Through four games of the opening round of the 2011 NBA Playoffs, the Hornets have given the Lakers all they can handle. Chris Paul has been outstanding and the series is currently tied, 2-2, with Game 5 Tuesday night in L.A. What is even more concerning for the Lakers than the series being up for grabs is the fact that Kobe Bryant left the court on crutches after Game 4. Even worse, he is refusing any MRI or X-rays on his injured left foot.
Phil Jackson told ESPN Los Angeles on Monday that while it would probably be a good idea for Bryant to undergo the appropriate scans and tests on his foot, it doesn’t matter. At this point Kobe has no interest in knowing what could be structurally wrong with his foot/ankle and will play Tuesday night regardless. The question now is whether or not the Lakers will suffer.
Jackson finds himself faced with a classic damned if he does, damned of he doesn’t scenario — there is no arguing that. If Kobe were to sit out, the Hornets would have a tremendous opportunity to steal Game 5 and close the series out at home on Thursday. If Kobe plays and lacks explosiveness, the same opportunity could be presenting itself.
CP3 has already been killing the Lakers as a scorer and distributor. After averaging 15.9 points per game throughout the regular season, Paul has averaged 25.5 in four postseason games against L.A. His assist numbers are also up from the regular season, raising from 9.8 to 11.5. Simply put, he has controlled the Hornets’ offense and kept them in a series many would have had them bounced from by now.
If Kobe’s foot is seriously injured — which is apparently information neither we nor Bryant will find out — he can’t guard CP3. Bryant is the Lakers’ best defender and they have yet to stop Paul in the series to begin with. Kobe also could be ineffective shooting jumpers and driving to the hoop if the foot is bothering him.
With Bryant on the bench, the Lakers are a completely different team. If he plays with a serious injury, they may be a completely different team anyway. Then there is this issue: If Kobe plays can he screw up the foot even more? If the Lakers get by New Orleans, will the injury get worse as the postseason progresses? We certainly admire Kobe’s guts in this situation, but there is no questioning the fact that he’s hurting. Otherwise, he would be more willing to have an MRI. Bottom line: all of this could spell bad news for the Lakers 2011 championship hopes.