Jodie Meeks #20 talks with Steve Blake #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers have been two key players during Kobe Bryant's absence from the team.
The Los Angeles Lakers have played 18 games without their best player and managed to stay at .500. With Kobe Bryant ruled out of Friday’s game in Sacramento, the Lakers can exceed expectations by the time Bryant returns—most likely Sunday or Tuesday. They have kept the ship afloat, and the captain is nearly ready to take the wheel and power up the engines.
If Bryant is the captain, the only course he will set his sails for is a championship. He does not care about much else, and disproving all doubters along the way would only be icing on a delicious cake the 35-year-old has tasted five times in his professional career. That professional career will soon enter its 18th season.
After 18 games, the Lakers are 9-9. LA is currently out of the playoffs, but the gap to the eighth spot is only 1.5 games. After all the ups and downs, the purple and gold are only 2.5 games behind their cross-city rivals, the Los Angeles Clippers.
With the Clippers top of the Pacific division, home court in the first round of the playoffs is only 2.5 games away. With Bryant coming back, the Lakers will hope to improve on the promising start and put together a run to challenge the elite in the conference.
Incredibly, a 9-9 record would make the Lakers third in the Eastern Conference. Only Miami and Indiana boasting winning records in the East, and the 8-11 Charlotte Bobcats are currently in the eight-spot.
The Lakers play at Sacramento on Friday before returning home to play two games against non-playoff teams. With Bryant expected to return in one of those two home games, the Lakers can and should firmly enter the postseason picture before hitting the road for a tough stretch of six road games out of seven total games.
When the team finally returns from 10 days of airports and hotels, Christmas Day will present LeBron James and a national audience. Christmas in Los Angeles has become an NBA tradition, and Bryant is a big part of that tradition. The Lakers and NBA is praying for no. 24 at Christmas this year, and only a shock setback would see him sit out past Christmas.
Regardless of when Bryant returns, the NBA schedule does not provide any gifts.