Just when things were looking up for the Los Angeles Lakers, they received news on Thursday that quickly burst their bubble.
The Lakers announced that superstar Kobe Bryant would be lost to the team for at least the next six weeks with a fracture in his left knee.
Bryant had worked hard to get back this season after undergoing surgery to repair a torn Achilles tendon last April. He was six games into his return when the latest injury news hit.
Bryant had just started to round back into form, scoring 21 points in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Tuesday. He had struggled somewhat before Tuesday, averaging just 13.8 points while committing 5.7 turnovers per game. Tuesday’s game was definitely a positive step.
However, Bryant’s knee has been at issue recently as he’s been seen icing his knees after practices and games. His latest injury occurred late in Tuesday’s game against the Grizzlies, and Bryant initially thought it was just a hyperextension.
"I just hyperextended it," Bryant said after the game. "I tend to hyperextend my knees every now and then."
An MRI revealed the fracture, however, and now the Lakers are left scrambling once again.
Asked if Bryant had come back too early from his Achilles injury, Lakers head coach Mike D’Antoni dismissed that thought.
"There's always a risk until he gets completely used to playing," he said. "But the doctors were all over it. Nah, that's just bad luck."
Teammate Pau Gasol talked about what amounts to another tough break.
"It's tough when you get in a streak like that," Gasol said. "He was fighting through and getting through the process of getting back on the floor after tearing his Achilles, and now you get this fracture. It's very hard for me as a teammate, as his friend, to understand that that happened to him. But what can you do? He's tough enough. He'll get through it and be back and ready to play."
Bryant’s injury further depletes a team that’s already seen its share of woes on the health front. Point guard Steve Nash hasn’t played since Nov. 10, dealing with nerve inflammation in his back. He recently suffered a setback in his rehab and will likely be lost for another month.
Guard Steve Blake is also down for at least another five weeks while he works to return from a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. And Jordan Farmar has been out since the beginning of the month with a torn left hamstring. He’s not expected back before Christmas.
With all of the injuries, coach D’Antoni has been forced to field 10 different starting lineups since the beginning of the season. That certainly makes it tough for the Lakers to build any sort of on-court chemistry, not to mention creating rotation issues with an ever-changing roster.
With its current record of 12-13, the Lakers sit in 11th place in the Western Conference standings. While certainly not out of contention for a playoff spot, the loss of Bryant for another six weeks further complicates their ability to reach the postseason.
Even if Bryant returns in the allotted time, it will be late January with over half of the season gone. The Lakers will have to dig themselves out of a hole while at the same time hoping that Bryant can somehow return to form.
The likelihood of both scenarios leading to a positive resolution is slim.
Bryant is tireless in his work ethic and will no doubt use this as a challenge to return strong. But even he may be unable to pull the Lakers out of the depths of mediocrity.
The death knell for the Lakers’ playoff hopes may have just rung loud and clear.