Kobe Bryant wants that sixth NBA championship ring more than anything. Just like the six MJ has. On some nights, like the Lakers’ 109-93 win over the Dallas Mavericks, it looks like the Lakers have found the right direction to go with. The right kind of blend, of inside-outside basketball, with #24 excelling in the clutch.
Stopping the slide wasn’t the only thing that came out of this win. Keeping third place in the Western conference, with things much closer for the spots beneath the Spurs and the Thunder than they are out East was an important accomplishment. And a big win on the road? Those don’t come too often this season. Winning in Dallas, against the defending NBA champions, still counts for something.
For Bryant, after two horrendous performances against Houston and Utah, two teams the Lakers might see in the first round of the playoffs, it was some sort of vindication. For Pau Gasol, it was equally as important to be dominant offensively and not just on defense and on the glass. The Lakers won without a very concentrated and effective Andrew Bynum, and that’s a cause for celebration.
Bynum was clearly still reelin’ from his behavior and the Mike Brown criticism that followed. He finished with nine points and seven rebounds, his worst performance since the February loss against the Knicks. Losing his focus at this time of the season would be terrible for the Lakers, who seem to live and die on the moods, or shooting moods of Kobe Bryant.
Bryant hasn’t made more than 50% of his field goal attempts since the 93-83 win over the Miami Heat nearly three weeks ago. He hasn’t made more than 50% of his field goal attempts on a road game since January 20th! That’s how special his 30 point, 11-18 night against the Dallas Mavericks was.
It wasn’t all Kobe of course. Gasol had one of the best games of the year, picking up the slack from Bynum’s shortcomings, finishing with 27 points and nine rebounds. The Lakers beat the Mavs on the glass 46-29. Matt Barnes finished with nine rebounds. Ramons Sessions came off the bench to score 17 points, and people were asking about who was that guy in the number 2 jersey who used to play for us.
Dallas were having one of those ‘The Mavs at their worst’ kind of night. When the only players that can actually make something happen are Dirk Nowitzki (26 points, 10 rebounds) and Jason Terry (23 points). Too slow, too passive, too lazy to think of something in order to beat the Lakers’ excellent perimeter defense. Lamar Odom finished with 1(!!) point in another disappointing night on a very disappointing season against the ex, that looks pretty good in his absence.
Can these Lakers take on the Oklahoma City Thunder, the San Antonio Spurs or the Clippers? Can these Lakers make a surprising run at the NBA title, despite not having Dwight Howard or an all-star caliber point guard they desperately wanted to land? The combination of Bynum and Gasol has to be worth Howard’s presence alone right? That’s an almost guaranteed 35 points, 20 rebounds a night. Hard to beat a front court with that kind of production.
But like many sportish three headed monsters, the Lakers can’t have it all from both worlds. It seems that Bryant’s dominance comes at the expense of the big men, and Bryant doesn’t like giving up on being dominant. Some nights, the ball does drop and he bases his decisions on what’s good for the team and not what’s good for the team with Kobe Bryant shooting everything.
Only if that happens more often, like in the win against the Celtics or this one against the Mavs, and not the combined 13-47 from the field Bryant went through (and put many people through) during the two losses to the Jazz and Rockets, can the Lakers be considered a legitimate contender.
Only when they push teams into throwing plenty from the outside instead of trying to think and change their ways a bit. Teams like the Spurs, who play a different kind of basketball then the rest of the league. The Lakers have a chance, and sort of a way that can lead them deep into the postseason, but too many things need to click at once in order for that too happen.