While rumors, reports and community discussions calling for Kobe Bryant's retirement swirl, the Los Angeles Lakers still have a season to play with or without their star player.
On Friday night, the always brutal NBA schedule requires a date with the San Antonio Spurs--the NBA's defending champions. The Spurs have won four of their last five games and three in a row at home. On the season, San Antonio is off to slower start than usual and ranks seventh in the Western Conference. With 27 wins and 17 losses in their first 44 games, the Spurs are only three losses short of the mark they set in 82 games last season. The 2013-14 Spurs finished 62-20.
Even if the Spurs have not been at their best, they should be good enough to beat the Lakers, right?
Well, back on Dec. 12, the Lakers came to San Antonio and beat the Spurs 112-110 in an overtime game. Bryant played 40 minutes that night to finish with 22 points, nine assists and five rebounds. Nick Young led the way with 29 points.
Without Bryant available, the Lakers' formula for success must include Young. The Lakers' sixth man appears to have broken his shooting slump scoring over 20 points in two of the last three games. Excluding Bryant, Young is the Lakers' leading scorer with 14.5 points per game, and the former USC Trojan also led the team in scoring when Bryant was out for the majority of the 2013-14 season.
Along with Young, power forward Jordan Hill will need to continue scoring. On the season, Hill averages 12.4 points per game, but Hill has scored in double figures in nine straight games. One of the most consistent players for the Lakers this season, Hill will likely take an even bigger bulk of the offensive load with Bryant out.
Going to San Antonio and winning would be difficult to manage for the Lakers at full strength, and without Bryant, the Lakers face a tall mountain to climb. Considering the Lakers have beaten some of the best teams in the NBA this season, nothing is impossible. It is improbable, though.
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The Lakers and Spurs tip-off in San Antonio at 5:30 p.m. Pacific Time