No one will ever dare say out loud that the Los Angeles Lakers are a better team without Kobe Bryant, but at least they can without him, or even Dwight Howard having some impressive day in the paint. Despite playing with only 7 players, they had no problem getting another win that brings them closer to the postseason, maybe even as something more than the 8th seed.

We’re just not making any excuses. We just looked ourselves in the mirror and said, ‘It’s up to us to turn this thing around.’ And I think we’ve been doing that since the All-Star break. We’re finally playing the way we’re capable of playing.

The Lakers didn’t beat a juggernaut – it was only a home win over the Sacramento Kings, beating one of the more unpredictable teams in the NBA 113-102, with Antawn Jamison of all players leading the scoring with 27 points, as six players finished in double figures: Metta World Peace with 22 points, Steve Nash with 19, Steve Blake with 16, Dwight Howard with 12 and Earl Clark with 11 points.

All 7 players had at least 20 minutes on the floor (Jodie Meeks being the 7th), and all of them had at least 6 shots from the field. While Kobe-bashers would love to attribute it to the fact he wasn’t in attendance, it probably had more to do with the fact that Mike D’Antoni decided (wisely, apparently) to make a minimal use of the bench.

That ball moves, and there are some good guys out there on the floor. That ball needs to move, and if it does, then we’re really good. It’s tough for teams to play defense when the ball is moving like that. I was just happy with our effort. We had to really talk to each other. They hit a lot of 3’s, but it didn’t take us away from our principles.

Every time the Lakers win, we hear someone saying it was about ball movement, and about talking to each other. Usually from Dwight Howard. Maybe it means something. Howard himself wasn’t as effective in the offensive game, going frequently to the line (4-10) but as usual, not really making too much of it.

He did, however, have an impressive day defensively, grabbing 17 rebounds and getting 5 blocks as the Kings stepped plenty of times away from the paint, taking too many shots from beyond the arc because during the important moments and most of the fourth quarter, the paint was closed and barred from making any easy shots.

Jamison is not a slouch. He comes in and plays a great role for them, and he made his jump shots. Steve Blake made some big-time 3s. Steve Nash is going to do his job. Dwight Howard is going show his post presence and do his job.

Maybe the Lakers aren’t better without Kobe Bryant, but there’s a weird (or not so weird) freedom to their offensive game without him. Suddenly it’s a Steve Nash kind of team, and you feel everyone is going to get their touches, instead of looking around, hoping the grand master sees them and decided to give up a shot in favor of an audition for an inferior player.

The Lakers need Bryant like the deserts need the rain, there’s no doubt about that. But with him being out for a short while, it might give D’Antoni some idea (but not the guts to actually do it) who this team could look with a different kind of approach, a more team oriented one, on offense.

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