Dwight Howard's Injury Will Mount Pressure on Kobe Bryant

Dan Favale@@danfavaleFeatured ColumnistJanuary 7, 2013

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 22: Kobe Bryant #24 points to the sky and Dwight Howard #12 of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles as they come back on to the court after a time out during their game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena on December 22, 2012 in Oakland, 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 Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers simply can't catch a break.

Well, that's not entirely true. Dwight Howard's torn labrum is a kind of break. Just not the one Kobe Bryant and the Lakers need.

According to Mike Trudell of Lakers.com, the big man has suffered a torn labrum in his right shoulder and will be out at least one week:

Dwight Howard is out at least 1 week with a torn labrum in his right shoulder. Re-evaluated next week.

— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) January 7, 2013

To call this devastating would be an understatement.

Not only is Howard Los Angeles' second-leading scorer (17.3 points per game) behind Bryant, but his 36.2 minutes per contest are the second-most on the team as well.

To make matters worse, Trudell also noted that Pau Gasol suffered a concussion in the Lakers' loss to the Denver Nuggets and will not travel with the team to face the Houston Rockets or San Antonio Spurs:

Pau Gasol suffered a concussion last night and will not travel with the team on the trip.

— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) January 7, 2013

Translation?

Kobe has his work cut out for him.

Bryant not only leads the league in scoring (30.5 points) and shot attempts (22) per game, but his 39 minutes per bout are fourth in the league as well. With both Howard and Gasol out, Mike D'Antoni will be forced to rely on the 34-year-old Bryant more than he has already.

And that's a problem.

Should it come as a relief that Ken Berger of CBSSports.com is reporting Howard won't need surgery?

A league source says Howard isn't expected to miss much more than a week, but a true timetable won't be known until he's re-examined.

— Ken Berger (@KBergCBS) January 7, 2013

Of course.

It should come as an even bigger relief that Howard himself (via Trudell) is saying the same thing.

Howard: “I don’t need surgery.” Said he expects it to heal; obviously doesn’t want to rush it, increase chance of re-injuring it.

— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) January 7, 2013

But that relief isn't immediate. Once upon a time we were encouraged by Nash's original prognosis as well. Then, 24 games later, there he was—finally.

The Lakers can't afford to have that type of unforeseen setback with Howard; Bryant can't afford it.

Los Angeles already has four players over the age of 32 averaging at least 30 minutes per contest, and Kobe leads the pack. He's also the only player in the NBA over the age of 32 who is averaging more than 35 minutes per night.

Even with Nash and Howard in the fold, the burden to carry the sub-.500 Lakers has fallen upon Kobe since day one. Now, with Howard gone for at least one week, that burden will be even tougher for the Black Mamba to bear.

I understand that the Lakers are 15-18 and currently sit outside the Western Conference playoff picture, but that's with Bryant having a career-year.

Kobe's 30.5 points a night are the third-most of his career and his 48.1 percent shooting from the floor is a career-best.

Los Angeles' struggles also come with Howard persevering through back pain to put up respectable numbers himself. Most expected more from him, but given his current state, he's performed admirably.

Howard is one of only 12 NBA players currently averaging a double-double and is the only one averaging at least 15 points, 10 rebounds and 2.5 blocks a bout as well. Even far from his best, Howard is still better than most.

That's why I shudder to think where the Lakers would be without him, where they would be without Kobe.

It's easy to assert that Bryant has carried Los Angeles before, so he'll do it again, but is that honestly going to happen?

Not only is Bryant 34 and nearly two decades into his NBA tenure, but his supporting cast is nearly non-existent.

Nash has been a stud since returning from injury and there is plenty of solace to be found in Metta World Peace, but let's not forget that the Lakers' bench is currently 27th in scoring. Plus, there's still that 15-18 record to consider.

Simply put, wafer thin doesn't even begin to describe Los Angeles' usual dynamic. And now, without Howard—and Gasol—the Laker are nothing short of emaciated.

Will the Mamba be able to shoulder it, or will he crumble under the weight of an even more carking workload? 

The Lakers obviously don't want to find out.

But unfortunately, they're going to have to.

 

*All stats in this article are accurate as of January 6, 2013.