Kobe Bryant didn’t play for the first time the season, and the Los Angeles Lakers looked terrible. No energy, no defense. The Phoenix Suns handed the West’s #3 team their worst defeat of the season, proving to many just how important the league’s leading scorer is to the team.
Ex-Laker Shannon Brown finished with 24 points, while Michael Redd had one of those rare night when he looked like the guy who got one of the biggest contracts in the NBA for a good reason, coming off the bench to score 23 points. The Lakers? Their starting five did well – Pau Gasol finished with 30 points and 13 rebounds. Andrew Bynum with 23 points and 18 boards. But the theory of the Lakers being better by playing through their big men didn’t hold.
Part of what makes the Lakers so efficient in the paint is the amount of attention Kobe Bryant commands on the outside. It reminds me of theories during the early 00’s regarding how to guard the Lakers. Double team Shaquille and allow Bryant to kill you from the outside, double team Bryant and allow Shaq freedom in the paint. Or let them both explode and shut down the rest. This resulted with three NBA title and four finals in five seasons.
Bryant himself was on the sidelines. More than just fatigue that has been rearing its head recently, most evidently in his 3-21 performance against the New Orleans Hornets last week. Bryant, leading the league in scoring (28.1 points per game) is also fourth in minutes played with 38.4. But tenosynovitis is the official prognosis, an inflamed tendon sheath in the shin. Irritation when he moves, and apparently, it’s been going on for a while. Bryant had to be shut down.
He broke his nose this season but that didn’t really stop him from playing. For a while, it actually seemed like it made him better. Scarier for sure, but probably driven by anger, don’t let his words tell you otherwise and that usual ambition to prove just how good he is and important to them. He didn’t take any questions after leaving the arena following the loss to the Suns.
The Lakers biggest advantage, of their inside play, seems to become useless against a team like the Suns. The perimeter defense was nowhere near its usual tenacity, with Bryant in the lineup, with the Staples Center atmosphere, as fake as some claim it to be, pushing them to put out more of an effort. The Lakers lost their previous visit to Phoenix in double digits as well, but it’s more than just a home & away thing. There seems to be something wrong with the energy levels, with the consistency.
A combination of things have happened lately, and sometimes it’s difficult to comprehend their meaning in a short time. Not having Bryant, who averaged 38.7 points against the Suns this season, was too much to make up for, even with the big two enjoying the soft Suns. No help from the bench against the Energizer kind of Suns was just too much to make up for.
But looking even further ahead – The Lakers aren’t a good enough home team to rely solely on their defense and high intensity levels when hosting games. Question is, can Mike Brown find a way to get through and piece together a more consistent defensive effort to finish the season?