LOS ANGELES — It got even tougher Tuesday night.
The Los Angeles Lakers released official confirmation that Kobe Bryant’s left knee isn’t close to being fully healed, as Bleacher Report reported Monday. Realistically, Bryant figures to miss more than another month considering he isn’t even scheduled to be re-evaluated for three weeks, according to the Lakers.
Bryant’s protracted timeline far superseded the predictable news of the Lakers losing to the Indiana Pacers, and in fact, an appropriate snapshot of the Lakers’ season came in the opening minutes of the game:
While the Lakers were playing host to the team with the NBA’s best record in a theoretically big game, Lakers vice president of public relations John Black was sitting next to team doctor Steve Lombardo, hammering out the grim details of the latest Bryant injury news. Neither Black nor Lombardo was even watching the game.
The injuries have blotted out the Lakers’ sun. Pacers coach Frank Vogel flat-out said so when citing Bryant’s and Steve Nash’s absences and then saying about the soon-to-be 16-30 Lakers: “I don't think it's possible to do any better than they've done.”
That’s far nicer for Mike D’Antoni to hear than Magic Johnson’s latest mockery of D’Antoni and the team, shared with an even wider mainstream audience via The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on Monday.
But Johnson’s criticism isn’t what is bringing the Lakers down. Reality is hurting them.
The news about Bryant only compounded the helplessness of having lost 17 out of 20 games. Nick Young, the Lakers’ source of both pride and energy all season long, twice went down without getting Pacers foul calls and twice was flat-out slow to get up.
In the final minute of the game, Young sat on the bench and did a literal facepalm—followed up by that rubbing of the face that you do when you are trying to rub out what feels like a nightmare.
Young uncharacteristically left Staples Center without addressing reporters afterward, but it’s to be expected that his tank is nearing empty.
So many of these Lakers fill-in players are not used to carrying major loads, especially for this long. It’s to be expected that their minds and bodies are wearing down. Throw the demoralizing losing on top of that, and then when you hear the latest Kobe news, it’s like, what can we do?
Bear in mind, these unproven Lakers were extremely eager to play with Bryant in what was to be his comeback season. After Bryant’s first game of the year, Young couldn’t help but note that he didn’t get any actual time on the court alongside him.
The extent of teamwork that rookie Ryan Kelly has gotten from Bryant was an explanation on the bench three weeks ago in Houston that James Harden’s devastating Eurostep move on Kelly is not actually a traveling violation.
And even though Bryant was never expected to be the young high flyer he once was, he still was going to be one of the more athletic players on this team. So was Jordan Farmar.
Indiana’s Paul George and Lance Stephenson racing around, bouncing around, defending all around made it glaring Tuesday just how lacking the Lakers are in this area, with the one guy with the frame and jump to stack up—Wesley Johnson—still clearly lacking the necessary fire to utilize his talents.
“Sometimes there’s a lack of player talent out there,” D’Antoni said after the loss. “You can’t get around it.”
So Jerry Buss Bobblehead Night, meant to celebrate the late owner’s birthday Monday, deteriorated into one of the saddest nights of a sad season. In a season of forgettable nights, this one was so sad that it stands out.
It’s increasingly clear that the Lakers aren’t confident Bryant, still having pain and swelling in his fractured knee, will be medically cleared even in three weeks—and that would be just to start weight-bearing workouts.
After being visible on the bench throughout the Lakers’ recent road trip, Bryant didn’t join the team out there Tuesday night. Pau Gasol, who added himself to the injury report with a sore groin Tuesday, shook his head and said about Bryant: “Rough stretch for him.”
When the latest rough night was over, D’Antoni headed out of Staples Center arm in arm with wife Laurel, the two of them leaning in against each other.
There’s amazingly almost half the season still ahead of D’Antoni and the Lakers. And right now, even for a team that needs time to get healthier and dream of rallying into the playoff picture, the idea of three more months suggests a whole lot more suffering.