How Kobe Bryant's Injury Will Help LA Lakers in 2012 NBA Playoffs

Stephen Babb@@StephenBabbFeatured ColumnistApril 16, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - APRIL 15:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers watches the game against the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center on April 15, 2012 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers won112-108 in overtime.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
Harry How/Getty Images

Before a shin injury sidelined Kobe Bryant for the Los Angeles Lakers' last five games, the MVP-hopeful was averaging 38.4 minutes over the course of 56 games.

That's a lot of wear and tear for anyone, and all the more so against the backdrop of a condensed schedule with so few off-days and opportunities to rest.

That's also a lot of wear and tear for a 33-year-old who's played through 82-game schedules and deep postseason runs since he was 18.

Of course, Bryant still managed to put together an MVP-caliber season while remaining the foundation for a team acclimating itself to a new coach and attempting to tame Andrew Bynum at one and the same time. Kobe has been a busy guy and unquestionably up to the challenge.

Nevertheless, his inconsistent shooting performances provoked obvious questions about whether the season's grind was beginning to take its toll. Even if there's a chance that was the case, this injury has afforded Bryant rest that could prove valuable once the postseason commences.  

Even Kobe is only human.

Fortunately, Bryant's injury was nothing serious. There won't be lingering damage, and the pain should subside well in advance of the first round. Chances are the iconic Laker wouldn't have missed any time at all if Los Angeles were faced with must-win playoff games.

Mike Brown had the luxury to play things safe, though, and his club has so far managed a 4-1 record without Bryant.

Maintaining that trend, however, wouldn't be so easy in the playoffs, and that's why a well-rested and completely healthy superstar is essential to the Lakers' ambitions.

The injury's most significant postseason impact may not have anything to do with Bryant at all, though. In his absence, Metta World Peace has had his most impressive stretch of the season by far, including a season-high 26 points against the San Antonio Spurs.

The last five games have also given Ramon Sessions the opportunity to get a few more looks, and he's made the most of them.

As phenomenal as Bryant has been this season, his Lakers have too often come to depend on him as a playmaker, closer and leader. Others will need to step up if Los Angeles is to contend with deep teams like the Spurs and Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Lakers have proven they can win without Bryant, inspiring a confidence that they could ultimately beat anyone with Bryant.