step for me, and it gives me some optimism that I’ll be able to get through tomorrow.”

Coach Mike D’Antoni stated there would be “a possibility” both Nash and Blake in the backcourt together on Friday, but remained mum on Saturday as to who would start.

“We’ll see (on Sunday), he said. “We haven’t quite settled in yet.”

Blake started the final eight regular-season games, while Jodie Meeks started the last two after Kobe Bryant went down for the season with a torn Achilles tendon. Because Nash has not played in more than three weeks, though, there could be limitations on his minutes.

“We’ll see,” D’Antoni said. “Obviously, he’s not going to play a lot of minutes. Whatever he can give us will be great, and then we’ll play it by ear. As the series goes on, he should get stronger.”

Limited minutes or not, Nash maintains he’s ready to return and help the team in some capacity after preparing himself to this point.

“All the games are more and more important,” he said. “It’s been tough and that’s why I’m doing whatever I can to get back out there as fast as I can. I’m working hard to put myself in a position to give it a shot, and I think I’m ready to try.”

Nash Optimistic For Game 1

Lakers Injury Report sponsored by UCLA Health SystemSteve Nash, who missed the final eight games of the regular season with hamstring/hip issues, went through a 5-on-5 halfcourt scrimmage with the team in advance of their opening round playoff series with San Antonio.

“Mentally, I’m chomping at the bit and physically I’m getting there,” he said. “I’m very optimistic I’ll be able to play on Sunday.”

Nash received an epidural injection on April 16, but admitted he is still not pain free. He has yet to sprint full speed, though, and acknowledged as much post practice.

“Not full out,” he explained. “I was able to play halfcourt today, and there were a couple situations where it was pretty close to a sprint, so it’s coming. In some ways, I want to give myself as much time as possible, but at the same time you can’t wait forever. Just trying to play that timing game, let the medicine work, (rely) on myself to heal and recover and at the same time, be prepared to play without blowing it out again.”

It’s been nearly three weeks since the 6-foot-3 point guard last played significant minutes in a game – at Milwaukee when coach Mike D’Antoni pulled him early in the second half. The following contest at Sacramento, Nash started but played just two minutes before exiting for good.

“There’s still a lot of movements to work through,” Nash said. “That’s going to take some time. Getting used to some of the pain, some of the inhibition and trying to work through it and get myself back to where I’m capable.”

With Nash injured, Steve Blake started all eight games in April, averaging 12.6 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.0 assists, while shooting 41 percent on 3’s. The last two home games against San Antonio and Houston, he posted a combined 47 points, 12 boards and 11 dimes.

“Steve has been phenomenal and filled in not only for myself, but for Kobe and for our depth,” Nash said of his backcourt partner. “He’s made a lot of shots for us. He’s a fighter. That’s such a valuable thing on your team.”

Should Nash be able to go on Sunday, D’Antoni stated “it’s a possibility” both him and Blake would start together in the backcourt.

“I’m just hoping to be able to play, get out there and contribute,” Nash explained. “That’s the bottom line. I’m just really hopeful and working hard – pretty much twice a day the last few weeks – to get back, and hopefully the time has come.”

LAL Round Up: Regular Season Finale

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles LakersWith L.A.’s entire season coming down to one final game against Houston, we get you ready with a comprehensive breakdown – it’s long, but you’ve been warned – of related topics:

NOTES ON THE ROCKETS (LAL vs. HOU, 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday)
- When Houston beat the Lakers 125-112 in the last meeting on January 8, neither Dwight Howard nor Pau Gasol played. Robert Sacre started at center and Metta World Peace at power forward against a Rockets team that’s thin up front (lots on Omer Asik’s shoulders). LAL should be better able to punish Houston inside on Wednesday, as the offense will run through Howard and Gasol, the two also intent upon protecting the rim on the other end.
- Houston ranks first in the league in points per game (106.1) and has netted at least 115 points in 23 games this year (20-3 record). L.A. held the Spurs to 86 points on Sunday.
- James Harden has been terrific all season, turning into a true superstar that ranks fifth in the NBA in scoring (25.9 points on 44 percent shooting) and 23rd in assists (5.9 per game), with LeBron James (7.3, 11th) and Kobe Bryant (6.0, 21st) the only non point guards ahead of him.
- Chandler Parsons has increased his scoring average from his rookie year (9.5) to 15.4 points per game, improving generally and also playing eight more minutes per game. He missed five April games with a calf strain, but has played the last two, scoring 24 points with seven assists in Monday’s loss at Phoenix.
- Carlos Delfino is averaging 17 points, five boards and two dimes vs. LAL in two games this season, finding himself open from three-point range far too often for LAL’s liking, averaging four made triples per game.
- Greg Smith has started at power forward for the last nine games (nine points, five boards in 21 minutes). He had a season-high 21 points against LAL in the Dec. 4 meeting, but will have Howard and Gasol to deal with on Wednesday.
- Fellow rookie Terrence Jones has seen the floor in seven of eight April games after playing sparingly (11 appearances) in beginning of the year. Jones is averaging 9.4 points, 6.3 rebounds, 1.1 steals and 2.1 blocks in 24.5 minutes in those contests.
- Houston ranks second in the league in threes made (10.6 per game) and have three players in the top 20 (Harden: 175, Delfino: 158, Parsons: 150); LAL are at 4th (making about nine per game). A big part of L.A.’s defensive game plan is to run the Rockets off the three-point line, which is easier said than done with the penetration abilities of Harden and Jeremy Lin.

