The Los Angeles Lakers have officially weathered the storm.
According to the team's official Twitter account, Kobe Bryant, who has missed two (and most of a third) games with an ankle injury, and Pau Gasol, who who has been absent for 20 with a flat tire, are both set to return on Friday night:
Los Angeles Lakers @Lakers
HC D’Antoni confirms that @kobebryant & @paugasol will play tonight. Said Gasol would “probably” start tonight w/ Clark going to the bench.3/22/2013, 5:45:29 PM
Uh oh, is what the rest of the league is saying (except Miami).
The Lakers have been hit by a myriad of injuries this season. Steve Nash missed more than a month to start the season. Dwight Howard's back has kept him from being Dwight Howard for most of the year. Gasol has been sidelined for three different chunks of the schedule. Even Bryant hasn't been immune.
But much like Gloria Gaynor, they have survived.
With pieced-together lineups and Robert Sacre performances, Mike D'Antoni's squad has somehow shaken off early struggles to move to 36-33. They are 7-3 in their past 10 games, they're in eighth place in the West and they're within striking distance of Golden State and Houston.
And now they get back one of the greatest players of all time and a legitimate low-post threat to beef up the frontcourt.
I'd say that's cause for optimism.
According to 82games.com, Los Angeles' offseason dream lineup of Nash, Bryant, Metta World Peace, Gasol and Howard has logged just 173.3 minutes together, just the third most of all of its lineups this season.
While that five-some has struggled defensively, it has averaged 1.13 points per possession—making it one of the team's most dangerous offensive units—and has a plus/minus of plus-14.
Bryant and Gasol are obviously welcomed returns from an individual perspective, but getting that group back together in time to gel before a potential playoff run is crucial.
In a way, Los Angeles' injuries have been blessings in disguise.
It opened up opportunities for role players like Earl Clark, Jodie Meeks, Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison to establish themselves as key contributors, and now that depth is far less of a problem than it used to be, the studs are returning at the perfect time.
We've seen over the past few weeks what a less-than-100-percent Lakers team is capable of. Now it's time for the the complete squad to prove its worth.
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