Los Angeles Lakers: Early-Season Injuries That Will Hurt LA's Title Hopes

Kevin CoughlinCorrespondent IOctober 12, 2012

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after he makes a three-pointer as time expires in the third quarter over Russell Westbrook #0 of the Oklahoma City Thunder in Game Four of the Western Conference Semifinals in the 2012 NBA Playoffs on May 19 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. 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 Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

After restocking their lineup this past offseason, the L.A. Lakers could be expected to make a run at their most recent NBA Championship since 2010.

However, with injuries to staple players like future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant and the newly-acquired, veteran center, Dwight Howard, it would appear that any preseason prognostications are in flux for the moment. 

While Howard is still rehabbing from a herniated disc that kept him out of last season’s playoffs with Orlando, the Los Angeles Times reported last week that Kobe Bryant is suffering from a left foot injury. 

This is just the latest in a series of injuries for Kobe, including a left shoulder injury that kept him out of preseason play earlier this week against Portland.

The book on Bryant, 34, is becoming extensive, which is not good news for a Lakers team that looks to rebound from a five-game series loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder in the Western Conference Semifinals last season. 

Bryant managed 1,616 points in just 58 games during the 2011-12 season, yet still led the Lakers in points and assists; not good when you consider that the Lakers were still just 15th in the league in points per game last season. Although not enough to keep the Lakers from postseason play, should Kobe have to miss a significant amount of time in 2012, the drop off in point totals is likely to be exponential.

Enter the former Orlando Magic center.

Assuming the Lakers’ big-name acquisition stays healthy, we could see a different kind of Lakers basketball that becomes much more of a possession game, particularly Howard’s 14.5 rebounds per game in 2011. The problem, however, is that the impact of Howard’s season-ending back injury last season seems much more severe than once thought.

“What a lot of people don't know,” Howard told the L.A. Times on Thursday, “is when I hurt my back, it affected my nerves to the point where my whole left leg just went dead basically.”

Though he was cleared for contact this week, nerve injuries can be unpredictable when it comes to recovery; NFL fans saw this with Peyton Manning’s attempt to recover in time for the 2011 season.  Because of this, it seems more beneficial to remain cautious in an effort to minimize the amount of time that both Howard and Bryant may miss simultaneously.

More importantly, the impact of Kobe’s production can hardly be replaced, particularly given that Howard will attempt to replace L.A.’s second leading scorer, Andrew Bynum, who averaged 16.7 points per game in 2011-12, nearly half as much as Bryant. 

Howard figures to be a nice complement to Kobe in 2012, but not a replacement. 

Together, it is entirely possible that Howard and the Kobe-led Lakers could match the Boston Celtics for the all-time NBA Championship total, but should either miss a significant amount of time due to these injuries, it is hard to guarantee that the Lakers would make a substantial postseason run.