With just two nights left of basketball before the playoff seedings are set, we laid out several scenarios that are yet to be determined for those eager to tune into the action:

(1.) If Utah loses at Memphis, the Lakers would be locked into at least the No. 8 seed, even with a loss to Houston.
(2.) If the Lakers defeat Houston, they would pass the Rockets and move into the No. 7 seed.
(3.) If both the Lakers and Jazz win, the Lakers would be the No. 7 seed, the Rockets No. 8 and Utah out.
(4.) If Golden State wins at Portland, they are the No. 6 seed, which the Lakers cannot reach even if the Warriors lose (GSW are two up in the loss column with one to play).
(5.) If Golden State loses at Portland and Houston beats the Lakers, Houston is the No. 6 seed (they have the tiebreaker over GSW).

At the top of the standings, Oklahoma City clinched the No. 1 seed, and San Antonio the No. 2 on Monday night. Meanwhile, Denver has secured at least the No. 3 or No. 4 seed, and can lock up the No. 3 spot by beating Phoenix at home on Wednesday. The Clippers could get the No. 3 seed with a Denver loss and two wins (vs. Portland, at Sacramento), and would get at worst the No. 4 seed with a Denver win or at least one loss. Memphis is locked into the No. 5 seed, but can get home court over the Clippers with a win over Utah and at least one Clippers loss. Memphis cannot catch Denver, however, since the Nuggets own the tiebreaker between the two and are a game up with one to play.

NASH OUT AGAIN: For the ninth consecutive game (if you don’t count 1:48 of action to start the game at Sacramento on March 30), the Lakers will be without Steve Nash. They could certainly use his playmaking especially in Bryant’s absence, but his hamstring/hip/back just aren’t ready for game action. LAL has managed to go 7-1 without Nash, running the offense through Gasol and Howard and giving Steve Blake a bigger perimeter role in the absence of both Nash and Bryant against San Antonio.

MINUTE DISTRIBUTION WITHOUT KOBE: With Kobe recovering from Achilles surgery on Saturday, here’s how the minutes (rounded to a whole number) were distributed in Bryant’s (and Steve Nash’s) absence:
Blake: 36; Meeks: 36; MWP: 29; Gasol: 40; Howard: 36; Morris: 20; Jamison: 20; Clark: 19; Duhon: 4.

The main beneficiary of burn with Kobe out was Darius Morris, who did not play vs. Golden State in the prior game before getting 20 minutes (1 for 6 FG’s, 4 rebs, 4 asts, 1 blk) against the Spurs. Jodie Meeks saw his minutes go up from 22 minutes vs. GSW to 36 vs. SAS.

Lakers athletic trainer Gary Vitti said that minutes aren’t necessarily connected to an injury like the Achilles tear suffered by Kobe. With that said, it’s remarkable to see how many career minutes Bryant has played between the regular and playoff seasons (and that’s not counting his Olympic and World Championships runs). Here are the all-time leaders in hoops playing time:

1. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: 66,297 (57,446 regular season, 8,851 playoffs)
2. Karl Malone: 62,759 (54,852 regular season, 7,907 playoffs)
3. Jason Kidd: 55,900 (50,059 regular season, 5,841 playoffs)
4. Wilt Chamberlain: 55,418 (47,859 regular season, 7,559 playoffs)
5. John Stockton: 54,162 (47,764 regular season, 6,398 playoffs)
6. Elvin Hayes: 54,160 (50,000 regular season, 4,160 playoffs)
7. Kobe Bryant: 54,031 (45,390 regular season, 8,641 playoffs)
8. John Havlicek: 53,331 (46,471 regular season, 6,860 playoffs)
9. Reggie Miller: 52,927 (47,619 regular season, 5,308 playoffs)
10. Kevin Garnett: 52,604 (47,783 regular season, 4,821 playoffs)

BLAKE UP to 11th IN THE NBA FROM 3: In the last three games, Steve Blake has climbed up eight spots on the NBA’s three-point shooting percentage list, reaching his current slot of No. 11. He drained 4 of 8 3’s against both Golden State and San Antonio and two of three at Portland to push his season mark to 42.8 percent. One of the 10 players shooting better on the season is his teammate Steve Nash, who’s at 43.8 percent. Blake is a good three-point shooter for his career, at 39.0 percent overall, but was way down last year, converting only 33.5 percent. In his first season in L.A. (2010-11), he hit 37.8 percent from downtown. In April, Blake is averaging 11.0 points, 5.0 boards and 3.6 assists; his season high in points (23) came last game.

Los Angeles Lakers v Houston RocketsHOWARD TAKES ON CHALLENGE SANS KOBE: We expected Howard to have a big day with Bryant out against the Spurs, and he certainly delivered, scoring 26 points on 9 of 15 FG’s and 8 of 17 FT’s, plus a game-high 17 rebounds with three blocks and two steals. Expect similar digits against the Rockets, as Howard’s intent upon showing his ability to lead to the team. He has repeatedly stated that the team simply needs to “play hard” to win, acknowledging that it starts with him. In April, he’s averaging 21.6 points on 65 percent shooting.

SHOOTING ABERATION FROM GASOL: A 26-point, 11-board, 10-assist triple-double in the win over Golden State pushed Pau Gasol’s averages in six April games to 19.3 points, 10.2 rebounds and 6.7 assists on 60.5 percent field goals. He had at least 22 points & shot at least 60 percent in three straight contests, and was averaging over seven assists per game since Nash went out at Sacramento. As such, his can’t-buy-a-bucket struggle against San Antonio (3 for 17) was a surprise and an aberration. The Spaniard did hit the glass for 16 window cleans, matching his season high, and blocked three shots, drawing praise from coach Mike D’Antoni and his teammates for finding a way to help. Expect him to return to form on Wednesday, especially against a Rockets team lacking the size of San Antonio, who defended him with Tiago Splitter and Tim Duncan.

HOWARD HALTS HIS REBOUNDING SLOW DOWN: In part due to recent foul trouble (at least a little bit) and Gasol’s emergence on the glass, Howard had slowed his role from a rebounding perspective until busting out with 17 boards against the Spurs. After grabbing at least 15 in five straight games, he had been averaging only 6.7 in his last four games, including seven against the Warriors in 38 minutes on Friday. One thing that’s been up is his scoring, as he’s hit 20+ in six of eight contests, thanks in part to Gasol’s lobs and better free throw shooting. But speaking of his rebounding…

HOWARD TO BECOME YOUNGEST TO 9,000 REBOUNDS: L.A.’s center enters Wednesday’s game against Houston with 8,999 rebounds, and with one board will become the youngest player in NBA history to reach 9,000 (27 years, 130 days old on 4/17/13). Wilt Chamberlain (27 years, 144 days old) is the current holder of the honor, with Bill Russell (27 years, 357 days old) not far off. The high-school-to-the-pros No. 1 pick will become the 13th fastest to 9,000 in terms of games played.

HOWARD’s FREE THROWS IMPROVE – A BIT: He’s shooting 55.3% in April, still rough, but at least noticeably up from under 49 percent on the season (now 49.4 percent).

JORDAN HILL UPDATE: Lakers reserve big man Jordan Hill, who had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left hip on Jan. 23, began running on an Alter G treadmill at 70 percent of his body weight on Friday. By Tuesday, Hill was up to 90 percent of his body weight. Once Hill gets to 100 percent of his body weight, he’ll be cleared for full weight-bearing running and jumping. Subsequently, he’ll be allowed to begin on-court basketball drills. The team has put a timeline of 3-4 weeks after that process before Hill would be ready to resume playing in games. Hill averaged 6.7 points and 5.7 rebounds per game for the Lakers in 29 games of action.

