Well folks, it happened. Tonight, Andrew Bynum will miss his first game due to injury this season. It's happened every single season since Bynum developed into a player to be reckoned with. In previous years, his injuries have always been severe. This time, Bynum will miss time with a "moderate" sprained ankle. He might miss one game. He might miss a few. Or he might have the kind of sprain that doesn't seem all that bad, but never gets better. The only constant in Bynum's injury history to date, besides the freakish nature of his previous injuries, is that he almost always takes more time than is expected to return from injury.
What does that mean to the purple and gold? More minutes for Pau Gasol is a sure bet. With Bynum absent, Gasol is the only quality big on the roster, and you can bet that Mike Brown would rather fill those Bynum minutes with more Gasol than with more McRoberts and Murphy. There will be more of those fellas as well, which is something we can all not look forward to, but the additional minutes played by Gasol are what is important here. Because Gasol is already playing too many.
Pau Gasol is currently 10th in the league in minutes played, at 37.1 per game. This number is important, because it is .1 minute more than Gasol played per game last season. You know, the season in which Gasol started out the season playing like a possible MVP candidate, and ended the season playing like a guy the Lakers were ready to ship out of town. That was in a normal season, one that was not condensed and compact and playing games on back to back nights more often than not. Last season, Kobe Bryant played just under 34 minutes per game. It was just the right number of minutes for Kobe to play with a high level of aggressiveness all the time and not lose effectiveness. The minutes he spent on the court were more effective than the previous season. This year, Kobe is 3rd in the league in minutes per game. After starting the season playing very well, Kobe's shooting has been so bad of late that he is in danger of having his worst shooting season ever. Currently, only his rookie year is preventing that from being the case.
Take a look at the names surrounding Kobe and Pau on the list of league leaders. Kevin Love, Luol Deng, Rudy Gay, LeBron James. The guys below them are John Wall, Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul , Deron Williams ... these are all young guys. You know who's not on the list? Kevin Garnett, Dirk Nowitzk, or any of the other older generation of stars. There are only two guys over the age of 30 in the top 20 of minutes played. They are both Lakers.
Tonight's opponent is the New Jersey Nets. They are terrible. They have the worst defense in the league. They spent most of the season with only one decent player (Deron Williams is great, but none of his teammates are even good). They were banking on pairing Williams with Dwight Howard in the off-season, and then Dwight shocked the world by committing to the Magic for at least this season and next. They panicked and traded their guaranteed lottery pick to the Trailblazers for Gerald Wallace, who's a nice player, but hardly worth that price. If the Nets don't win the lottery and end up in the top 3, they lose their pick. They have no direction, and their star has basically said he's leaving this summer. They do not matter.
What matters is the Lakers playing their 3rd game in four nights. They'll play the 4th in 5 tomorrow, and 5th and 6th in 7 and 8 respectively by the time the week is out. And Kobe and Pau are probably going to play 38-40 minutes per game at least until Andrew Bynum returns. This is not sustainable. In fact, it has already not sustained. Right now, the Lakers are playing terrible competition, and barely squeaking by without too many consequences in terms of wins and losses. That won't keep up either.
The schedule is going to get harder, and the Lakers will only be more tired when it happens. And then the playoffs will come. You never know what might happen, but we've seen what it looks like when a team hits the end game with an empty fuel tank.