| LOS ANGELES
LOS ANGELES In more ways than one, NBA champions the Los Angeles Lakers have limped into the playoffs with a worrying loss of momentum and question marks hanging over the fitness of several key players.
Wednesday's 107-91 defeat to city rivals the Los Angeles Clippers left the Western Conference top seeds with a regular season record of 57-25, and with six losses in the last 10 games.
If the late form lapse was not bad enough, coach Phil Jackson must prepare for Sunday's first round opener at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder with a mounting injury list.
Inspirational All-Star guard Kobe Bryant has missed four of the last five games after struggling with a swollen right knee and a broken finger on his right shooting hand.
Towering center Andrew Bynum has been sidelined for three weeks since suffering a strained Achilles tendon.
Wednesday's game added two more casualties when experienced forward Ron Artest twisted an ankle and guard Sasha Vujacic left the court in the second quarter with a badly sprained left ankle.
Jackson, who won a record 10th championship ring after the Lakers beat the Orlando Magic in last season's NBA Finals, was optimistic about Bryant's prospects.
"He's going to be just fine," Jackson told reporters after the Lakers ended the regular season with the best record in the West and the third-best in the league. "How we play together as a team is going to be the critical element in the playoffs."
Jackson drew little comfort from his team's win-loss record of 57-25 in the regular season.
"I said at the start of the season if we don't win 60 games we'll be disappointed," he added. "And we are disappointed in our team's effort at the end of the season.
"Sixty games is kind of a minimum, I thought, for this team to win, and we've hashed it."
Asked about the impact of a growing injury list on the Lakers bid for a 16th championship, Jackson replied: "It's always good to be in the playoffs, and this is no different.
"The injuries, I wish we had another two weeks to get healthy but that's not going to happen. We just let it be what it is and we have to play with what we've got."
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak felt it was unwise to dwell too much on the team's last 10 games.
"Look back to 2001 and 2002," he told the team's official website