The Los Angeles Lakers have played 66 games this season, and Kobe Bryant has started all 66 of those games. No other Laker can claim the same.
An ankle injury may change all of that on Friday, but one would be wise not to bet against No. 24 (I think I just discovered my roulette policy).
For all the dysfunction, changes, and injuries in this Lakers’ season, Kobe has been the one constant.
At the start of the season, it was Mike Brown and Kobe trying to figure out the Princeton offense. Then, it was Bernie Bickerstaff allowing the life-long Laker to lead freely on the court. Finally, it was Mike D’Antoni and Kobe working through downs and ups. Regardless of how high or low the Lakers were in the overall basketball consciousness, Kobe Bryant’s presence kept them relevant this season.
On Friday, the toughest player on the court may not be around to lead the team into battle.
As much as the Lakers can win without Kobe, no one knows that to be true. At least, it has not happened to this point this season because he has always been there.
His 27.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 5.8 assists per game grossly understate his contribution to the team.
There is always hope as long as Kobe is on the team. He believes, and one would be foolish to doubt such an accomplished being.
When Pau Gasol comes back, he needs Kobe there to lead him. When Dwight Howard is not shooting well from the line and getting stripped in the post, he needs Kobe to make a couple shots. When Steve Nash cannot get an open look from the three point line, he needs Kobe to attract the extra attention and provide the extra space. Metta World Peace, well, needs Kobe to remind him that he’s still playing for a championship.
Take Kobe Bryant off the Lakers, and they would have been in the lottery ages ago. Imagine a team without Bryant that had Steve Nash out the first third of the season, Dwight Howard moving at half speed for two-thirds of the season, and Pau Gasol missing nearly half the season with various injuries. That team would not dream of the playoffs at this point in the season.
Even If that Kobe-less team made the playoffs, it surely would not feel good about its chances.
Talk to any of the Lakers in the locker room, and they all genuinely believe that they can still come together and win the title. That belief comes from following the great Kobe Bryant onto the court every night.
For the first time this season, a severely sprained ankle may keep Kobe Bryant out of the Lakers’ lineup. Thankfully, this is only temporary, but one day soon, it won’t be. Friday night may just provide a brief glimpse of that soon-to-be reality.
Get well soon, Kobe.