Kobe Bryant Injury: Blowout Loss Shouldn't Force Premature Return for Lakers SG

Matt FitzgeraldCorrespondent IIIMarch 19, 2013

PHOENIX, AZ - MARCH 18:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts on the bench during the second half of the NBA game against the Phoenix Suns at US Airways Center on March 18, 2013 in Phoenix, Arizona. The Suns defeated the Lakers 99-76. 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 Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Los Angeles Lakers superstar shooting guard Kobe Bryant definitely could have helped his team during an ugly 99-76 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Monday evening.

Despite the discouraging form LA flashed in that contest, it should not trigger a return for the ailing future Hall of Famer in the team's next game—no matter how badly Bryant wants to play.

After managing just 12 scoreless minutes against the Indiana Pacers last week, Bryant has missed the Lakers' past two games. However, the team won the aforementioned tangle with Indiana, and bested the Sacramento Kings before the slip-up in Phoenix.

The image of Bryant's ankle that he posted on Twitter last Thursday justifies his absence. (Warning: It is somewhat displeasing to the eye.)

Even his incredible threshold for pain can't quite tolerate swelling of that magnitude. The fact that he even attempted to play on it in the first place highlights Bryant's stubborn, relentless competitiveness.

But this is a competition he can't win—at least not right now. The Lakers are in the heat of the playoff race in the Western Conference, clinging to a one-game lead entering Tuesday night's NBA action. As difficult as this season has been for LA, forcing Bryant in while he's hurt this badly would be a detriment.

The current three-day break in the schedule will allow Bryant to literally get his legs under him a little bit, and afford some valuable time off for the Lakers to try to click without their go-to guy in the lineup.

Following Friday's impending clash with the Washington Wizards, Mike D'Antoni's squad gets the weekend off before embarking on a vital four-game road trip that could shape how the rest of the season goes.

The likely postseason run the Lakers have set up for themselves by going 11-4 since the All-Star break depends on Bryant, who has carried the team all year amidst injuries.

Seemingly indestructible, the Black Mamba's fateful fall out of the lineup is being approached in his typical style of reckless abandon. The competitor in Bryant will long to take the court against Washington after LA's showing on Monday without him, but the Lakers must prevent him from doing so.

Although the Wizards are an improved team with John Wall's return, there's little logic in putting Bryant at risk for LA's only contest in the next week or so—even for an important regular-season game.

Lopsided losses happen out of nowhere in the NBA on any given night. LA shot just 33.3 percent from the floor against the Suns, which isn't likely to happen again given the talent on this squad.

This is an 82-game season, and one more game without Bryant is worth the extra time he'll have to recover.