Los Angeles Lakers: Does Kobe Bryant's Injury Make Them Better Once He Returns?

Torey ZiskaCorrespondent IIFebruary 22, 2010

BOSTON - JANUARY 31:  Kobe Bryant  #24 the Los Angeles Lakers stands on the court during the closing minutes of a game  against the Boston Celtics at the TD Garden on January 31, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts.  The Lakers won 90-89. 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 Jim Rogash /Getty Images)
Jim Rogash/Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers are the clear favorite to win the Western Conference and reach the NBA Finals, with all due respect to the extremely talented Denver Nuggets and white-hot Utah Jazz

The Lakers have the best record in the West and have a fairly comfortable cushion. They have played their past five games without star player Kobe Bryant

They did lose their last game against the Celtics, albeit by just one point in a hard fought game. However, in the previous four games without Bryant, the Lakers went 4-0, winning by 13.5 points per game. 

They took down the Portland Trailblazers by 17. That is impressive in its own right, however, considering that the Lakers had lost nine straight games in Portland (all of which Bryant played in), this game showed what kind of poise this team can have even without its best player. 

They followed that up with a 12-point home victory over the always-solid San Antonio Spurs, who had beaten them earlier in the year.  They then traveled to Utah to face the Jazz, the NBA’s hottest team at the time, (nine straight wins and 13 out of 14 overall) and held them to 81 points in a 15-point victory. 

Finally the Lakers traveled home to face the Golden State Warriors, the NBA’s second best offensive team. L.A. once again won by double digits, but more impressively held the Warriors to just 94 points, more than a dozen points under their season average. 

So are the Lakers better without Bryant? No, of course not. In fact, as their loss to the Celtics shows, when in a close game they are a much worse team without their best player. Despite all the talent on L.A.’s roster, they have no one they can go to in crunch time to hit a big shot. Yes, they have Derek Fisher, but he typically is the beneficiary of Bryant driving to the basket, and rarely is able to create his own shot in crunch time.

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So what does this five-game stretch tell us about the Lakers? It tells us they should be favored to win their 16th NBA Championship. If they have the ability to win without Bryant, even on a small scale, they should have no problem winning with him. 

Despite the "ball hog" tag Bryant often has looming over his head, he also has perhaps the best basketball IQ in the league. Don’t think for a second he hasn’t noticed how well his team has played without him. 

He has seen his team thoroughly dominant for the most part in his absence. He will recognize that he can trust his teammates even more than he already does and that will be the biggest key if the Lakers want to repeat as NBA Champions.

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