Wednesday night Kobe Bryant and the Lakers played against the Dallas Mavericks. In 35 minutes Kobe got off 11 shots, missed all his threes, took zero free throws and won the game. Surprising maybe but not shocking. Until you remember that Pau Gasol’s stat-line was a DNP. This is not the same Lakers that almost blew an 81 point outburst from a younger, less injured Mamba. This is not even the same Lakers that defeated the Orlando Magic for the Larry O’Brien trophy last summer. When that team couldn’t run a Bryant / Gasol pick and roll a few times a half, that team was in a bit of trouble against a team as good as Dallas. Bynum has improved. Artest can create offense in a way that Ariza never could. Shannon Brown has made himself an integral part of the LA bench. This team is scary talented.
On the other hand, how hurt are their two best players and what’s the prognosis for Kobe’s back. This reminds me of my main man Larry Bird and my main man Charles Barkley. If Kobe deteriorates to where he can give them good biding-his-time minutes most of the game with explosive moments here and there like Larry did in ’91 and ’92, is that enough to win again? It might be if Gasol comes back at full strength. If not… I don’t know. Is anybody afraid of the Lakers if Kobe is a sometimes superstar?
I am very impressed by Kobe’s reaction after the game (because I still expect him to be the Kobe trying to claw his way out of Shaq’s 75LB shadow).
Here’s what Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register wrote:
Bryant went for 10, and his teammates went for 90.
“Great win,” Bryant said. “I love the win even more because it gives our bench new life. It gives them confidence; they’ve been struggling for awhile.”
For two starters – Odom, whose 20 field-goal attempts were his most in two years, and Ron Artest, whose double-double was his first as a Laker – it was a lesson learned, too.
Odom said they were talking Wednesday afternoon about how without Gasol and with a creaky Bryant, “We were just going to go. No letting the game come to us.” The previous night, Bryant had tried to get that across to Artest while they rode the team bus away from the arena in San Antonio.
When I later told Bryant what Odom had said and wondered if Bryant’s sore back had actually helped Odom and Artest register what they can do, Bryant replied with surprising animation at the end of such a long day.
Said Bryant: “I thought, ‘It’s about (expletive) time. It’s about time. What the (heck) you guys waiting for? Don’t sit around and wait for me to bail your (butts) out all the time. Get going – because it makes us a better team. Don’t worry about me. You’ve got to be aggressive.’ “
Love it! Reminds me of Larry Bird always trying to get more out of Kevin McHale. But of course whenever Kobe Bryant does anything, the mind immediately leaps and says, WWMJD? We know Jordan would do anything to make his team win. He basically tutored Scottie Pippen in the game of basketball throughout Scottie’s first few seasons in Chicago. But what did Mike’s team do when he scored 10 points or less? I checked. From 1987 (as far back as Basketball-Reference.com’s boxscore record goes) to 1998 it only happened once. A 20 point win with 7 players in double figures. I don’t think we learn a whole hell of a lot from that, except that Michael Jordan scored in double figures every single game from 1987 until he left the Bulls, which I think most of the class could have guessed anyway.
Back to Bryant and LA. IF they can get healthy, they have to be the prohibitive favorites, but is there a way for Phil Jackson to get the optimum out of all his semi-stars? The triangle is an offense that can do that, and Phil definitely takes a cue from Red Holtzman, who coached the co-op champion Knicks of the ’70s. Is there an ideal number of touches or shots for each of the Lakers’ talented scoring options? I don’t think it works that way. But if Artest, Odom, and Bynum are ready to attack when teams load up on Kobe and Pau, the team will be that much more difficult to handle, and if Bryant and Gasol are willing to play decoy and let that happen, all the better.