From the depth of NBA despair, it seems the Los Angeles Lakers, as imperfect and flawed as before, are finding the recipe to make the dysfunctional formula work, with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard patching things up, while Kobe Bryant is playing like his life depends on it.
You can argue that success, reaching the postseason at the least, is the air the Lakers breathe, and have been, more than any other team, in the history of the NBA, and especially during the Kobe Bryant era, with five NBA titles to gloat with. After so many problems on all places on the court, the Lakers are coming up with ways to win, rallying back from a 15 point deficit, this time to beat the Toronto Raptors 118-116.
Bryant? Amazing doesn’t begin to describe his current form, leading him to score 41 points on a 11-22 (5-10 from three) night from the field, adding 6 rebounds and 12 assists. The Lakers have now won 7 of their last 9 games, while Bryant is averaging 35.8 points in his last 8, usually shooting something close to 60% from the field if not better. With his 41-12 game, he became the first Lakers player to have back-to-back 40 points, 10 assists games since Jerry West accomplished the feat over 40 years ago. Bryant also turned the ball over nine times in the game.
It feels good to be back within striking distance. We’re just hell-bent on trying to win games. We’re just not going to give in. I’m a perfectionist. The turnovers I had were just tired turnovers.
Is this the entire answer? The Lakers finally wanting badly enough to win? It probably goes without saying that their results vary with the quality of their opponents. Their last two wins came against the New Orleans Hornets and Toronto Raptors, not teams that are going to make the postseason. Their last two losses were by double digits, against teams that will be in the postseason. Despite the pretty numbers, it’s clear that their not a championship team like they thought they would be. Maybe not even a postseason team, if the Houston Rockets keep winning.
But for now, they’re doing the right thing. Bryant is bringing it in the clutch, which didn’t work for him too much this season up to this point. He is the third player in the NBA this season to have multiple game-tying or go-ahead field goals in the final 10 seconds of the fourth quarter or overtime in a game. He hit the tying 3-pointer with 5 seconds to play in regulation, then dunked for the go-ahead basket with 10 seconds left in overtime.
Steve Nash had a big shooting night, playing much more as the guy waiting around the arc for open shots Bryant was creating – Nash had only 4 assists, but finished with 22 points and 4-6 from beyond the arc. Bryant had kind words for him at the end: He’s a clutch shooter, you can’t just leave him open. He made them pay.
Dwight Howard? The 116 the Raptors scored, with 50 of them coming in the paint, once again tell the tale of a bad defensive team, and it’s easy to drop the ball on Howard, although it has more to do with the help on the perimeter Howard finished with 24 points, 13 rebounds and 5 blocks.
Numbers aren’t the only thing that the Lakers need to make the postseason. They need Houston to start losing games, and a lot, while they up their game in coordination with their rivals’ rising levels. There’s not too much time left to win the race, with even less room for mistakes, or for Kobe Bryant and his team to slow down all of a sudden.