Kobe-less Lakers tangle with Spurs

Kobe Bryant is gone, but the games continue and Sunday's contest between the Los Angeles Lakers and San Antonio Spurs in a huge one with playoff ramifications.

The Lakers are one game ahead of the Utah Jazz with two games to go.

The Spurs trail the Oklahoma City Thunder by one-half game for the best record in the Western Conference. The Spurs have three games left, while OKC has two in the battle for homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs out west.

But this game is all about who won't be on the floor.

Bryant tore the Achilles tendon in his left leg in the fourth quarter of Friday's 118-116 victory over the Golden State Warriors. Bryant underwent surgery Saturday and the recovery time is expected to be somewhere around 6-9 months.

"I made a move I've made a million times, and (the Achilles) just popped," said an emotional Bryant following the game Friday.

The show must go on as they say and the Lakers are in the middle of a critical stretch. They are in the driver's seat for the final postseason berth with the Spurs and Houston Rockets left on the schedule.

Jodie Meeks is expected to start in Bryant's place, but Bryant won't be the only superstar absent. Steve Nash is listed as doubtful for the Spurs game with a myriad of injuries.

There will be no back down from the Lakers, at least that was the message from their fallen star.

"Just continue to play," Bryant said of his team's chances moving forward. "They've been dealing with injuries all year."

Against the Warriors, Bryant had 34 points before the injury. Pau Gasol had a triple-double with 26 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists. Dwight Howard netted 28 points and Steve Blake, who has been starting in place of Nash, had 14.

The Spurs have dealt with a depleted roster most of the season, either by injury or by choice. Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw are both down with injury, but Tim Duncan and Tony Parker have missed considerable time with ailments or because head coach Gregg Popovich rested them.

On Friday, the team waived veteran swing man Stephen Jackson.

"We thought making this decision was best for this group," said Popovich. "We've got to make decisions that are tough sometimes. There's no conspiracy theory or anything like that."

There were reports that Jackson grew frustrated by his diminished role in the rotation. Jackson was a popular teammate in the locker room.

"It's basketball business, family business," said Popovich. "I think the team will be fine."

The Spurs have traded losses and wins over their last six. On Friday, they bested the Sacramento Kings, 108-101, as seven San Antonio players scored in double figures.

Parker led the way with 22 points and 10 assists, while Tiago Splitter managed 12 points and 12 rebounds. Duncan had 18 points and five blocks.

The Spurs visit the Golden State Warriors on Monday night in what could be a playoff preview. If the Spurs stay as the No. 2 seed, the Warriors could fall to seventh. They are just a half-game ahead of the Houston Rockets, who are seventh at the moment.

The Spurs have won both of this season's matchups, including an 84-82 victory in November at the Staples Center. San Antonio has taken four of five on the road in this series.