Injuries have been the Achilles heel for the Los Angeles Lakers this year.
But losing their fearless leader for the season and the next 6-to-9 months was a devastating blow.
In the thick of the playoff race, the Lakers earned a much-needed 91-86 win over the San Antonio Spurs in their first game without Kobe Bryant following his Achilles injury.
The 34-year-old 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.
Los Angeles is 1 1/2 games ahead of the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference with one left to go. The Jazz still have two contests left and hold the tiebreaker.
"We have one game to go, we're ready to take that next step," Lakers head coach Mike D'Antoni said.
Dwight Howard tallied 26 points and 17 rebounds, while Steve Blake added 23 points for the Lakers, who have won four straight and six of their last seven tilts.
Tim Duncan registered 23 points and 10 boards for San Antonio, which trails the Oklahoma City Thunder by a game for the top seed in the West.
"We didn't match their energy," Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said. "Timmy was great, he really was the only guy that played like he wanted to win a championship."
The game was played tight throughout and neither squad led by more than six until the Lakers began to pull away in the fourth using the 3-point shot and a 15-4 run.
Jodie Meeks hit two triples, while Antawn Jamison added another during the burst, which was capped on Howard's tip-in to make it 84-73.
San Antonio never cut the deficit below four the rest of the way.
It was 90-86 after Blake missed a trey with less than a minute remaining, but Cory Joseph and Danny Green both missed triples at the other end. Blake then split a pair of foul shots to seal the win.
The Spurs led 23-22 after a quarter of play, but the Lakers outscored them 21-20 in the second to head into the break with the tilt knotted at 43-43.
Blake deposited 18 points on 7-of-11 shooting in the opening half.
"I felt really good in the first half. I was able to come off the pick-and- roll and make some jumpers," Blake said.
The game was also tied after three, 61-61.
Pau Gasol netted just seven points on 3-of-17 shooting, but he did pull down 16 rebounds ... Jamison scored 15 points off the bench ... Los Angeles shot just 36.5 percent (31-of-85) from the floor.