Once again, the Lakers held the Oklahoma City Thunder in the teens in the first quarter. Once again, they couldn’t build on their lead before halftime. In fact, they trailed. In Games 1 and 2 of the series, the Lakers’ biggest bugaboo is their inability to maintain their energy and efficiency. They led by as many as 11 points, but limped to the end of the half trailing by two. Kobe Bryant scored 14 points and Pau Gasol added 10 for the Lakers, who shot 40 percent in the half. Kevin Durant scored 21 points on 9-for-15 shooting for the Thunder. The Lakers led the Thunder by 26-18 after one quarter. Oklahoma City shot 28.6 percent in the first period.
DJ Mbenga received medical clearance to rejoin the active roster tonight for Game 2. He sat out Game 1 after undergoing emergency laser surgery on his left eye Saturday night. He was fitted for a pair of protective glasses. They’re similar to the ones Amare Stoudemire of the Phoenix Suns wears during games. Mbenga joined Ron Artest in wearing blond dye jobs. Mbenga called his Congo Cash. Artest declined to explain his many purple streaks.
Kobe Bryant practiced on a limited basis today, resting his injured ankle, finger and knee. Andrew Bynum practiced and said he had no setbacks after playing more than 30 minutes in the Lakers’ victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game 1 on Sunday. He said he was good to go for Game 2 on Tuesday. DJ Mbenga showed off some new glasses. He needs them to protect his injured left eye. He did not suit up for Game 1 after undergoing emergency laser surgery to repair a retinal hole Saturday. He said the surgery took only 10 minutes, but was still concerned about it. “It’s your eye you’re talking about,” he said.
The Lakers won Game 1 because they got off to a fast start, shot reasonably well in the first quarter and played strong defense in all but the second period. Ron Artest was especially good at defending Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, who had 24 points on 7-for-24 shooting. Russell Westbrook added 23 points. Jeff Green was the only other Thunder player to score in double figures with 10. That’s just about how the Lakers want to play it. Look for the Thunder to try to get off to a better start in Game 2 on Tuesday. Thirteen points on 5-for-19 shooting (26.3 percent) in the first quarter played right into the Lakers’ hands. Also expect them to try to get Green going. They need more than two options.
The Lakers answered a whole lot of questions in the first half today. First and foremost, Andrew Bynum snowed he was ready to play after sitting out for 13 games because of an Achilles tendon injury. He dunked in the face of Oklahoma City’s Nenad Krstic for two of his nine points on 4-for-6 shooting in the half. Kobe Bryant had a team-leading 14 points and Pau Gasol scored nine points and added nine rebounds. The Lakers had a double-digit lead for most of the half, but then former UCLA standout Russell Westbrook went a little nuts and scored eight of his 10 points in the closing minutes for OKC. Kevin Durant added 10 points for the Thunder. The Lakers led by as many as 17 points in the second quarter.
Backup center DJ Mbenga won’t play today in Game 1 against the Oklahoma City Thunder after undergoing emergency eye surgery Saturday night. He got cracked upside the head for the second straight day in practice, suffering a rentinal hole. Surgery was performed by Dr. Ron Gallimore. The Lakers said he would be out 72 hours, minimum. He’ll return to the doctor for a checkup on Tuesday afternoon. Andrew Bynum’s return from a 13-game absence because of a strained left Achilles tendon makes Mbenga’s absence a little less serious to the Lakers’ depth for the first two games of the series.
The list of the injured going into Game 1, with their status:
Ron Artest (sprained left thumb) will play.
Shannon Brown (sprained right thumb) will play.
Kobe Bryant (avulsion fracture, right index finger) will play.
Andrew Bynum (strained left Achilles tendon) is probable.
Jordan Farmar (strained left hamstring) is probable.
DJ Mbenga (retinal surgery, left eye) is out.
Sasha Vujacic (severe sprain, left ankle) is out.
Luke Walton (pinched nerve, back) is probable.
Andrew Bynum will start Sunday in Game 1, Lakers coach Phil Jackson said today after practice. Kobe Bryant also will start against the Oklahoma City Thunder. Bynum’s strained left Achilles tendon is sufficiently healed. Bryant’s injured ankle, finger and knee remain a concern, but he’s good enough to play. Sasha Vujacic is out because of a sprained left ankle. DJ Mbenga got cracked upside the head for the second straight day and went to see a doctor. Stay tuned.
Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum practiced with their teammates today and they expect to play in Game 1 of the Lakers’ first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday. However, backup center DJ Mbenga became the third player to be injured in as many days when he suffered a possible concussion during the 2 1/2-hour workout. Sasha Vujacic sprained his left ankle Wednesday against the Clippers and might not play in the first round. Jordan Farmar strained his left hamstring Tuesday against Sacramento. It’s expected that Farmar will be fit to play Sunday.
The NBA dinged Lakers coach Phil Jackson a cool $35,000 today for his critical comments Tuesday about Oklahoma City forward Kevin Durant receiving favorable calls from the referees. It’s Jackson’s second $35,000 fine this month. League punishment czar Stu Jackson nailed him for ripping the referees’ work after the Lakers’ loss to the San Antonio Spurs on April 4. Of course, that’s chump change when you’re making more than $12 million, as Jackson is this season. It sets up the Lakers-Thunder series quite nicely, don’t you think?
Here are the key paragraphs from the Daily Oklahoman:
“Phil Jackson on Tuesday became the second person in the past two weeks to question the foul calls Kevin Durant has been awarded. Jackson told Los Angeles-area reporters that Durant, who leads the league with 10.3 foul shots per game, gets preferential treatment. … Durant, before wrapping up the scoring title Wednesday against Memphis, had his chance to respond. ‘I respect Phil Jackson,’ Durant started. ‘It really doesn’t matter, to be honest.’ But the longer Durant spoke, the more his true emotions surfaced. ‘Ever since KG said something, everybody’s been questioning how I get to the line,’ Durant said, referring to Boston forward Kevin Garnett, who claimed after losing to the Thunder he thought he was playing, ‘Michael (expletive) Jordan.’ ‘If you watch our games, you wouldn’t question it. The NBA should put us on national TV more, I guess.’ When asked whether Jackson’s comment fired him up more, Durant, ‘Yeah, it does.’ ‘Because it’s taking away from what I do,’ Durant said.’ … Durant said he doesn’t think Jackson’s comments will have any influence on how the officials call the series. ‘If the refs pay attention to that and change how they call things because of that, that’s terrible,’ Durant said.”