What’s A Kobe?

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Are the Los Angeles Lakers better off without Kobe Bryant?  No.  That’s an idiotic question.  We’ve seen it a million times.  A big star goes down, and the troops rally around each other.  They play to their potential, instead of to their roles, and impressively win a few games in a row.  Then, the troops get tired.  They’re unable to sustain peak performance.  Other teams get wise to what they are doing to make up for their lost superstar.  And then you’re left with the Houston Rockets.  They’re a decent team, but have no real shot of being a top team.  The Rockets, by the way, have lost 11 of their last 20.  Think they’d like Yao Ming back?

Now that’s out of the way, examining what the Lakers have done without Kobe for the past three games can be approached without the specter of idiocy.  They have played the Trailblazers, Spurs, and Jazz without Kobe Bryant over the past week.  They’ve won all three games behind impressive performances from both starters and their bench.  They’ve adhered more strictly to the triangle offense, and as a result have given the entire team the ability to contribute.  It’s been a good sign for the Lakers, who know they can win without their superstar against good teams.  It’s also giving their bench time to build confidence.  The wins have also given the league a showcase of the Laker’s depth, especially since the past two wins have come without Andrew Bynum as well.

Versus Portland, it was Lamar Odom, Ron Artest, and Shannon Brown who took control of the game.  Shooting over 50%, they combined for 50 points and 28 rebounds, 22 of which were Odom’s.  In addition to stepping up on offense, the Lakers focused on defense.  They kept Portland to 19, 16, and 18 points in the second, third, and fourth quarters respectively, after allowing 29 in the first.  To keep things in perspective, though, we must recognize that Brandon Roy was not playing for Portland.  Odom’s secret weapon?  The video is below.

The Lakers second victory without Kobe was more impressive.  They defeated a Spurs team that had Tim Duncan, Tony Parker, and Manu Ginobili humming.  While those three shot over 50%, the Spurs team percentage for the game was still only 42%.  The Lakers clamped down on everyone else.  Meanwhile, offensively, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom, Derek Fisher, and Jordan Farmar could not be stopped.  The score 81 of the Lakers 101 points that night.  Odom and Gasol grabbed 29 rebounds and handed out 11 assists.

The last victory was the most impressive, knocking off the Utah Jazz, who had won nine games in a row.  The Lakers kept the Jazz to just 81 points, on 44% shooting and just 2-13 from three point land.  Boozer and Williams were kept to just 11 points each.  Odom and Gasol once again dominated, this time joined by Jordan Farmar off the bench.  The three combined for 65 points.  Odom and Gasol grabbed 30 rebounds and blocked 7 shots.

The moral of the story here is that the Lakers are a very deep, very talented, very confident team.  Certainly, they are better with (a healthy) Kobe Bryant available to them.  These three wins have done a lot for the Lakers.  They have been able to stay atop the conference.  They have been able to build the confidence of their bench players.  They’ve practiced the triangle offense.  They’ve focused on defense.  And, on top of all that, they’ve given Kobe a much needed rest.  When Bryant does come back, not only will he be more effective, but the Lakers also should feel more comfortable lowering his minutes and saving him for the playoffs.  Their success without him certainly has been bad news for the rest of the West.

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