Another day, another game in which the Lakers will have to see if they can manage without Kobe Bryant.
He will sit out for the fifth consecutive game Sunday against the Dallas Mavericks because of a sore left shin. Since Friday, Bryant has managed to walk pain-free. But a team spokesman said he has yet to show he can both run and then jump pain-free, two requirements Bryant must pass before the Lakers' training staff will clear him to play.
There are plenty of reasons Lakers Coach Mike Brown hardly sounded concerned about Bryant staying on the sideline. The Lakers have gone 3-1 during his absence. The team's training staff wants Bryant to fully recover from his injury because a rushed return could significantly worsen his injury. Bryant's absence has also served as an indirect way to let him rest after playing 38.4 minutes per game, third-highest in the NBA.
"Hopefully it helps him going into the playoffs fresher and a lot more energized," Brown said.
Meanwhile, Brown hopes his team can duplicate some of its past performance. The Lakers have allowed 90.67 points this past week through three games, a sharp improvement from allowing in at least 100 points in their previous nine of 11 contests. Lakers center Andrew Bynum has faced stronger double teams, but strung together a 30-rebound effort against San Antonio and a 30-point performance against Denver. Lakers forward Metta World Peace has averaged 14.2 points on 52.4% shooting through eight games this month. Brown likes the balance Ramon Sessions has struck between running the offense at a fast tempo while ensuring good shot selection. The Lakers bench, led by Matt Barnes and Steve Blake, has also made contributions.
"When you're playing without your best player, that means other guys have to step up, especially in close ball games down the stretch," Brown said. "Our guys have done it throughout the course of games and even down the stretch. That's fun to see. You hope at the end of the day it gives an extra bit of confidence they need when it comes time in the playoffs when Kobe is out on the floor. It also gives Kobe and the staff confidence in each other as time goes on, too."
Should all the aforementioned areas remain strong, it's possible the Lakers (38-22) could further extend their one-game lead over the Clippers (37-23) for third place in the Western Conference. Should that happen within the remaining six games, Brown said he's open to resting his starters.
The most notable possibilities include limiting minutes for Bryant, Pau Gasol (37.3) and Bynum (35.4). Although he acknowledged Sessions' left shoulder is "dinged up," Brown suggested it's better that Sessions plays more because of his age (26), minutes (30.8) and games played (17) since the Lakers acquired him before the March 15 trade deadline. Meanwhile, World Peace's 26.4 minutes per game is a slight increase over Barnes' playing time (22.6 minutes).
"All of our veteran guys, and guys who have played minutes, you would have to take a look," Brown said. "That wouldn't guarantee they would want to sit nor would I sit him. But it's something you would have to visit."