In an attempt to find a balanced offense, the Los Angeles Lakers began the season 0-4 on the road, with the same tune playing again: Kobe Bryant taking up the bulk of the shots and the offense, leading the NBA in scoring with 26.9 points per game so far. Maybe that trend is finally changing for the better.
Not that Bryant shouldn’t score, but he shouldn’t be doing it alone. He was one of three players, along with Metta World Peace and Antawn Jamison who led the Lakers with 19 points. They were balanced from top to bottom in their 115-89 win in Dallas over the Mavericks, maybe being the season-changing moment after it began with an anti-climatic home defeat to the same Mavs.
O.J. Mayo couldn’t get anything going for him, and that might have been the real key: The Los Angeles Lakers finally playing great defense. After all, just having Dwight Howard on the team should be enough for a good defensive stand on most night. This, these easy wins, come along when it’s more than just putting in the right kind of effort and right kind of plays when they’re playing defense.
Some might attribute the win to Mike D’Antoni and some sort of change they’re seeing in the Lakers, 2-2 since the former Knicks & Suns head coach took over. Frankly, it’s hard to put a finger on it. The Lakers are still in the mix of the battle of finding an identity and playing style. Wins like this one in Dallas are worthless if they just fall back to their old routine of a motionless offense that results in Kobe Bryant taking shots, regardless of the availability of other players.
With Steve Nash not playing, the ball is obviously going to be in his hands much more. Early on in the game, Bryant was spreading the wealth. Metta World Peace scored 16 points in the first quarter. He was simply left open against and again, finishing with 5-7 from beyond the arc. The Lakers were up by 27 at half time, and that was all she wrote. Excellent defense kept the Mavs at a woeful 34-92 from the field (37%), allowing the Lakers to grab 61 (!!! rebounds). Antawn Jamison, having his best game as a Laker, grabbed 15 of them, playing 30 minutes.
But the Lakers are taking the steps in the right direction. This wasn’t the run n’ gun offense you associate with Mike D’Antony, but it won’t be that way until Steve Nash returns, and even then, this might not be the team and cadre of players suitable for that style. There was more motion, more sharing, more thinking and better shooting on Saturday night in Dallas, as the Lakers had their best decision makers, Gasol and Bryant, get more touches while the rest freed themselves up around them.
A work in progress, but without the animosity that was there from the start towards Mike Brown, who lost the players and later the board. Mike D’Antony has a bit more breathing room, at least until Steve Nash comes back, to try and make this “not just Kobe Bryant” thing work. If the defense continues to play like it did in the easy win over Dallas, he has a good chance of succeeding.