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Kobe Bryant’s Injury Opens Door for Utah Jazz

Yahoo Contributor Network

COMMENTARY | Until he ruptured his left achilles tendon, Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant was playing some of the best basketball of his career.

On Wednesday, for instance, Bryant scored a season-high 47 points in 48 minutes -- yes, he played the entire contest -- to lead his team past the Portland Trail Blazers and closer to a postseason berth.

No. 24 was playing so well, it seemed like no matter what the Utah Jazz did, it was too little, too late.

But with the heart of the Lakers now sidelined, the Jazz are in prime position to overtake L.A. for that final Western Conference playoff spot.

While the Bryant-less Lakers finish their season against the San Antonio Spurs (58-21) and Houston Rockets (44-35), the Jazz face the Minnesota Timberwolves (30-50) and Memphis Grizzlies (54-26).

L.A. (43-37) sits one game ahead of Utah (42-38), but because the Jazz won the head-to-head tiebreaker, they only need to match the Lakers in the standings.

Here's how I see it playing out:

On Sunday, Tony Parker, who scored 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting in his last meeting against L.A., and Tim Duncan, who is averaging 22.5 points, 8.5 rebounds and 3.3 blocks per game in his last four contests, will be too much for the Lakers. D'Antoni's crew will fall to 43-38.

Then, the next day, the Jazz will ride red-hot center Al Jefferson, who dropped 40 on the T-Wolves Friday night, and defeat Minnesota again to improve their record to 43-38.

On the final day of the regular season, however, Coach Corbin & Co. will lose to the Grizz and finish 43-39.

This, of course, will make the 10:30 p.m. EDT matchup between the Lakers and Rockets extra juicy. It'll be a classic do-or-die dogfight, with everyone watching on ESPN.

In the end, though, no Kobe will mean no W, and the Lakers will lose, too.

And with identical records, the youth-heavy Utah Jazz, not the star-studded Los Angeles Lakers, will be playoff bound.

Jared Bray, a graduate of Brigham Young University's broadcast journalism program, has followed the Utah Jazz since 2008, when he covered the team as a sports correspondent for KBYU-TV's Daily News at Noon.

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