General manager Mitch Kupchak said Saturday although the Los Angeles Lakers have lost superstar Kobe Bryant, the team has not lost hope of advancing to the playoffs.
“(Friday) night's injury is certainly another setback and devastating in its own way,” Kupchak said, “but I've got complete confidence that this group can win the next two games and get into the playoffs.”
The Lakers indeed could win its last two regular-season games to advance as the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, but their chances of survival in the postseason now seem nonexistent.
With victories at Staples Center on Sunday against San Antonio and on Wednesday against Houston, the Lakers will be riding a five-game winning streak and will have won eight of their last nine heading into the playoffs.
Awaiting them will be the West's No. 1 seed – either the Thunder (59-21) or San Antonio (58-21) – who will be licking its chops at the prospect of facing a Lakers squad missing arguably the greatest player in franchise history.
A hot Lakers team with a healthy Bryant added intrigue and perhaps a bit of uncertainty to a first-round matchup between No. 1 and No. 8, but a shaken and shorthanded Lakers team without Bryant isn't nearly as formidable.
Bryant averaged 45.7 minutes his last seven games. “I made a move that I make a million times and it just popped,” Bryant said of his Achilles after Friday's game, which the Lakers won 118-116 over visiting Golden State.
If the Lakers (43-37) and Utah (42-38) finish with same final record, the Jazz wins the tiebreaker and would be the No. 8 seed by virtue of winning its regular-season series against the Lakers 2-1.
Bryant on Saturday had surgery to repair the torn left Achilles tendon and his recovery will take 6-9 months.
“When something like this happens, everybody wants to know why and there's not always a reason why,” longtime Lakers trainer Gary Vitti said. “If you look at our season, it's been a nightmare.”
Vitti described Bryant's injury as a “complete rupture” and said Bryant would be immobilized up to a month or more after surgery. If he were to recover on the short end of the timetable, Bryant might be able to play at the start of the 2013-14 season.
A 15-time All-Star in his 17 NBA seasons, Bryant was having one of the most efficient seasons in his career, averaging 27.3 points, 6.0 assists and 5.4 rebounds while singlehandedly trying to carry the snakebit Lakers into the playoffs.
Lakers center Dwight Howard, who has struggled with back and shoulder problems this season, addressed the team after Saturday's practice.
“I just told them that they put this team together for a reason and we all know how to play basketball,” Howard said. “We've all done special things in our career before and it's time to do it again. We've all been blessed to play with Kobe but we all have talent, too, and we have to show it.”
The 34-year-old Bryant hadn't even been prepped for surgery when his future with the Lakers already was being questioned.
Bryant will make $30.4 million next season, the last year of his contract. The Lakers still have the amnesty clause available and must use it during the July 1-9 league moratorium. If the Lakers use amnesty on Bryant, they would save more than $60 million in luxury tax penalties.
Kupchak said the team has not considered the move, however. “That's the furthest thing from our mind right now,” said Kupchak, who told ESPNLosAngeles.com the Lakers are looking for potential free agents eligible to add depth with Bryant out.
Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said veteran point guard Steve Nash (right hamstring) will be a game-time decision Sunday against the Spurs. Jodie Meeks will start in place of Bryant.
“It's everybody's time,” D'Antoni said. “That's why it's a team, but the ball should automatically go to (Howard) more, because somebody has got to take the shots and obviously with Kobe not out there, it's got to go to somebody. But, it will go through Pau (Gasol), it will go through Dwight and as long as we're playing for each other, we should be fine.”
Being “fine” usually doesn't last long in the playoffs.