According to Mark Medina of Inside SoCal, Kobe Bryant described his back as "pretty stiff." This comes in the midst of a 10-14 season in which the Los Angeles Lakers are playing without both Pau Gasol and Steve Nash.
Bryant is known for his status as an NBA warrior—one who will power through the pain and play with no excuses if his production is to dip.
This latest instance is no different.
Even though Bryant described his back as “pretty stiff,” he hardly seemed uptight about the heavy mileage.
“I’m not tired,” Bryant said. “I’m sore. But when I play, I’m in really really good condition. I’m just not tired.”
“I’m not tired,” Bryant said. “If you have the opportunity to sit me in the game, you can sit. But I’m not tired. I can run all day.”
Bryant's game against the Washington Wizards proved just that.
Although he shot just 9-of-29 from the floor, Kobe also finished with 30 points on 11-of-13 shooting from the free-throw line. Throw in Bryant's seven rebounds, seven assists, two steals and one block, and one thing is clear: Kobe was hustling.
Still, it was clear that the back injury was bothering Kobe. His leaping ability was visibly impacted, as was the power in his jump shot.
So why is this the worst possible time for this injury?
Everyone Is Banged Up
Kobe Bryant's back stiffness is just the latest in a long line of debilitating injuries to the stars of the Los Angeles Lakers.
As recently as Dec. 13, Dwight Howard stated that he hadn't yet made a 100 percent recovery from offseason back surgery (via USA Today). This is certainly understandable due to the severity of his injury.
It is also a direct reason that Howard hasn't been the two-way force we've expected him to be.
Even that might be optimistic.
As for Steve Nash, he suffered a small fracture in his left fibula during the Lakers' second game of the regular season. He hasn't played a game since and has yet to set a concrete return date.
Nash recently stated that he hopes to resume practice next week (via Los Angeles Times).
Even still, the Lakers cannot afford to have a fourth star suffer from injuries. Not when they're already on the brink of elimination from contention for the top seed in the Western Conference.
Not when Kobe Bryant has been their most consistent performer. Not when he is the one player that has elevated the Lakers in every sense of the word.
Disproving the Defensive Myth
One of the most popular beliefs about Kobe Bryant is that he has abandoned playing defense. The other theory is that Bryant is no longer capable of playing elite man-to-man defense.
That is simply not the case.
Ryan Feldman of ESPN Stats & Information reports that Bryant is holding his assignments to 32.0 percent shooting from the floor. He also ranks 12th in the NBA in terms of points allowed per play.
In other words, Bryant remains elite on the defensive end of the floor.
Furthermore, the Lakers are allowing an average of 98.2 points per 48 minutes with Bryant on the floor. That number jumps to 103.9 per 48 when Bryant is on the bench.
Elite with Kobe, Bottom-Feeder Without
Whose injury is most important to the Los Angeles Lakers?
When Kobe Bryant is on the floor, the Lakers are scoring an average of 105.4 points per 48 minutes. When Bryant is on the bench, however, that number drops to 87.3 points per 48.
Furthermore, the Lakers are shooting 47.2 percent from the field when Kobe is on the floor. That number drops to 37.8 percent when Bryant is on the bench.
Bryant may be viewed as a ball-stopper, but everything he has done has improved the quality of the offense. Bryant is paid to score, and he is doing so at a very efficient rate, shooting at a 47.4 percent clip from the floor.
With this most recent case of back stiffness, however, all of the positive could be lost. That is why this injury couldn't have come at a worse time, especially when the Lakers are resting uneasy at 10-14.