It didn't go very well Saturday in Phoenix, but Monday against the New Orleans Hornets the Los Angeles Lakers will get another crack at playing without Kobe Bryant. He'll miss a second consecutive game thanks to tenosynovitis (in lay terms, a really sore and inflamed tendon) of his left shin.
Devin Ebanks, who played well against the Suns scoring 12 points and hauling down four offensive boards, will probably get another start.
It's easy to overreact to a missed game here and there. This may not be one of those times. As we've seen all season, the Lakers take the floor every night with a small margin for error. When everything is working, their top-end talent -- headlined by Bryant, Andrew Bynum, Pau Gasol and now Ramon Sessions -- is good enough to play with anyone. When the formula isn't working, whether because someone is having an off night, gets tossed from a game, doesn't bring the energy or is hurt, the Lakers are diminished significantly.
Kobe's injury is the type that only heals with rest, so he, Mike Brown and the Lakers' training staff are all smart to sit him down Monday night, and for however long he needs to feel better. The Lakers aren't going to win all that much in the playoffs without Bryant available and healthy. Sitting for a week won't just help his shin, but it could have larger benefits, too. But Kobe's injury points to other problems the Lakers have right now. He's beat up, Sessions has a bad shoulder, Gasol has played a ton of minutes and has his own bumps and bruises, Bynum is running on a squishy ankle.
In short, the Lakers have leaned heavily on their three marquee players throughout the season, and with the playoffs only nine games away, could very well be seeing the negative impact. For them, any drop at the top of the roster has a disproportionately negative effect, because the rest of the roster offers so little.
Defensively, they've been terrible -- punctuated by Saturday's disaster -- something that has to change in a hurry. Some of the drop can be attributed to pace. As the Lakers have learned to score more effectively, they've added possessions to games and put themselves in transition defensively more often, in which on a points-per-play basis Synergy says they're 25th in the league. Bynum's interest in defense seems to have waned, which makes a huge difference in the half court (where, for what it's worth, via Synergy, they've slipped from second to fourth in points per play).
There are reasonable questions about commitment and buy in. Certainly through the early weeks of the season, when the Lakers treated every defensive possession like some sort of death match, the effort seemed more consistent. There was more of a sense of urgency, now lacking. Maybe that can still change. But Bryant's injury, packed in with the other injuries, the big minutes, the team's lack of depth and everything else, raises a scarier proposition, namely that when the time comes for the Lakers to again raise their level, it won't happen.
Not because they're unable, but because there isn't enough in the system to make it happen.