Lakers end skid vs. shorthanded Spurs
Andrew Bynum awkwardly sprawled onto the court, staying down for an uncomfortably long moment. The 7-foot center then walked cautiously to the locker room with more than one teammate staring at his perpetually problematic knees.
The Los Angeles Lakers ended their five-game losing streak Tuesday night.
They'll find out what it cost on Wednesday.
Kobe Bryant scored 27 points, but Bynum hyperextended his right knee in the two-time defending NBA champions' 102-93 victory over the San Antonio Spurs' role players.
The Lakers' hopes for a third straight title might have taken a significant blow when Bynum fell after stepping on DeJuan Blair's foot during the second quarter. Los Angeles' superb low-post defender will have an MRI on Wednesday while the Lakers wrap up the regular season at Sacramento.
Bynum downplayed the injury while walking comfortably out of Staples Center, and the Lakers are cautiously hoping for news that won't derail their playoff run before it begins. Yet it's tough not to assume the worst with Bynum and his rickety 23-year-old knees.
''There's always concern,'' said Lakers coach Phil Jackson, who acknowledged Bynum could be out for at least a few games. ''We've seen him go down a couple of times that have been debilitating, so there's a concern. It was kind of a freaky play, but they usually are, and that's what basketball is.''
Bryant describes the shot-blocking center as the Lakers' most important defensive player, and his absence from the 2008 NBA finals was one reason Los Angeles lost to Boston before winning the next two championship series with Bynum in the middle. Bynum had surgery last summer to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee.
''He allows us to be the dominant team we're capable of being,'' said Derek Fisher, who scored 13 points. ''It's hard to think about not having him for any significant length of time. It was tough to see. He's so important to what we do, so to even think for a second that he might be out, the impact that would have on him after all of his work, it's tough to deal with in the moment.''
Lamar Odom scored 23 points as the Lakers struggled to hold off the Spurs, who rested stars Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili and Tony Parker with the Western Conference's top seed already wrapped up.
Pau Gasol had 17 points and 17 rebounds for the Lakers (56-25), who will get the No. 2 seed in the West with a win at Sacramento or a loss by Dallas (56-25).
Gary Neal scored 16 points and Matt Bonner had 13 for the Spurs, whose four-game winning streak ended.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich didn't worry about falling into a tie with surging Chicago (61-20) for the NBA's best overall record, yet his junior varsity nearly knocked off the discombobulated Lakers, who couldn't breathe easily until Bryant's 3-pointer put them up 96-88 with 2:55 to play.
''I think it showed the character, the heart that we have, and we're a pretty deep team,'' said George Hill, who scored 11 points. ''We tried to give the best effort we could, and that's all you can hope for. All of us thought we could win. That was our whole motive going into the game.''
The Lakers hadn't won since April 1, falling apart after a sparkling 17-1 stretch. They still haven't fixed the defensive execution issues that have plagued them this month - but if Bynum's potential absence doesn't get the champs' attention, maybe it can't be got.
''Hopefully he'll be back soon, and we'll get him back at 100 percent and just keep plugging away,'' said Odom, who scored 21 points in the second half.
Bryant played with a short fuse and a scowl even before Bynum's injury. He earned his 15th technical foul of the season for arguing in the third quarter, picking up a T in his third straight game and moving right to the brink of an NBA-mandated one-game suspension.
Bryant punctuated the tantrum by punching a chair on the bench. If he gets another technical foul in the season finale, the suspension would be for the first game of next season.
If the Spurs and Bulls finish with the same record, every tiebreaker is even, so a random drawing would determine who got homecourt advantage in the NBA finals - a nonexistent concern to Popovich, a four-time NBA champion.
Popovich plans to get Duncan back in the lineup Wednesday night in the season finale at Phoenix.
''It's a back-to-back, and I'd rather play (Duncan) tomorrow and not have such a long time before the weekend,'' Popovich said. ''(The reserves) got some experience. I'm happy with what they did.''
The Spurs' patchwork starting lineup included Neal, Hill and Tiago Splitter. The Lakers took an early 10-point lead but couldn't hold it, giving up a 13-1 run and going into halftime tied at 45.
San Antonio took a lead on Danny Green's jumper with 7:28 to play, but Odom's three-point play put the Lakers right back ahead.
Notes: The Lakers played without backup point guard Steve Blake, who will miss at least two games after contracting chicken pox, and reserve forward Matt Barnes, who rested his sore right knee. ... Veteran C Theo Ratliff appeared in just his second game for the Lakers since Nov. 9, playing 2 minutes. He missed most of the season after arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. ... Fans near courtside included Dennis Haysbert and director Adam McKay.