Q: On playing tomorrow to get into the playoffs:
Gasol: It’s been that way pretty much the last 10 games, but this is the last game. That’s the difference. There’s not another game to make up for it. It’s a must win for us. We want to continue to play the way we’ve been playing. We’ve been doing well – same energy, same attitude, same intensity.
Q: On what advice – if any – he gives the guys for this last game:
Gasol: Just keep doing what they’ve been doing. Everybody needs to stay focused and locked in. It’s another big game. That’s what we’ve been playing for the last month – big game after big game. We’ve got two days of rest, so we should be mentally and physically ready for the last one.
Q: On if he learned anything about the team in the win against SAS:
Gasol: We just showed a lot of character and a lot of determination. Since Kobe went down and the Golden State game was on the line, we all wanted to pull through and come up with that win. Kobe has worked hard all year. We wanted to give ourselves a chance and make it to the playoffs. Fighting for our life has been the constant for a while, so it should be a big satisfaction to win tomorrow, get in (to the playoffs) with some momentum and understand we’re going to face a tough opponent.
Q: On the team’s play without Kobe Bryant thus far:
Gasol: We played one really good game against San Antonio. We hope to play another one tomorrow, and build on it little by little. We don’t have a lot of time obviously but we still have great players here and a great team even without Kobe. It’s unfortunate what happened; we all know that. But we have to face reality and give it our best shot, and that’s what we’ve been doing and we’ll continue to do.

Injury Update: Nash Remains Out

Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles ClippersLakers Injury Report sponsored by UCLA Health SystemSteve Nash pulled himself out of L.A.’s March 30 game at Sacramento after just under two minutes of action, his back/hip/hamstring not allowing him to play, and on Sunday against San Antonio will miss his eighth consecutive game.

The Lakers managed to go 6-1 in the seven games without him, shifting ball-handling and play-making responsibilities over to Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol (over seven assists per game in Nash’s absence). But since Bryant tore his Achilles with 3:08 left in the fourth quarter of L.A.’s Friday night win over Golden State, the Lakers will miss what Nash brings to the table even more.

It’s coach Mike D’Antoni’s hope that Nash will be ready to play on Wednesday, but we’ll have to wait and see how he responds.

Super competitive and constantly hard working, Nash has been increasingly frustrated with the injury, and has been doing everything he can to get back on the floor.

World Peace Poised to Return

Lakers Injury Report sponsored by UCLA Health SystemIn a surprise development, Metta World Peace is set to return early from March 28 knee surgery, with the potential to play in Tuesday night’s game against New Orleans.

After running on a treadmill, World Peace played 3-on-3 with teammates at Monday’s practice, leaving Mike D’Antoni to say that MWP was “80 or 90 percent” going to see the court against the Hornets. World Peace agreed.

“It’s not about how strong I am playing tomorrow night,” said World Peace. “It’s about how strong I was playing three games ago … I was ready to play.”

If World Peace has no swelling or negative response to his activity on Monday, he will be cleared to play on Tuesday, cutting his expected rehabilitation time of six weeks in half.

That original timeline would have had MWP out until early May. However, according to team spokesman John Black, there was no swelling in the knee after surgery, and its the swelling that typically keeps players on the shelf.

World Peace said that doctors “were amazed at how the swelling didn’t even exist.” Rookie Robert Sacre called MWP “Megatron … a machine,” and even Kobe Bryant – of course known to play through injuries – made note.

“It’s still extremely impressive,” Bryant said after relaying that he’s not surprised given World’s penchant for taking care of himself. “I call him Logan now. He’s Wolverine … Honestly, you have to be really disciplined and take care of yourself from the beginning. It’s one thing to have an injury and then try to catch up. But when you’re already there and already taking care of yourself, it makes recovery that much faster.”

Los Angeles Lakers v Los Angeles ClippersL.A. can certainly use a boost on the wing, as Bryant has been playing nearly 48 minutes a night since Steve Nash went out early at Sacramento on March 30. The Lakers have no room for error, trailing Utah by a half game with five to play, needing to lose at least one fewer game than the tiebreaker-holding Jazz. What can MWP bring back to his team?

“A huge spark,” said Bryant. “Defensively, he’s tenacious and he brings a certain level of physicality that can really (impact) a game.”

World Peace, who has averaged 12.8 points, 5.1 rebounds and 1.70 steals in 70 games (64 starts) this season, leads the Lakers in individual plus/minus on the season.