Los Angeles Lakers point guard Steve Nash is still on the shelf, and his exact return date is uncertain. Upon returning, Nash will improve the Lakers as an offensive unit, but their title hopes still rest on Kobe Bryant.
In response to a question about when he would make his comeback, Nash told Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News that 10 to 14 days was a total guess:
Another 10 days to two weeks? That's a total guess. Since I can't run, I'm not going to play this week.
The recovery time is getting better. But it's a small improvement.
Not the most promising analysis, is it?
Regardless of the uncertainty, head coach Mike D'Antoni and the Lakers are using Nash's absence as an excuse for their current 9-11 record. They're also using his return as the day in which the true evaluation period begins.
According to Dave McMenamin of ESPN Los Angeles, this heavy reliance on Nash comes without knowledge of when he will return. D'Antoni said:
I really don't (know when Nash will return). It's getting better every day. I know we keep saying that, but it is. Just when he's able to withstand some up-and-down, he'll play.
We're doing it without (Nash), who is kind of the engine that is going to drive us forward. So we're going to have some bumps along the road.
There is no way around how badly the Lakers need Nash to make their offense flow as planned, but Kobe is still the key.
Who is the key to the Los Angeles Lakers' title hopes?
None for Nash or Howard
Steve Nash and Dwight Howard may be extraordinary individuals, but neither has won an NBA championship. In fact, both players have lost to Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers during their pursuit of an NBA championship.
What about those other title winners in Los Angeles?
The Gasol and World Peace Factors
There is an argument to be made that Pau Gasol and Metta World Peace have championship pedigrees of their own. After all, Gasol won two, and World Peace was on board for one.
Oh, how times have changed.
During the Lakers' past two playoff appearances, both Gasol and MWP have been underwhelming. Whether offensively or defensively, neither player has contributed as expected.
Don't believe it? Check the numbers.
Gasol has averaged 12.8 points and 8.7 rebounds over the past two postseasons. World Peace, meanwhile, shot just 41.0 percent from the floor in that same period of time.
When faced with the Lakers, Kevin Durant of the Oklahoma City Thunder shot upward of 50.0 percent in each of the five postseason games that MWP defended him in 2011-12.
Although World Peace is in much better physical shape now than he was a year ago, he and Gasol remain question marks in the Lakers' pursuit of a title.
The Kobe Factor
During the 2011-12 NBA postseason, the Los Angeles Lakers averaged 96.0 points per 48 minutes with Kobe Bryant on the floor. When he was on the bench, however, the Lakers averaged just 84.5 points per 48 minutes.
They also had an assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.95 with Kobe and 1.03 without him.
Thus far in the 2012-13 season, the numbers have been no different. The Lakers are averaging 105.1 points per 48 with Kobe and just 87.8 without. They're also allowing 96.0 points per 48 with Bryant on the floor and 100.3 per 48 when he's on the bench.
With it established that the Lakers are elite with Kobe and below average without him, it's safe to say that the current team needs him as much as the previous team did. What one cannot forget, however, is that there is one number that all of those previously listed pale in comparison to: five.
As in five NBA championships.
Any player or coach will tell you the same thing. Once you've already won a ring, the prospect of winning another becomes much more realistic.
Kobe has done it before. Who's to say he can't do it again with expectations once again mounting?
Many detractors will claim Bryant served as the "Robin" to Shaquille O'Neal's "Batman." The truth about Bryant, however, is that he is not a role player.
He is a leader that knows how to bring the most out of the talent beside him. That is why Kobe is the most important piece to the Lakers' championship puzzle.
If he is unable to bring the most out of players such as Howard, Nash, Gasol, World Peace and Antawn Jamison, the Lakers stand no chance. Fortunately, Kobe is quite accustomed to overcoming the odds.
For that reason, the time for panic has not yet arrived—not as long as Kobe has a breath left inside of him.