It might not make too much sense, but the Los Angeles Lakers are a better team when Kobe Bryant isn’t playing, which showed in their 104-91 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, getting big nights from Pau Gasol, Xavier Henry and Nick Young, while on the other end Kevin Love couldn’t make up for his teammates not being up for the challenge.
Kobe Bryant is out for something around six weeks, and the moment he’s out the Lakers are winning. Not just winning, looking better. During Bryant’s six games, it was easy to see things looked better on offense without him on the floor. Less turnovers, and most importantly more points, scoring 104.6 points per 100 possessions without him compared to 97.4 when he was playing.
But instead of making this about bashing Bryant and how he’s bad for the Lakers, how the Lakers made an idiotic decision to re-sign him for two years for $24 million a season and how this franchise seems to be doing than actually thinking if ti’s worth executing or not, the players on the court and Mike D’Antoni deserve some praise.
Yes, it was the Timberwolves and their awful defense that came to town, and meant it wasn’t that difficult looking very good offensively. And still, it’s rare to see the Lakers moving the ball so well and shooting with such accuracy, at least since Bryant made his famous return.
Paul Gasol was on top of his game, continuing his excellent form. He scored 21 points, adding 13 rebounds and 8 assists, enjoying some nice minutes in the post and plenty of time with the ball, having the chance to show his vision and passing skills. Xavier Henry, back in the lineup, wasn’t very accurate (8-of-19 from the field), but he did score 21 points, and it helped the Lakers play a much more uptempo type of basketball when he was on the floor.
One player who is thriving no matter what is Nick Young, scoring 25 points, shooting 4-of-6 from beyond the arc. Young is averaging 19.2 points while shooting 56.7% from beyond the arc over the last five games, enjoying being the main attraction offensively when he’s on the floor, playing with the second or first unit making no difference. The Lakers look like a happy, fun and free flowing team. It may be without the actual point guard needed for the D’Antoni style, but at least the pace and movement on the floor makes it possible to make up for some of their missing players and positions.
For the Timberwolves, their up & down continues to be mostly about home and away, while the form of Ricky Rubio continues to be alarming. All the great numbers from Kevin Love aren’t going to be of much help if their point guard continues to play like a second tier player, having hardly any impact on the game when he’s trying to score, finishing with only 6 points on 3-of-8 from the field.
This is the first time since moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles that the Lakers have failed to go more than a game over .500 through their first 26 games in back-to-back seasons. That was expected. What wasn’t, at least to those still drinking the Kobe Kool aid, is that this team is better when he doesn’t play.