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Good news for Rockets: Injuries mounting for Lakers
Updated: 2004-04-21 09:15

The injuries are mounting for the Los Angeles Lakers.

Fortunately, they have some time to heal before their playoff series with the Houston Rockets resumes Friday night.

Slava Medvedenko was the latest player to go down, straining his right Achilles' tendon late in the second quarter of Monday night's 98-84 victory over the Rockets and sitting out the second half.

With Horace Grant sidelined due to an injured hip, Medvedenko has become an important part of the Lakers' rotation, backing up Shaquille O'Neal at center and Karl Malone at power forward.

"He's no better today, that's a concern to us," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said Tuesday at the team's training facility in El Segundo. "Achilles are injuries you really have to be careful with."

Fortunately, the Lakers have a 2-0 lead over the Rockets and some time off.

When winning the first two games of a playoff series, Jackson-coached teams have a 20-8 record in the third game.

O'Neal picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter of a tie game Monday night, but Jackson left him in the game. Had Medvedenko been available, the coach said O'Neal would have come out.

But Medevendko wasn't, so O'Neal stayed in. The strategy worked as the Lakers established a 10-point lead entering the fourth quarter and weren't challenged after that.

Neither team practiced Tuesday, but the Lakers' training room was awfully crowded as Medvedenko, Derek Fisher, Rick Fox and Devean George came in for treatment.

Fisher, Fox, George and Karl Malone all played in the first two games despite injuries sustained late in the season. Malone has been getting treatment for a sprained ankle.

Jackson said he expects the Rockets to play better in Games 3 and 4 at home, as teams usually do.

"We've held serve, that's all we've done," Jackson said.

Houston coach Jeff Van Gundy erupted before Game 2 to Jackson's criticism of the officiating in the opener.

"I don't even have to look at the calendar to know it's spring coming on summer with Phil's complaining about the officiating," Van Gundy said. "It's like a rite of passage every spring.

"It's interesting. His team shoots more free throws, I'm going to guess, 80 percent in his career. But it's always, 'The Lakers, always getting screwed.'"

Van Gundy said a lot more, talking about several Lakers and their physical nature. He also referred to Fisher as a flopper.

Jackson said Van Gundy's remarks didn't surprise him.

"It's typical of Jeff to make those comments," Jackson said. "I try not to take the bait - he throws it out there."

Jackson also said he wasn't trying to bait Van Gundy, but added he believed Game 2 was cleaner, from his perspective, than Game 1.

Fisher smiled when he brought up Van Gundy's comments, specifically when he discussed accidentally being grazed in the nose by a Steve Francis elbow Monday night.

No foul was called.

"I have a reputation as a flopper according to certain coaches," Fisher said. "It didn't work for me."

Regarding the officials, Fisher said: "They actually thought I was joking around, trying to get a call on that. My nose didn't see it that way."

Fisher said the groin injury that cropped up in the final regular-season game is last on the list of bumps and bruises.

He said he caught a knee in the buttocks and sustained a bruised thigh Monday night.

"Winning helps," he said. "I'll have to dust my bathtub this week - soak a few times."

The Rockets were also hit in Game 2 when backup forward-center Clarence Weatherspoon pulled a calf muscle late in the second quarter and sat out the second half. His status was unknown.

Van Gundy bemoaned his team's effort after Game 2, saying the Rockets need their best players playing their best.

Jackson, meanwhile, said the Lakers need to get better to be serious championship contenders.

"We've said to this team that we have to improve through the playoffs," he said. "All champions have to improve. We had a miserable two weeks, actually, coming into the playoffs."

An NBA spokesman said the league would speak to the Lakers about Kobe Bryant's boycott of the media that began after his motivation was questioned after he attempted only one shot and wound up with eight points in a one-sided loss at Sacramento on April 11.

Bryant has given one lengthy radio interview and several brief television interviews since that time, but nothing more.

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