Lakers Lose to Hawks But Kobe’s Injury Could Be Tougher Loss

The Lakers suffered just their 3rd loss since the All-Star break on Wednesday against the injury-riddled Atlanta Hawks, 92-96.

But the entire Lakerdom is still seething about a dangerous play that occurred with 5 seconds left in the 4th quarter as Kobe Bryant, being defended by Dahntay Jones, drove to the right baseline and took a fadeaway shot to try to tie the game at 94. Bryant landed on the back of Jones' right heel and violently twisting his left ankle, as a result. The shot hit the front-end of the rim, and the Lakers failed to capture their 5th-straight win.

That play was replayed and dissected by the media numerous times and became the hottest topic of the night via Twitter, where both Bryant and Jones even addressed what they believe is intentional or not.

Jones, naturally, denied any mal intent on that play but admitted that tripping Bryant in Game 3 of the 2009 Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and the Nuggets was in purpose.

Here are the 2 plays:

There are dirty plays and dirty players in every sport. What makes a dirty player a dirty player is consciously deciding to do something to gain an immediate advantage by any means necessary in more than 1 occasion. There are no multiple levels of being a dirty player. You're either are or you're not.

In Jones' case, he is.

Like many people, I watched that clip against the Hawks over and over again. If you pause the clip above at exactly 0:08 seconds (5.3 seconds on the game clock), you'll see how much Jones emphasized sticking his right leg underneath Bryant. *Note the arch in his back and his left foot pushing forward.

Watch the clip on a different angle towards the end, and you'll get a better look. On this angle, keep your eye on how Jones went away from thinking of challenging the shot, or even putting a hand on Kobe's face, to making sure he gets a peripheral view of his right leg in conjunction to Kobe's landing trajectory. If you're going up for a block or even putting your hand on someone's face, you'll keep your eye on the target. Jones never did.

But blame the Lakers for the loss.

With only 17 games left in the regular season coming in to Atlanta, the 2nd of a back-to-back should no longer be a convenient excuse for them to come out flat in the opening period. Remember, the Hawks were also on their 2nd game of a 2nd night, and they came home after getting trounced by Miami on the road. They also happened to be without 3 of their starters and their backup center, yet fought hard and got the victory.

Yes, the Hawks are the younger team…just like most teams in the NBA. Does that mean that the Lakers should only expect themselves beating the Mavericks (the oldest team in the league) on the 2nd night? That's non-sense.

If the Lakers want to be "a huge problem" in the playoffs, as Kobe put it, they have to start erasing their shortcomings as a team now. They were facing an undermanned team and, at the very least, needed to further separate themselves from Utah — a team that holds the tie-breaker on them in case these 2 teams have the same record at the end of the regular season.

If the Lakers continue to allow to let things they can control as a team bring them down, they don't stand a chance at coming out of the opening round. Let's not forget that every single team in the playoffs, including San Antonio, have younger legs than the purple and gold. That's an advantage for them that the Lakers can't control.

The responsibility to identify what the team does and does not need heading into the post-season falls on Mike D'Antoni. He's got to develop easy options for the team to run in clutch situations that doesn't involve Kobe taking the shot. With Jodie Meeks, Steve Blake and Antawn Jamison, he's got enough shooters to take that responsibility. Not to mention that Steve Nash is a proven, reliable final shot maker, also.

With Bryant suffering his worst ankle sprain in 13 years when Jalen Rose admittedly purposely hurting Kobe during the 2000 NBA Finals, the Lakers could be without their best offensive weapon and team leader for possibly until Sunday at home versus Sacramento.

And even if Kobe does play against Indiana on Friday, he will be severely limited in both his lateral movement and on his elevation. In any case, the Lakers are forced to stop relying on Bryant and figure out a way to win games without him whether they're ready or not.