Are the Lakers vulnerable? Or were they simply bored the past two months, more concerned with getting healthy for the playoffs? The defending NBA champions are heavy favorites over the Thunder in the opening round of a best-of-7 series that begins Sunday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
But the Lakers have issues. They’re banged up. They haven’t played well since the All-Star break. Or could it be as simple as they’ll be like the Lakers of old now that the playoffs have arrived? "I have some concerns with the Lakers,” said TNT analyst Kevin McHale, who won three championship rings with the Boston Celtics. "They’re favored in the West, but it really wouldn’t be a surprise if they didn’t get to the NBA Finals.” Injuries have mounted, the most relevant being 2008 MVP Kobe Bryant, who sat out four of the Lakers’ final five games with swelling in his right knee. Bryant has been hampered much of the season with a broken right index finger on his shooting hand. "Kobe came in for a studio promotion shot about a week ago, and his finger looked just as bad as it did during the All-Star Game,” McHale said. "I was surprised it didn’t look a lot better. That finger is really looking bad. The swelling hasn’t gone down. It still looks really, really funky. "As your finger starts improving, you start using less and less tape. But he’s kept that great big tape job the whole year, so it has to be affecting his shooting. I’m surprised he’s been able to be effective the way it is.” Center Andrew Bynum, hampered by a strained Achilles, hasn’t played in nearly a month. He’s missed the past 13 games. Bynum practiced Friday and is expected to play Sunday. "It will be interesting to watch when Bynum comes back, if he can be more effective than he was last year in the playoffs where he wasn’t close to being the same player (returning from a knee injury),” said TNT analyst Doug Collins. "In the Finals against Orlando, he played very little.” There are additional injuries. Reserve guard Sasha Vujacic suffered a severely sprained ankle in the regular-season finale and will miss the entire series vs. Oklahoma City. Reserve guard Jordan Farmar has a mild strained hamstring but says he will play. Power forward Lamar Odom, who is the Lakers’ outstanding sixth man when Bynum plays and a starter when Bynum is out, has played through a chronic left shoulder injury all season. Defensive stopper Ron Artest, who most likely will guard Thunder star Kevin Durant, twisted his ankle in the regular-season finale.
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Thunder vs. Los Angeles Lakers→Sunday: at L.A. Lakers, 2 p.m., ABC →Tuesday: at L.A. Lakers, 9:30 p.m., TNT →Thursday: at Oklahoma City, 8:30 p.m., TNT →April 24: at Oklahoma City, 8:30 p.m., ESPN →April 27: at L.A. Lakers, TBD* →April 30: at Oklahoma City, TBD* →May 2: at L.A. Lakers, TBD* * indicates if necessary →NewsOK live blog: Join The Oklahoman’s Berry Tramel and Darnell Mayberry on the Press Row Live Blog during every game at newsok.com/sports/thunder. →Twitter: Follow them at twitter.com/berrytramel and twitter.com/DarnellMayberry →Radio: All games will be on WWLS (640 AM, 98.1 FM) →Local TV: Games 2-4 will be on FOX Sports Oklahoma (Cox 37, 722 HD)