Poll Question: Should Kobe Bryant rest or play through his sprained left ankle?
It won't be long before everyone knows whether Lakers guard Kobe Bryant will suit up Friday against the Minnesota Timberwolves while nursing a sprained left ankle.
It's debatable whether that issue is even an uncertainty considering Bryant's tendency to play through injuries and the Lakers' three-day lapse since their 97-84 victory Monday over the Orlando Magic gave him more time than usual to get the necessary medical treatment. Still, it's an issue that will likely extend beyond the Lakers' game against Minnesota with only 14 regular season games remaining. So when you vote in the latest poll, it's necessary to consider a few factors.
Should Bryant rest in games because health for this team remains the No. 1 priority? Should he rest against teams considered highly mediocre opponents? Or would it be bad to risk anything since the Lakers are competing with the Mavericks for second place in the Western Conference?
Addressing each scenario brings a few complications.
Should Bryant sit out until fully healed, the Lakers would need to have a definitive backup for Lakers guard Shannon Brown. That option remains limited since the Lakers don't really have another 2-guard and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson feels Matt Barnes isn't fully ready in learning the guard position in the triangle offense. With Jackson's hope also to lower Derek Fisher's minutes in the next 14 games, allowing Bryant to sit for an extended number of games would put further strain on everyone else. As the Lakers saw in their 4-1 mark last season during Bryant's five-game absence because of a sprained left ankle, everyone else filled a void and assumed more responsibility within the offense. Having the Lakers feel like they have more ownership of the team could do wonders for the postseason, except there's only one problem. The Lakers' success largely hinges on Bryant's performance so sitting out a prolonged period of time could for chemistry purposes disrupt the Lakers' sharpness.
Last season, Bryant sat out in four of the last five games to rest assorted finger, knee, ankle and back injuries because the Lakers had already secured a definitive No. 1 seed in the Western Conference. This season, the Lakers (48-20) are currently tied with the Mavericks (48-20) for second place in the Western Conference and sit 6 1/2 games behind the San Antonio Spurs (54-13) for the top spot. Three of the next six games feature sub. 500 opponents, including Friday's game against Minnesota, making it tempting that the Lakers could count those as automatic victories and feel more comfortable resting Bryant for those contests.
Even if the Lakers are 10-1 since the All-Star break, however, it'd be presumptuous to put it past the team to have a letdown considering they've shown a strong track record of doing that. Still, Bryant sitting out against Minnesota would essentially give Bryant five days of rest before Sunday's game against the Portland Trail Blazers (39-29), who could meet the Lakers in the first round. Should Bryant sit out against the Phoenix Suns (33-33) next Tuesday and the Clippers (26-43) Friday, he would have six full days of rest before playing March 27 against New Orleans (40-30), another possible first round opponent. Then Bryant would have three full days before the Lakers meet on March 31st against Dallas, a matchup that surely would prove instrumental on which team secures home-court advantage over the other. In April, Bryant won't have the same luxury in spending so many days in between games with plenty of rest. The Lakers have eight regular season games in April, including two sets of back-to-backs. Of course, should there be a clearer picture on where the Lakers stand in the West, Bryant might be more inclined to sit out those games as the team gears up more and more for the postseason.
Of course, laying out the entire road map of scenarios is presumptuous considering Bryant will likely treat his playing status as game-time decisions so he can expend the maximum amount of time during practices and off day to improve his health. But from a fan perspective, it provides a much clearer idea on where they stand on this health issue. All Laker fans want the end result in a third consecutive championship. But there are plenty paths to get to that one point, with one major factor being how Bryant manages his injuries. That's why it shouldn't be surprising if there's a litany of ideas on what the next course should entail.
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Read more about Kobe Bryant in The Times' Lakers database: All Things Lakers
Top photo: Kobe Bryant goes down with a sprained ankle as the Mavericks' Jason Kidd dribbles away during the third quarter of Saturday night's Lakers victory in Dallas. Credit: LM Otero / Associated Press / March 12, 2011
Bottom photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant grabs his foot after spraining his ankle in the third quarter against Dallas on Saturday night. Credit: Ronald Martinez / Getty Images / March 12, 2011