So far, so good.
Without one of the most polarizing figures in all of sports, the short-handed Los Angeles Lakers have managed to pull off a four-game winning streak, including key wins over the reigning champion Dallas Mavericks and then-top seed San Antonio Spurs.
As Kobe Bryant continues to nurse a strained left shin (among many other persisting injuries), Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol have more than filled the hole for the Lakers offense.
After their first loss without the Mamba in the rotation, the dynamic duo has combined for 41.8 points per game—about six points more than their combined season average—and 26.25 boards per game, including Bynum's career-high 30-rebound performance, over that same stretch.
With Ramon Sessions in full control of the ball and the offense, the Lakers now get more into their sets and run plays for their big men for better, higher-percentage buckets. As a result, their field-goal percentage has increased more than 10 percent to 46.9, which puts them fifth in the NBA in that category.
As an added bonus, since Bryant's injury, Metta World Peace increased his numbers across the board, averaging 17 points, 4.6 rebounds and 1.8 steals per game, all while shooting a ridiculous 41.7 percent from behind the arc and 51.6 percent from the field.
But there's one piece to the puzzle that's missing. We all know what it is. We all know why it is. And we all know where it is.
Without Kobe Bean Bryant, these Los Angeles Lakers have absolutely no chance of making a championship run this postseason.
Sure, the Los Angeles Lakers are a better team without the Black Mamba, but in terms of winning, which is what it all adds up to in the end, they fall just short of par.
You may complain about his atrocious shot selection, his unwillingness to move the ball around or his drive to "get his" no matter what, but if there's one thing for sure, it's that Kobe is the best winner in the NBA.
There's a reason why Larry Bird said he would rather team with Kobe over majority MVP candidate LeBron James, and there's a reason why Kobe has five championship rings in the past 10 years.
It's because he's a winner—the best one in the game today—and if you take that away from the Lakers, they won't have what it takes to add yet another finals win to franchise history.
Janis Carr of the Orange County Register reported that Kobe could potentially sit out for the remainder of the regular season in order to be as close to 100 percent as possible for the playoffs.
So for all you Laker fans who truly believe your team is better off without the second-best shooting guard in the history of the game, it's time to stop drinking the juice.
Kristian Winfield is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. You can follow him on Twitter here.