Los Angeles guard Kobe Bryant is not expected to play against the Phoenix Suns because of his injured ankle, per Kevin Ding of The Orange County Register. The Los Angeles Lakers then play the Washington Wizards to close out this week before going on a four-game road trip next week.
The Lakers are capable of beating the Suns and Wizards without Bryant, but they need their superstar back before heading out on the road trip.
On March 25, the Lakers travel to Northern California to take on the Golden State Warriors in a crucial matchup of potential playoff teams. They then head to the Midwest to take on the Minnesota Timberwolves (March 27) and the Milwaukee Bucks (March 28). They cap their road trip by returning to Northern California to take on the Sacramento Kings (March 30).
The Lakers need Bryant to make sure they don't drop must-have games.
Out of these six upcoming games, only the Warriors and Bucks are currently playoff teams. The Lakers are currently two games back of the Warriors, who currently hold the sixth seed in the Western Conference. The Bucks are the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference with a 33-32 record.
Five out of the six teams have a worse record than the Lakers. They can't afford to lose to teams of this caliber if they expect to beat powerhouses in the postseason.
Because the Lakers don't necessarily need Bryant to beat the Suns and Wizards, it would be wise to hold Bryant out until the team faces the Warriors. That would give Bryant another week to receive treatment on his ankle.
Throughout the Lakers' surge into the current playoff landscape, Bryant has done a great job driving this team. His leadership skills have been unmatched and absolutely necessary to get the most out of every member of the team.
The Lakers can't afford to get complacent with 14 games remaining on their schedule. Currently a half-game out of the seventh seed and two games back of the sixth seed, the Lakers have an opportunity to avoid the San Antonio Spurs or Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. The Lakers also can't afford to get complacent, because right now, they need all the momentum they can get to advance in the playoffs.
Bryant's level of play on the court, leadership skills and drive to achieve success have helped the Lakers make this improbable run toward the playoffs. They need him on the court doing these same things in order to finish the season strongly and have a chance to make noise in the playoffs.