Marc Spears of Yahoo! Sports is reporting that Bryant plans to be back on the floor for the Lakers tomorrow night as they take on the Spurs.
Bryant has missed the past seven games with a shin injury, but said he expects to return Friday when the Lakers visit the San Antonio Spurs. The Lakers also play the Oklahoma City Thunder Sunday at home before ending the regular season by visiting the Sacramento Kings on April 26. The Lakers could decide to sit Bryant against the Kings because the playoffs begin two days later.
“It will kind of establish my rhythm more,” Bryant said after the Lakers' victory over the Golden State Warriors. “It finishes the season up the right way and generates the momentum we need toward the postseason.”
Bryant went through a tough on-court workout with Lakers assistant coach Phil Handy about three hours before the Warriors game. Bryant was healthy enough to play against Golden State, but the Lakers opted to give him another couple days of rest.
This is obviously great news for the Lakers as they head into the postseason, but the return of Bryant brings other questions for the team.
The team posted a 5-2 record in Bryant's absence, and Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum continued their strong play this season. Metta World Peace looked like he had stepped into a time machine, bringing back the offensive-minded player from the past. After averaging a career-low 7.6 points per game this year, he upped his average to 16.2 points with Bryant out.
Despite Bryant's league-leading 28.1 point-per-game average, the Lakers averaged more points with Bryant on the bench in a suit. This isn't because they're a better team without Bryant—don't listen to anyone trying to tell you this, either—it's because his teammates were recognizing they needed to step up and score because they didn't have Bryant's heroics to save them.
It's amazing what people can do when given the opportunities. Sometimes, role players play into their roles too much, become a little too passive—too willing to give up the ball—when they play with a scorer like Bryant.
It's been important for World Peace to show his teammates he can still put points on the board for Gasol to exist without Bryant and for Bynum to learn what it takes to step into the spotlight and be the leader.
It's been equally helpful for Bryant to spend these last seven games on the sidelines, watching his teammates. In addition to watching his teammates, he gets to speak with the Lakers coaching staff, share thoughts and ideas more readily than when he's one of the five players on the floor. This will help the team moving forward.
An injury to a star player isn't ever a good thing. The silver lining, though? For the Lakers closing out this season, Bryant getting time to rest and refocus while his teammates get to find their own respective offensive grooves is a blessing that they'll take.
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