From Bill Plashke, LA Times: On the first night of the rest of their season, the Lakers without Kobe Bryant looked like Steve Blake’s bright purple low-cut sneakers. They were ungodly ugly, but delightfully fun. It’s impossible to imagine them taking more than a few steps before splitting apart at their bubble gum seams, but it’s going to be interesting to watch. “Hey, you’re talking about them, right?” said a smiling Blake. He was referring to the shoes, but he could have been talking about the team, which defeated somnolent San Antonio, 91-86, Sunday to move within a breath of the playoffs. It was their first game without Bryant, who underwent season-ending surgery Saturday to repair a torn Achilles’ tendon. It was a game marked by one question with two answers.
From Drew Garrison, Silver Screen & Roll: One. That’s the number of games the Los Angeles Lakers need to win in order to make the playoffs. Now seven games over .500 after spending the majority of the season cleaning the gutters at the bottom of the Western Conference, they’ve managed to push themselves back into a potential playoff run. Of course, with Kobe Bryant going down the entire narrative, focus, team, and outlook has changed. The potential of the Lakers being a force led by Bryant going into the playoffs has become smoke against the sky as the fire is now just a pile of smoldering ashes.
From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Maybe it was every Laker knowing they had to step up their game with Kobe Bryant sidelined. Maybe it was the desperation of a Lakers team trying to salvage something from a train wreck season, playing much harder than a Spurs team Gregg Popovich described as “floating” through the game. Maybe it was the law of averages — eventually somebody had to hit a shot after a rough first three-quarters of the game. It just happened to be the Lakers. Whatever the reason the Lakers found the stroke from three when it mattered — the Lakers hit 5-of-9 threes in the fourth — and finished with a 91-86 win over San Antonio that makes the playoffs likely for them — their magic number is now one.
From Ramona Shelburne, ESPN LA: On the first day of training camp last fall, Kobe Bryant made one thing crystal clear: This was still his team. For better or worse, in sickness and in health, and for as long as he was putting on that No. 24 jersey, the Los Angeles Lakers were going to be Kobe Bryant’s team. The pecking order might change. Dwight Howard was going to be elevated above Pau Gasol in the offense. Steve Nash would have the ball in his hands more than Bryant. (That was the plan anyway.) But when it came down to it, at the end of the game, or when they looked in the mirror, Kobe would have the ball in his hands. There was no contingency plan. There was no reason for one. This was just how it was going to be.
From Stanley Lee, Lakers Nation: On Sunday night, the Lakers would host the formidable Spurs, still without point guard Steve Nash and in their first game without superstar Kobe Bryant. Coming off of a win Friday that practically defines the term Pyrrhic victory, L.A. will be without Kobe for the remainder of the season. Bryant, who led the Lakers in many categories and has been practically willing his team into the playoffs, suffered a torn Achilles against the Warriors and will be greatly missed in the playoff push. Meanwhile, the Lakers still nurse a one game lead over the Utah Jazz for the final playoff spot, but must win because the Jazz have the tiebreak. With Bryant gone, all eyes shift to Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol, fellow stars who absolutely need to step up.