The Lakers missed Kobe Bryant’s physical presence, but they sensed his influence permeate the locker room.
Before Saturday’s practice, Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak shared with the team a 30-second video on his cell phone that showed Bryant outlining how the Lakers could win their 17th NBA championship without their star because of a torn left Achilles tendon that will sideline him at least six to nine months.
“It was classic Kobe with the way he inspired us,” Lakers reserve guard Darius Morris recalled. “Mitch brought a video of him right before he went into surgery just telling us we know we have to do. Just go out there and get it done.”
The Lakers took that first step with a 91-86 victory Sunday over the San Antonio Spurs. That victory gives the Lakers (44-37) a 1 1/2 game lead over the Utah Jazz (42-38) for the Western Conference’s playoff spot. The only way the Lakers wob’t play the playoffs? Utah has to win their last two games in Minnesota (tonight) and Memphis (Wednesday), while the Lakers lose their season finale Wednesday against Houston.
The Lakers will have a tough task in following on Bryant’s pledge to win a title considering they will likely face the younger and quicker Oklahoma City Thunder in the first round. But the Lakers sounded at least inspired by Bryant’s message, which Lakers forward Antawn Jamison contained plenty of expletives.
“No matter what situation is thrown at him, he’s still thinking about basketball and making sure he’s giving support to his teammates,” Jamison said. “Just being positive and for him to receive that type of news and right before going through surgery, he’s thinking about finding a way to give some positive feedback to us and letting us know that we still can compete and make some noise.”
Bryant showed his influence in other ways.
He texted Lakers trainer Gary Vitti at halftime to talk with Pau Gasol, encouraging him to be aggressive despite a tough shooting night. Gasol compensated for his seven-point performance on 3 of 17 shooting with 16 rebounds and a strong defensive presence. After admitted he drew inspiration from trying to fill Bryant’s leadership void, Howard posted 26 points on 9 of 15 shooting and 17 rebounds. That led Bryant to gush about Howard’s play on Twitter afterwards.
D12 was a beast. He stopped by the hospital twice yesterday to check on big brothat’s luv #countond12
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) April 15, 2013
Bryant no longer can carry the Lakers with his scoring and around-the-clock training. But he can still carry them in other ways, such as a 30-second video.
“He wants to be involved,” Lakers forward Metta World Peace said. “It hurts him to be out. He wants to play. Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he comes back in the playoffs.”
At a nearby locker, Jamison could only laugh.
“That’s only you Metta,” he said, referring to the Lakers forward returning 12 days after having surgery on his left leg.
But it appears only Bryant would have such the eagerness to remain involved with the Lakers’ progress. They willingly listened.
Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org