Lakers-Clippers Preview

With the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference clinched and their

first playoff opponent decided, the Los Angeles Lakers would

probably prefer to just skip their regular-season finale Wednesday

night against the lowly Los Angeles Clippers. Because at this

point, another injury is the last thing the defending champs

need.

After securing home-court advantage throughout the West playoffs

Friday in Minnesota, it would appear that the Lakers (57-24) will

have a significant advantage against No. 8 seed Oklahoma City on

Sunday when the team’s are expected to open first-round play at

Staples Center.

However, the Lakers have lost six of 10, and even one of the

worst teams in the West is questioning the defending champs’

ability to repeat.

“I truly think any team making the playoffs in the West can win

it,” Clippers interim coach Kim Hughes said following Monday’s

117-94 loss to Dallas. “I think the Lakers have lost their karma a

little bit, and they’ve lost their chemistry.”

The Lakers like their position atop the West, but with Jordan

Farmar straining his left hamstring in Tuesday’s 106-100 win over

Sacramento, there’s a potentially huge hole to fill off the

bench.

“We feel pretty good about what we’ve done, though,” Pau Gasol

said after scoring 28 points against the Kings. “We don’t like the

injuries and all, but hopefully (Farmar’s leg) won’t be too

bad.”

Kobe Bryant has missed three of the last four games to recover

from a slew of injuries, including a swollen right knee and a

fracture on his right index finger, and he will not play Wednesday

in order to rest for the Thunder.

Andrew Bynum will also miss the regular-season finale after

being sidelined the last 12 games with a strained left Achilles’.

Lakers coach Phil Jackson, though, believes the 22-year-old center

could start practicing Friday or Saturday and be ready for the

postseason opener.

While the Lakers try to escape without injury in their final

regular-season game, the Clippers cap off another disappointing

campaign that will have them miss the postseason for the 15th time

in 17 seasons.

The team’s hopes for a successful 2009-10 were dampened a day

before the season started when it learned that No. 1 overall pick

Blake Griffin had suffered a broken left knee cap in the final

preseason game.

With Griffin sidelined the entire year and Hughes taking over on

an interim basis for Mike Dunleavy on Feb. 4, the Clippers (28-53)

will finish with fewer than 30 wins for the third straight year.

While they haven’t advanced to the postseason since 2006, the

Clippers remain optimistic of 2010-11 playoff run.

“Honesty, I think that with Blake Griffin and the five guys we

already have under contract coming back the team is very close to

being a playoff team,” said forward Rasual Butler. “We just need to

get a core group together and keep them together.”

Clippers point guard Baron Davis is not expected to play

Wednesday due to sprained right wrist.

If the Clippers can end their season with a second victory over

the Lakers – they also defeated the defending champs 102-91 on Jan.

6 – it will give them a season split after being swept each of the

last two seasons.

If Orlando loses to visiting Philadelphia on Wednesday and the

Lakers defeat the Clippers, Los Angeles will have home-court

advantage if it faces the Magic in a finals rematch.