Every next game for Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers is huge, and with the Utah Jazz hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday night, any slip-up by L.A. could completely change the complexion of the race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. The Lakers could technically still catch Golden State for the No. 7 seed if the Warriors lose out and L.A. wins out, but with Utah just one game back at No. 9, catching the Warriors can't be the primary focus.
Andrew Bogut will not play on Friday due to an ankle injury, but Golden State needs a win because the team is just a half-game ahead Houston for the sixth seed. Falling one spot could mean the difference between a first-round matchup against an injury-riddled Nuggets team and a much tougher one against either the San Antonio Spurs or the Oklahoma City Thunder.
Kobe Bryant has been terrific so far in April, and the Lakers may need him to stay that way on Friday. He has scored 20-plus points in all five games and converted 44.8 percent of his shots while posting gaudy averages of 29.8 points, 8.2 assists and 7.4 rebounds. His play reached a crescendo on Wednesday night when he scored a season-high 47 points in a win over the Trail Blazers. Unless he manages to step his game up to another level against the Warriors, that is. Drew Garrison of Silver Screen and Roll explains just how important Kobe has been:
There are three games left in the regular season, giving Bryant and the Lakers three more opportunities to prove they want it as a collective. There's no question that Bryant wants it. Every step of the way, right or wrong, Kobe has shown how badly he wants it. At times it's to a fault as that damn basketball won't cooperate and go through the hoop, and at other times it becomes a jaw-dropping experience as the years of work and dedication to his game shine through the youth of the player lined up in front of him.
The rest of the schedule for the Lakers looks like this: vs. Warriors, vs. Spurs, vs. Rockets. The Jazz will close out the season with a home-and-home against the Timberwolves and then a road game against the Grizzlies. Utah holds the tiebreaker over L.A., so the Lakers need to maintain their current one-game lead if they want to play in the postseason. However, they will do it without Steve Nash in the lineup:
The Lakers are seven-and-half point favorites at home and the over/under is 206 points, according to Odds Shark. The game will be televised on Time Warner Cable SportsNet, and tip time is set for 10:30 p.m. ET.