Lakers-Nuggets Preview

Struggling down the stretch, the Los Angeles Lakers would like

to get Andrew Bynum back on the court before the playoffs. Coach

Phil Jackson said that’s probably not going to happen.

Trying again to wrap up the top seed in the Western Conference,

the Lakers are not expected to have Bynum available Thursday night

against the Denver Nuggets.

The Lakers (55-22) have split their last eight games without

Bynum, who’s out due to a strained Achilles’ tendon. He underwent

another MRI Monday that revealed no tear, but Jackson said the

center continues to experience discomfort some exercise.

“I’m not holding my breath on a timetable,” Jackson said

Tuesday. “Obviously, we’d like to have him play a couple games at

the end of the (regular) season, but this morning I told him if

that’s not possible, we’ll take whatever we can get in the playoffs

at that time.”

Now in his fifth season, the 22-year-old Bynum is averaging a

career-high 15.0 points in 65 games, and his absence has certainly

been felt – the Lakers have scored 94.3 points over the last eight

games, down from 102.1 points over the first 69 contests.

They shot 40.7 percent in a 100-81 home loss to San Antonio on

Sunday. Pau Gasol scored a season-high 32 points and Kobe Bryant

added 22, but the Lakers failed to clinch the No. 1 seed in the

West and home-court advantage through the NBA finals, which went to

Cleveland.

Gasol said the Lakers need to recognize what they did wrong

while trying to end the regular season on a positive note.

“We should be just aware, aware of what the possibilities are

when we don’t play as well, when we have a couple mistakes that we

shouldn’t have,” he said. “We want to end these last five games on

a good note so we feel good about ourselves going into the

playoffs, which is important.”

Los Angeles needs to win its last five games to have consecutive

60-win seasons for the first time since doing so in four straight

seasons starting in 1984-85.

Bryant also will try to bounce back after struggling over the

last two games. He was 8 of 24 from the field against San Antonio,

going scoreless in the third quarter, after going 5 of 23 and

finishing with 25 points in a 106-92 win over Utah on Friday.

He was held to 14 points on 3-of-17 shooting in a 95-89 victory

over the Nuggets on Feb. 28. The Lakers had lost the previous two

games with Denver, including 105-79 at the Pepsi Center in November

– the largest margin of defeat this season.

Denver (51-27), meanwhile, has stayed competitive for the No. 2

seed in the West by winning three straight after a 1-5 slide and

battled for a 98-94 win over Oklahoma City on Wednesday. Chauncey

Billups scored 31 points and Carmelo Anthony overcame an injury to

add 24, helping Denver rally from a 13-point deficit.

The Nuggets have held their last three opponents to 92.0 points

after allowing 105.3 over the previous six. They didn’t give up a

basket to the Thunder in the final nine minutes.

Billups scored 15 in the fourth quarter, hitting two free throws

that put the Nuggets ahead 96-94 with 52.7 seconds left. They

needed that surge as Anthony admitted he wasn’t 100 percent after

briefly losing consciousness when he rammed head-first into Kevin

Durant in the third quarter.

Anthony, who’s third in the NBA with 28.4 points per game,

played in the fourth.

“I think it was just guts in this game,” Billups said. “We

rebounded, we got the tough ones, we got the loose balls a lot of

times. That’s really what prevailed in this game.”