A Look Ahead: Lakers Face the Home Stretch

With the San Antonio Spurs, Dallas Mavericks, and Denver Nuggets on the Lakers plate, the last thing they needed was to be without superstar Kobe Bryant, right? Wrong.

After a loss to Houston, the Lakers went to Phoenix to face the Suns without Kobe for the first time all year, and they got run out of the building. With Kobe listed as day-to-day, they flew to New Orleans to battle the Hornets in a close fought game again without their leader, and pulled away late in the contest. Led by Pau Gasol, 25 points on 10-21 shooting and nine rebounds, the Lakers pulled out the fourth quarter comeback, winning 93-91, and continuing their strong play on the road.

Then came Wednesday night, the first meeting between the Los Angeles Lakers and the San Antonio Spurs. With playoff implications and the game being a huge measuring stick for the Lakers heading into the post-season, of course Kobe Bryant is going to play. Wrong. He sits out for the third straight game with a shin injury, but that did not phase the Lakers one bit.

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From the tip-off the Lakers showed up to play and took it to the Spurs. They came out swinging and hit the Spurs square in the mouth from which they were unable to recover. The Lakers won this game because of their defense and rebounding. Their defense was so efficient; they held the Spurs to only 40.7 percent shooting, only nine free-throw attempts, and 84 points on their home court. They also held Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili to 13 points combined. Daniel Green was the Spurs leading scorer with 22 points.

While their rebounding took care of business by limiting the Spurs to one offensive board all game and winning the category 60-33, Andrew Bynum led this category. Despite scoring just 16 points, he set his career high with 30 rebounds, eight of which were offensive.

The Lakers returned home to face the Nuggets on Friday and the Mavs on Sunday. They would again play both games without star player Kobe Bryant suited up; instead, Kobe played a factor on the bench acting as a fifth coach. With a 103-97 victory over the Nuggets, and a 112-108 overtime victory against the Mavs Sunday, the Lakers improved to 4-1 without Kobe, winners of eight of their last 10, and stayed one game up on the Los Angeles Clippers in the standings.  Technically, they are two games ahead of them because the Lakers own the tiebreaker for leader of the Pacific Division. During all of this, the unsung hero has been Metta World Peace, who was averaging 17 points in the five games Kobe has been sidelined.

With five games left on the schedule for the Lakers, the road to the playoffs does not lighten up one bit. They have four of their last five games this week, and three of them are versus the Spurs and Oklahoma City.

Next Page: A Look Ahead

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