Is There Playoff Life Without Kobe?
CAN LAKERS KEEP COMPOSURE WITHOUT KOBE IN FINAL DAYS OF PLAYOFF CHASE?
Kobe Bryant had seemingly turned super-human during his very long stretch of extensive minutes amidst the race for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The toll taken for that effort turned out to be huge, as a torn Achilles tendon suffered late Friday Night against Golden State has now removed Bryant from the floor...and possibly has ended his time as a true impact player in the NBA.
It's a very serious injury for a player of Kobe's age. And, Kobe has more mileage on his legs than any other player of his age in league history.
A discussion of the future for Kobe and his Lakers legacy will have to wait for another time. If anyone can come back from this kind of injury within a year and contribute, it's Kobe Bryant. The immediate task at hand for handicappers is an analysis of the remaining playoff chase...and then the first round of the playoffs should the Lakers still qualify.
Let's get caught up.
THE RACE FOR EIGHTH IN THE WEST
The Lakers have a one-game lead with two to play. But, Utah still has the tie-breaker. If the Lakers can sweep their last two games, they'll earn the final playoff spot and face the #1 seed beginning next weekend. That will either be Oklahoma City or San Antonio. But, if the Lakers are caught from behind, then it's the Jazz who will sneak into the postseason. Here's what both teams have left...
San Antonio at the LA Lakers
Utah at Minnesota
Utah at Memphis
Houston at the LA Lakers
Two road games for Utah. Two home games for the Lakers. That puts LA in the driver's seat in terms of best expectations. If the Jazz can't win those games, it doesn't matter what the Lakers do! But, Utah will be favored in Minnesota, and may find a Memphis team that doesn't need to win its season finale. It's certainly possible that the Jazz can win out.
That's a tough Lakers schedule, even at home, because San Antonio and Houston are both playoff bound...and because San Antonio needs the win as they try to earn home court through the playoffs. Houston may not have much motivation in the season finale because they're safely in the playoffs, and there's not much difference between being a #6 seed and a #7 seed in the big picture. Maybe that's going to matter. Or, maybe the Lakers will be so demoralized that they won't have the fire to defend against a good shooting team that's just biding its time.
That's the key to these last few days. How will the remaining Lakers handle the loss of Kobe Bryant?
Bryant is out, and Steve Nash is hurt. Who's going to run the offense and get the ball where it's supposed to go?
With Bryant out, Nash hurt, and Dwight Howard still bothered by a bad back, isn't the cloud of doom so dark that there would be no optimism about playoff success if the team qualified? The right to get crushed by Oklahoma City or San Antonio can't provide much motivation!
Given the recent defensive issues the team has had, how are they going to slow down San Antonio Sunday Night, Houston Wednesday Night, and then the #1 seed in the West in the first round? The Warriors got open shots almost all night Friday. Kobe's "refuse to lose" attitude has carried the team pretty far. If he's in street clothes, does that attitude stay off the floor with him?
The Lakers have lacked depth all year. How can THAT collection of hobbled talent compete with the Spurs, or even a half-hearted Houston team that needs one last tune-up before the playoffs?
JIM HURLEY's on-site sources are monitoring the situation very carefully. If the Lakers are going to rally around the flag, then they might provide pointspread value Sunday and Wednesday...and possibly a game or two into the playoffs before running out of gas. If the remaining players have thrown in the towel, then they're going to miss Vegas expectations by a good bit in these last two games before watching the playoffs on TV with the rest of us.
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