Will We Ever See the Los Angeles Lakers at Full Strength?

Grant HughesNational NBA Featured ColumnistMarch 7, 2013

Mar 5, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant (24) reacts to an apparent injury in action against the Oklahoma City Thunder during the first half at Chesapeake Energy Arena. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

You can blame the coaching staff, poor chemistry and age all you want, but it's impossible to discuss the 2012-13 Los Angeles Lakers without mentioning the laundry list of injuries that have prevented the team from ever operating at full strength.

And, with just 20 games remaining in the regular season, the question is: Will poor health prevent us from ever seeing the version of the Lakers that everyone thought would waltz to an NBA title?

Well, given that the principal characters in L.A.'s Hollywood drama—Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard—aren't getting any younger, it's a little bit ridiculous to assume they'll suddenly start to get healthier. A quick roundup of the injury woes suffered by the Lakers' quartet shows just how unlikely a full recovery is.

Bryant, via the Lakers' official Twitter feed, has it right: It is about not breaking—literally.

Pau Gasol is currently in the worst shape of L.A.'s big four, sidelined with a torn plantar fascia of his right foot. According to Shahan Ahmed of NBC Los Angeles, Gasol has only recently ditched the crutches and gained clearance to start running. He's at least a few weeks away from a return at this point.

The Lakers' other three stars are at least on the court, but not one is playing at 100 percent.

Steve Nash still appears noticeably slower and more hesitant than he has in years, possibly still bothered by the cracked fibula he suffered way back in November. Of course, at 39, it's also possible that Nash is just slowing down naturally.

Kobe Bryant has been complaining of a sore elbow lately and was visibly uncomfortable in L.A.'s March 5 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. Although, if his historic 42-point, 12-assist, seven-rebound performance in a stunning comeback against the New Orleans Hornets on March 6 is any indication of how he's going to play with a bum elbow, Mike D'Antoni will probably make sure to keep Bryant from ever getting treatment on it.

Bryant may be the only one of L.A.'s stars playing as if he's at full strength, even though it's clear that he's got some nagging injuries.

Lastly, Dwight Howard has looked a bit better with each passing month of the season. After starting the year cemented to the floor, Howard's back seems to have recovered enough to allow him to occasionally move like he used to. He still can't make the quick lateral rotations or pogo-stick leaps of old, but he's getting closer.

And if the rest of the league would stop delivering downward smashes to his bad right shoulder, maybe that thing would heal up too.

At this juncture, there's really no chance the Lakers can ever return to full strength. So now, it's all about managing the pain. And although Bryant would certainly suggest that winning cures all ills, he's also got another numbing agent at the ready:

Vino might not be the answer, but if that's what Bryant's drinking (or nicknaming himself, as is actually the case), the rest of the Lakers should probably try it as well.