After x-rays and Bryant being slated as “out indefinitely”, Lakers fans are now wondering if L.A.’s playoff verdict will be official sooner than expected. But could this injury, dare I say it, be beneficial to both Kobe and the rest of the roster in the long run? There’s a chance.
After nabbing Western Conference Player of the Week twice and Western Conference Player of the Month for February recently, Bryant has performed at a level unimaginable for a 17-year veteran. With a current PPG average of 27.4, the five time champion has on multiple occasions single-handedly pushed his team to victory with crunch time spectacles that leave his opponents scratching their heads.
These victories placed the Lakers into the coveted eight seed in the Western Conference. As playoffs are rapidly approaching, for the first time this season many fans finally felt comfortable with the idea that L.A. did have a reasonable opportunity to make a post season appearance.
Atlanta guard Dahntay Jones, who contested Bryant’s fade away jumper, could have also sprained the Lakers’ surge toward playoffs. But Jones’ foot placement could also instigate the much needed push for the rest of Los Angeles’ roster to make the contributions necessary to be a realistic championship contender.
Bryant definitely doesn’t have the rapid healing capabilities he had when he was sporting the number 8, and an extended rest is definitely in order if L.A. expects this production to continue after April. Not only is this time necessary for him to heal the newly acquired sprained ankle, but we all know his knee and elbow have been problematic. Despite Bryant’s knack for playing fantastic despite multiple war wounds, this rest will rejuvenate the Lakers star both mentally and physically, which is required moving forward.
While Steve Nash is leading his team with an average of 6.7 assists a game, that statistic is expected of the two time MVP. Serving the same amount of time as Bryant in the league at 17 seasons, Nash has definitely demonstrated his age in multiple aspects thus far in the season. His experience has played a large role in leadership and he has performed in dire situations with needed baskets and ball control. His age has made him an easy target for teams toting young, quick and energetic guards, however, which has forced Bryant to switch to cover the quicker attacker in multiple games.
Bryant’s absence is a calling for Nash to step up on the defensive end, as he will be matched up with faster guards forcing more work to be done in order to grab victories. This also plays into the next key aspect, which is a necessity of improvement from bench players, especially guards.
Steve Blake has been impressive since his return from injury, working well in the pick and roll with Howard and orchestrating fast break plays which the Lakers usually fail to execute. His energy will be instrumental to the Lakers’ defensive success, as he needs to be able to come in exerting the same tough pressure that Nash plays with when Nash will ask to take a breather.
As Pau Gasol is expected to return to the lineup within at least a week, L.A. will have their height advantage back on the floor which has made them so deadly in previous seasons. The Lakers have not had a decent string of games where both Dwight Howard and Gasol are able to play together and develop the chemistry that Andrew Bynum and the Spaniard had during their title years, which could be a crucial factor moving forward.
This is a perfect opportunity for Dwight to finally take a leadership role within the team, which the front office will be looking forward to just the same. If Howard does decide to stay with the organization, he will need to be the key player for the future, and a test run to see what he can really offer after Bryant’s retirement is in order. A growth in character and maturity has been present so far this season, so a real hands on approach is just what Dwight needs in order to be comfortable in the rotation as a leader.
The team as a whole needs to realize that Kobe Bryant won’t be there to save the day forever. Establishing healthy leads within the first half and holding onto them for the duration of the game is a key to not only avoid the necessary Bryant crunch time buzzer beaters but to also avoid crunch time injuries after worn out bodies can no longer produce.
Becoming a better first half and defensive team should have been a priority for the Lakers before a severe ankle sprain came into play, but the absence of the Lakers’ leading scorer will hopefully wake up the team and ignite a fire which will burn until the Finals in June, with Bryant back at the helm.