Teammates must compensate for Kobe Bryant's injury
Kobe Bryant continues to evolve, looking at infinite ways to maintain dominance despite the overwhelming obstacles thrown his way.
Father time. The heavy basketball mileage. The injuries.
Yup, he's handled it all with a mixed exercise. Sometimes his competitiveness and intense work ethic have helped him overcome those injuries and squeeze out more production. Sometimes his refusal to sit out of games exacerbates his uneven play and hurts his health. Sometimes both scenarios have played out with the same injury.
A few things are clear regarding the torn ligament in Bryant's right wrist that stabilizes two small bones. Obviously sitting out isn't realistic since surgery would sideline him for the enitre season. He'll wear a padded device on the wrist in the Lakers' season opener against the Chicago Bulls on Christmas Day. But it's too presumptuous to know what degree Bryant will maximize his play, further damage his wrist or both.
That's why his teammates must elevate their play so that Bryant doesn't need to, or feel compelled to, shoulder the burden.
"They just have to do their jobs," Bryant said. "Everybody knows their roles and knows what their strengths are and what their weaknesses are. Stay within themselves and do what they do best."
That can include many things. The Lakers won't have center Andrew Bynum. He's serving the first of a four-game suspension for throwing a forearm at Dallas guard Jose Barea in the 2011 NBA playoffs. But power forwards Pau Gasol and Josh McRoberts must remain familiar enough in running the pick-and-roll plays so that the Lakers' offense mostly features their inside game.
The Lakers must continue to support their inside play by hitting open outside shots. Jason Kapono, Steve Blake, Devin Ebanks and Darius Morris each showed solid preseason touch with their outside shots. To ensure that, efficient ball movement and proper spacing will open up both the perimeter and force defenses to spread the floor. It could also reduce the 21 1/2 turnovers the Lakers have averaged in the last two games.
And then there's one area that's remained unreliable thus far.
"What we need is to play really good defense," Lakers point guard Derek Fisher said. "You can't rely on giving the ball to certain guys and get points. You have to get stops."
To do so doesn't require the Lakers to force turnovers. It simply involves them remaining disciplined on closeouts and rebounding so that they're controlling the tempo and limiting the points allowed. But with the Lakers giving up 111 points a game in two outings against the Clippers, it remains to be seen whether they can acquire the necessary defensive discipline.
But with Bryant's health likely to remain in question for at least some of the season, the Lakers have no other choice. Bryant might fight through it. He might even hoist a 22-foot shot on the first possession, as Fisher predicted, just to prove he can play with little effect from a wrist injury.
The Lakers, however, can't afford to rely on Bryant to bail them out. It's not fair to him as he's trying to maximize whatever he can out of an injured body.
"He's so good that a lot of times we give it to him and let him do his thing," Fisher said. "When he's not out there, we have to execute and do things together."
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