Regardless of whether the Los Angeles Lakers make the playoffs this April, their championship hopes have taken a devastating blow in the wake of Kobe Bryant's probable Achilles tear Friday night against Golden State.
With two tough games still left to play against San Antonio and Houston, who are both vying for better playoff seeding in the Western Conference, the Lakers are in serious danger of missing the playoffs altogether this spring unless they can get some timely contributions from a few key players.
Below we'll highlight the players who must step up the rest of the way in Kobe's absence.
A two-time NBA MVP, Steve Nash can be more than just a facilitator if he comes back from injury. The 39-year-old point guard is one of the most accurate shooters in NBA history, and will need to help carry the scoring load for L.A. while Bryant sits.
Nash is averaging just 12.7 points per game this season, but shooting 50 percent from the field and 44 percent from beyond the arc. He's got to attempt more than nine or 10 shots per game from here on out; he's too good a shooter not to.
Though Nash can stroke it from anywhere on the floor, the veteran floor general is arguably at his best when creating opportunities for others. And Kobe's absence from the Lakers lineup should allow him more touches and therefore more chances to create for the L.A. big men.
If Nash can play a role similar to the one he had in Phoenix, taking what the defense gives him, then the Lakers will be in good hands.
Like Nash, Antawn Jamison has been around a long time, and understands what it takes to win in the NBA. Unfortunately, the 36-year-old power forward has been up and down this season, sometimes settling for outside shots far too often.
If the Lakers are going to make the playoffs and make noise this postseason, Jamison can't afford to go 0-of-4 from beyond the arc like he did Friday against Golden State. Instead, the 6'9" veteran needs to attack the rim with a purpose and use his size to get easy looks and opportunities at the free-throw line, where he's a 72 percent career shooter.
Don't get me wrong, Jamison is a lethal three-point shooter when he's on his mark, but with Kobe out, he must become a more reliable scorer off the bench.
With Kobe going down, backup shooting guard Jodie Meeks will have no choice but to step up his game in order to keep L.A. in the mix.
The fourth-year player out of Kentucky is shooting just 39 percent from the field this year, but has been decent from downtown, knocking in 36 percent of his three-pointers in 2012-13. Meeks should put up better numbers with more minutes, but he'll have to become more efficient as well.
He's averaging just 5.2 points on 32 percent shooting in nearly 27 minutes per night for the month of April. There's no way the Lakers can afford to receive similar production from Meeks in Kobe's absence and still contend.
Meeks has also got to ratchet up the heat on the defensive end, where Kobe Bryant often excels. No one expects Meeks to take over the game on that side of the ball, but he doesn't need to. So long as he's pressuring his man and forcing tough shots L.A. will be in decent shape moving forward.
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