In many people’s eyes, the Los Angeles Lakers lost any chance of making a run in the playoffs when Kobe Bryant suffered an injury on Friday night.
The shooting guard tore his Achilles against the Golden State Warriors, and will miss the rest of the 2012-2013 NBA season. He underwent surgery over the weekend and is expected to miss six to nine months.
L.A. struggled for much of the season, spending more time out of the playoff picture than it has in it. Bryant has been the team’s only constant, consistently ranking among the league’s top scorers.
Since the All-Star Game, the future Hall of Famer has raised his level of play. He’s averaging 28.5 points, 7.0 assists and 6.1 rebounds per game since the break. He’s led the Lakers to a 19-8 record in that time.
Without Bryant for the rest of the year, can L.A. make a playoff run?
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With just one game left on their schedule, there’s a good chance the Lakers will be the eighth seed in the Western Conference. They have a 1.5-game lead on the Utah Jazz for the final postseason spot.
Los Angeles would have to lose the final game with the Houston Rockets, and Utah would have to beat both the Minnesota Timberwolves and the Memphis Grizzlies in order for the Jazz to take the eighth seed.
Bryant has been responsible for almost a third of the Lakers offense. Even surrounded by Dwight Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, he’s been the team’s best offensive player all season. Bryant's effort has been a major reason that L.A. will likely make the playoffs for an eighth straight year.
In Bryant’s absence, Jodie Meeks will see the biggest increase in playing time. He can be a streaky shooter and won’t come close to replacing Bryant’s offensive production.
Still, all hope isn’t lost with the league’s third leading scorer sidelined for the rest of the season.
In a small sample size, the Lakers have shown that they can win without their No.1 star. They are 2-1 in games that Bryant has missed this season. Los Angeles also defeated the Indiana Pacers in a game that saw Bryant play just 12 minutes and go scoreless.
On Sunday night, the Lakers defeated the San Antonio Spurs, who they could potentially play in the first round. Even without Bryant, the Lakers backcourt was able to limit Tony Parker to just four points on one-of-10 shooting.
Howard stepped up in the first game after Bryant suffered his torn Achilles. He scored 26 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and blocked three shots. If the big man can play up to the superstar level that he did with the Orlando Magic, the Lakers could be very dangerous in the postseason, even without Bryant.
Nash has sat out the past seven games with an injury and is looking to return Wednesday against Houston. Having a healthy Nash, Howard and Gasol in the first round will make them a tough matchup for either the Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder.
When Bryant went down, the odds of the Lakers pulling off a first-round upset certainly decreased. However, they still have enough talent to be competitive in the playoffs.
According to the online betting Web site, Bovada, the Lakers have a better chance of winning the NBA Finals than a lot of the teams that will compete in the playoffs. L.A.’s odds to win it all have been set at 40/1, putting them ahead of teams like the Chicago Bulls, Boston Celtics and Brooklyn Nets.