The Los Angeles Lakers are 3-1 this season without Kobe Bryant, which is good news considering they're expected to be without him against the Dallas Mavericks Sunday afternoon. The Lakers and Mavericks would face each other in the first round of the playoffs if the season ended today as the No. 3 vs. No. 6 match-up, but the Clippers are just one game behind the Lakers in the standings, and if there's one lower-seeded team the Lakers would want to face less than the Mavericks, it's probably the Grizzlies (the current No. 5 seed).
Without Kobe, Andrew Bynum, who hasn't had the easiest of seasons mentally, has stepped up to prove he's capable of handling the go-to burden for long stretches. Without Bryant, Bynum had a game with 30 rebounds against the Spurs and followed it up with a 30-point, eight-rebound, three-block performance against the Nuggets last night. Both games were wins, and are crucial in ensuring Bryant recovers fully from his shin injury and the Lakers are no worse for the wear.
The Mavericks, on the other side of the coin, have been struggling of late, despite jettisoning the dead weight that was Lamar Odom earlier in the week. They've won their past three games against weak competition -- the Kings, Warriors and Blazers -- but haven't performed up to snuff against tougher teams since March. Dirk Nowitzki has been playing well, and Brandan Wright's energy has helped, but they're just 20th in the league in scoring, and against a Laker team that can do nothing if not defend, that's not a good formula. The Mavs' defense has been its strong suit, a good indicator that playoff success could once be on the horizon, but they need to start beating good teams again to really instill confidence. A Sunday win against the Lakers would do something to further that cause.