If the final three minutes of the Los Angeles Lakers 118-116 win over the Golden State Warriors without Kobe Bryant are any indication, the team might not be in too much trouble.
Metta World Peace and Steve Blake, along with Dwight Howard stepped up in the final minutes, and kept L.A.'s pace for the playoffs. Howard finished with 28 points, and Blake had 14 points and five assists, while World Peace tallied seven points and six rebounds off the bench.
Bryant, a 15-time All-Star, was initially diagnosed with a torn Achilles tendon, and the Lakers confirmed that Saturday. He will undergo surgery today, with an expected recovery time of six to nine months. Bryant even tweeted a picture of himself prior to the procedure, and his spirits seemed high.
He said: “Surgery prep time. Lookin like Mrs Doubtfire with a jerri curl cap lol Anesthesia next #highasakite #mambaout”
Losing Bryant comes at a beyond trying time for the Lakers. They hold a one game lead over the Utah Jazz for the final playoff spot in the West with two games left to play.
But it could open the door for center Dwight Howard to dominate and lead the team like L.A. expected him to when they traded for him last summer. For the season, the 27-year-old Howard is averaging 16.9 points and 12.3 rebounds, with 2.4 blocks a game, but he hasn’t made the immediate impact Laker fans hoped for.
Bryant has only missed two games this season, both back-to-back last month, and the Lakers spilt those games against West bottom feeders Phoenix and Sacramento. In each game, Howard notched a double-double, but he also had significant help from World Peace and Blake, who have had their own injury woes this season.
World Peace returned from knee surgery weeks ahead of schedule, and the Lakers have worked him back in over the last three games slowly. Against Golden State was the first time he had logged more than 15 minutes.
Blake had surgery to repair an abdominal tear in November, and his return to court was further delayed due to a groin injury.
He eventually came back in January, and has been playing his best ball this month, averaging nine points, 3.5 assists, and five rebounds along with 41.2 percent shooting from three in April.
Sunday the Lakers meet the No. 2 seed San Antonio Spurs, and conclude the year Wednesday against the No. 7 Houston Rockets.
Any road trip, however short, with Bryant out could have hurt L.A., but they benefit greatly with the final two games at home.
L.A. is 27-12 at Staples Center this year, but both teams will be motivated. The Spurs have already taken two games from L.A. this year, and Houston holds a 1-2 season series advantage. The Spurs are also still trying to clinch the top seed in the West, giving the Lakers difficult first test without Bryant. The Rockets are also looking to move up past Golden State for the sixth spot.
Head coach Mike D'Antoni will likely use Jodie Meeks at the shooting guard spot, but additional pressure will be place on Howard, and Pau Gasol. The two big men have had strong performances in recent games.
In one game against the Spurs this season, Howard played 41 minutes for 13 points and 15 rebounds. For his career, Howard has averaged 18.6 points and 57 percent shooting in 17 games against San Antonio.