Return of Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol Will Charge Los Angeles Lakers Up Standings

Morgan ChalfantContributor IIIMarch 21, 2013

Gasol has missed 20 games since getting injured.
Gasol has missed 20 games since getting injured.Harry How/Getty Images

Things are looking up for the Los Angeles Lakers. Yesterday, Dave McMenamin of reported that Pau Gasol and Kobe Bryant are likely to return Friday for the Lakers home game against the Washington Wizards.

Currently, the Lakers are one game ahead of the Utah Jazz for the eighth playoff slot in the Western Conference. With the regular season ending on April 17, the Lakers have little time to either make or break their playoff dreams.

Though if Gasol and Bryant return, Los Angeles has a good chance of getting that final spot in the playoffs. All five Lakers starters—Gasol, Bryant, Howard, Nash and World Peace—have played together for only 17 total games this season, making for an inconsistent and rocky season for Los Angeles.

However, coach Mike D’Antoni said of the two injured starters, “Hopefully Kobe [Bryant] and Pau will be back Friday, hopefully, and then we can start going forward with everybody that we need to have.”

Gasol, who suffered a plantar fascia tear in his right foot that has caused him to miss 20 games, underwent an ultrasound on Tuesday that revealed his injury to be healing properly. Gasol said of his near return, “I feel confident, but we don’t want to get too ahead of ourselves.”

He added, “Right now, it’s all or nothing…We’re down the last stretch, and we have to give our very best as individuals and as a group in order to have the best shot.”

However, Gasol is still healing, and will not be able to play a large amount of minutes because he’s been off the court for so long. D’Antoni said of the power forward, “His minutes might fluctuate early, because he doesn’t have the stamina to stay out there.”

Kobe Bryant has been out for less time, but his absence has, nevertheless, hurt the Lakers. Bryant suffered a left ankle sprain last week in the game against the Atlanta Hawks, and has missed a few games and practices since, to allow the injury to heal.

Bryant’s statistics for this season are tremendous given his age; he is averaging 27.1 points, 5.4 rebounds and 5.8 assists in 37.9 minutes of play. Since he’s been out, guard Jodie Meeks has been a mediocre replacement, at best. If the Lakers want to ensure their spot in the playoffs, they really need Kobe Bryant at guard.

D’Antoni looks positively toward the end of the season with the return of his two starters: “when they’re all 100 percent, it can work. That’s what the management and we [on the coaching staff] envision: That Pau’s too talented and too good, Dwight’s too talented and too good, Kobe and go right down the list, Steve Nash. We have to be able to figure it out, and I think we can.”

If the two starters come back Friday, Gasol and Bryant’s strengths will certainly be put to the test. Los Angeles can only hope for two stars with their injuries in the past and their focus on the playoffs.