Kobe’s Return Imminent But Lakers, Clippers Injuries Mount

It’s looking more and more like Kobe Bryant will return to the court within the next week or so, possibly for the Lakers’ next game Friday in Sacramento or for their following home game Sunday Dec. 8. However, the team has now suffered two potentially serious injuries to key players, with Pau Gasol suffering an ankle injury and Jordan Farmer with what has today been diagnosed as a torn hamstring.

Pau hurt his ankle last week, missed Saturday’s practice, and played sparingly and poorly in last night’s upsetting loss to Portland. Farmar played less than a minute before he injured his hammy and did not return. Gasol was scheduled for an MRI today and Farmar’s status is up in the air. One local reporter had indicated a strain that appeared to

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be “moderate” and that he could conceivably be available for Friday’s next game, but then word came that it was a tear and that he was expected to miss a full month.

With Pau on the bench during last night’s almost miraculous comeback from more than 20 points down to get within two in the final minutes, it was the first real sighting this season of Robert Sacre, with him on the court and playing well at crunch time. Both Pau and Sacre played about 24 minutes last night, with Sacre out scoring Pau 12 (on five-of-eight shooting) to six (on a horrendous three-of-15) and

out rebounding him seven to six, while also blocking three shots and collecting a couple of steals.

The Lakers seriously missed Farmar, the leader of what is now clearly the NBA’s best bench. With only Jodie Meeks available as a back up point guard to Steve Blake, it was Meeks who committed a key turnover when running the offense, and then after Blake

retuned to the court, had a shot blocked, all in the last couple of minutes. Unless Steve Nash suddenly becomes five years younger and healthier, the team needs to find another point guard to back up Blake.

The first place Clippers also lost yesterday, to the NBA’s

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best team, Indiana, by five in a game that they could have won, despite the return of Chris Paul, who missed only one game. But they will now be without J.J. Redick for six to eight weeks, as the wrist injury that he suffered in the previous game has been determined to be a fracture with some additional ligament damage. Redick had given the Clippers consistent scoring and intensity at the starting shooting guard spot, something they were clearly lacking last season when the intended starter Chauncey Billups was never quite well enough to play any significant minutes.

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Jamal Crawford, the highest scoring NBA player over the last five years or so who does not start, will remain the key scorer off the bench, with Willie Green the guy most likely to be starting for the foreseeable future. Green is a

great team player and clubhouse guy, but inconsistent on the court. Crawford may still be coming off the bench, but he’ll be playing starter minutes in Redick’s stead.

Both the Lakers and Clippers could coast to playoff spots in the inferior NBA East, but the super-tough west is another story. The Clippers need a total team effort to stay on top of the loaded Pacific Division, and with the significantly better Timberwolves and Trailblazers among other improved teams in the West, the Lakers cannot let up for a minute in their run to the playoffs.

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