The Lakers played at Denver on Wednesday and lost. This was not hard to predict — we said we expected as much in our game preview. The Nuggets aren’t worlds better than the Lakers (though they are better), but they were playing at home, the Lakers had played the night before in Los Angeles, and that was that.
The Lakers played the game shorthanded, too. They came into the game without Lou Williams (hamstring) and Larry Nance Jr. (rest for a sore knee). They lost Jordan Clarkson during the game to a patella tendon strain (update on the severity of this pending). They also should have been without Kobe Byrant, but he decided to play.
This was Kobe’s last visit to Denver so he gave it a go. He ended up only playing 11 minutes and sat out the entire 2nd half. After the game he said that if it wasn’t his last game in the mile-high city he probably would have sat out, but it was so he didn’t. After the game he also gave an update on how he’s feeling and what that means for the rest of the season. ESPN’s Baxter Holmes has the skinny:
“It’s really, really achy,” Bryant said after the game. “[I’ve] got a little bit of clicking in it and things like that. Just try to stay on top of it right now.”…
“It’s the same as it’s always been,” Bryant said of managing his shoulder. “A lot of patience and trying to stay with it and try to stay on top of it. Not really much you can do.”
Wait, there’s more:
Asked if he would consider shutting himself down for a brief period to heal the shoulder, Bryant said, “I can’t do that. There’s like [20 games] left in the season. As much as I can get out there and play, I’ll get out there and play. At Staples [Center], I’m going to have to start ramping it up a little bit and getting out there and playing. It’s almost a wrap.
“At the same time, I don’t want to do something towards the end and have the shoulder pop out again, and then I’m on the surgery table again or something like that. I don’t want that to happen. So we’ve just got to be smart, but I’ll still appreciate the time that I have left.”
Byron Scott has stated multiple times this season that his main goal for Kobe is to have him walk off the floor on April 13th in the final game of his career and the ovation he deserves. However he needs to manage Kobe to ensure that happens, he will do so. Kobe, seemingly, has that goal too, but it seems to conflict with the fact that he really does seem hurt right now but is unwilling to sit out for a sustained period to rest and heal a bit more.
This is the conflict Kobe has faced since the day he announced this would be his last season while also dealing with what is clearly an ailing shoulder. Every road trip offers the last chance for fans in these cities to see Kobe play and, so, he tries to play. It does not matter if he probably shouldn’t. There is no next year.
What is also interesting is Kobe’s acknowledgement that he will also try to stop missing home games. I noted this on twitter last week, but it seems the majority of the games Kobe has missed have come at home. In looking at his game log, that assumption was correct. The last 8 games he has missed have all been at STAPLES Center and the last game he missed that was not in Los Angeles was on December 19th in OKC (he missed a “road” game against the Clippers on January 29th).
Down the stretch, then, I don’t expect Kobe to miss too many games period. The Lakers only have 20 games left in their season. This really is the home stretch of his career. I have no clue what is going through his mind regarding the finality of it all, but it is clear that getting the floor, be it for the fans or for himself, weighs on him.
All of this is also a reminder that Kobe really is limping to the finish line. He puts on the good face, is great in interviews, and even gave away his game shoes to two kids sitting courtside in Denver. But he is hurting. And his team is bad. I’d be lying if I tried to act as though this didn’t make me sad; sad beyond the normal feelings of a storied career of one of my favorite players coming to an end.