Saturday, April 14, 2012
Updated: April 15, 6:50 PM ET
Kobe Bryant sits against Mavericks
By Andrew Kamenetzky
Sunday's game between the Los Angeles Lakers and Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center could very well be a first round playoff preview. If so, one very important component wasn't participating.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was out of the lineup for Los Angeles' 112-108 victory as he continues recovering from tenosynovitis, or inflammation, in his left shin.
"It's feeling a lot better," Bryant told ABC sideline reporter Heather Cox during the first half of Sunday's game when asked about his left shin.
The Lakers have five games remaining in the regular season before the postseason begins and Bryant said he will be on the floor for some of them.
"I'll definitely be back well before the playoffs," Bryant said. "It's important to kind of get a rhythm and try to get things in sync a little bit and find a little groove."
Lakers coach Mike Brown said before Sunday's game that there is some benefit to Bryant being forced to miss time.
"Hopefully it helps him going into the playoffs a lot fresher, a lot more energized," Brown said. "We played him a lot of minutes this year and the season was shortened and he played obviously a lot of games, so come playoff time, hopefully the rest right now will re-energize him and get his juices flowing for a long playoff run."
Bryant said he would be playing Sunday if it was a playoff game, but detailed just how much pain he was in during the four games he played with the shin injury before deciding to sit out.
"I played with it for like a week and a half and the problem wasn't the first two quarters, it was the last (two), the third and the fourth," Bryant said. "I literally had a hard time walking."
The 16-year veteran missed his fifth straight game, but after a rocky start the Lakers have recovered nicely, winning four straight, including Sunday's home win over Dallas.
Success without Bryant has been helpful, Brown said, but ultimately the focus remains on getting his two-time NBA Finals MVP healthy for the postseason.
"(Winning) doesn't put as much pressure on us to try and get him back, but in the same breath, we've obviously made the playoffs," he said. "So if it were a case where he needed to come back and it had something to do with him not being as healthy going into the playoffs, even if we took it on the chin a couple of times we'd still sit him out."
Averaging 28.1 points per game, Bryant remains the leading scorer in the NBA. In his absence, the Lakers have seen increased production from Metta World Peace, averaging 16.75 points over his past four games, more than doubling his season average. Reserve small forward Matt Barnes, averaging 7.6 points per game, scored 24 in Friday's win.
Perhaps most important has been the team's improvement defensively. The Lakers have held their past three opponents under 100 points, the first such streak since a nine-game stretch between Jan. 31-Feb. 17.
Brown, who missed Friday's win, wouldn't elaborate on his absence.
"It's a personal family matter," he said, "and I'm going to leave it at that."
World Peace believes winning Friday without Bryant or Brown available is a positive sign.
"It says a lot about the staff, the organization, the players. We beat a good team (Friday), I think," he said. "Denver's been winning a lot of games. Even when we had adversity yesterday, all our turnovers (23 in total), we still kept our tempo. We still stayed poised and patient. That says a lot about us."
Not surprisingly, Brown took the opportunity to praise his staff, starting with lead assistant John Kuester, who coached the Lakers against Denver.
"I feel like I got four guys on my staff capable of being head coaches next year, with Darvin (Ham) on his way. So whether I'm here or somebody else is here or not, the staff that I have is terrific. Obviously, last night was a great time to show how great our staff is," he said. "You take that into account with how mature and intelligent these players are with Kobe's leadership, and it makes for an easy transition or smooth sailing whenever you face anything that's a little different than the norm."
Bryant has taken an active role on the sidelines, operating in many ways as an extra assistant for Brown.
"He's just so intelligent. He's got such a great feel for the game that whether he's talking to me or talking to somebody else or one of our players, he helps out a lot. The stuff that he says, in my opinion, is highly valuable," Brown said.
Still, Brown didn't seem to think a head-coaching gig was in Bryant's near future.
"Usually, when you have a great player like Kobe, where things mentally and physically, although he works his tail, it comes easier to him than others. At times, greatness can't understand why others don't get it as easily as he may," he said. "I think that would be his biggest hurdle. If he could deal with that, then he'd have a lot to offer to the coaching world."
Sunday marked the 100th missed game on Bryant's career, as he's played in 1,159 out of a possible 1,259 games in his 16 seasons.
Andrew Kamenetzky covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin contributed to this report.