Lakers can’t afford to play without Kobe Bryant
NEW ORLEANS — The Lakers’ locker room was quiet Saturday night, but slight activity could be detected through a large window in the trainer’s room.
Kobe Bryant was on his back on a padded table, texting or surfing or doing something on his cellphone while smiling.
He was in a business suit, the same one he wore while sitting on the bench in Phoenix, and he wore a walking boot to stabilize his sore left shin.
Then he left without talking to reporters.
The tenosynovitis that has taken root in Bryant’s left leg doesn’t seem like a long-term injury, but the Lakers can’t afford for him to be out at all. The Clippers, allegedly left for dead last week, are only half a game behind them in the standings.
There is no timetable for his return, but Bryant will be reevaluated Monday before the Lakers continue a three-game trip in New Orleans. They conclude it Wednesday in San Antonio.
Tenosynovitis occurs when a tendon sheath becomes inflamed, causing soreness whenever the tendon slides in or out of the sheath. Bryant was initially injured after being kicked in the shin March 31 against New Orleans.
The Lakers tried to slap a walking boot on him between games, but the soreness returned whenever Bryant played and created a “very painful” condition, longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti said.
Bryant was clearly limping near the end of the Lakers’ loss Friday against Houston, though he brushed off questions about it afterward. The following night his teammates were hobbled for much of a 125-105 loss to Phoenix.
They gave up a season high in points and somehow topped it by forcing only three turnovers, a team record for defensive futility in a game.
The Lakers aren’t exactly known for their quick, swarming defense but causing only three turnovers? C’mon.
Of greater interest, the Lakers can’t seem to stop anybody these days. The Suns’ reserves even blistered them for a staggering 58 points.
“It’s the same old, same old that’s happened to us the last eight out of 10 games or so,” Lakers Coach Mike Brown said. “We haven’t quite figured out how to play at this new pace we’re playing at and defend at the same time.”
The Lakers have added speed since acquiring Ramon Sessions but are worse at the other end, allowing teams to routinely run up the score on them.
Opponents have broken 100 points in seven of the Lakers’ last nine games.
“Our philosophy is we should win games when we score over 100 points and it just hasn’t happened for us lately,” Pau Gasol said.
Almost as surprising as Bryant’s sitting out Saturday’s game was his replacement in the starting lineup.
Devin Ebanks got the nod after playing only five minutes since January.
Brown said he didn’t want to change the bench rotation, so he plucked Ebanks out of total isolation at the very end of it.
Ebanks’ playing time had dwindled so much that his agent recently told The Times that Ebanks would probably seek a different employer upon becoming a restricted free agent in July.
But Ebanks had a career-high 12 points in 32 minutes against the Suns.
“It felt good to be out there,” he said. “Hopefully, I can keep this thing rolling and take it from there. And get some wins.”
Ebanks, 22, started the Lakers’ first four games but went almost directly to the end of the bench, then the Development League, before returning to the Lakers. He was averaging only 2.3 points before Saturday.
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