Kobe Bryant won’t be winning a sixth NBA ring this season. Well, at least he’s not supposed to. The Thunder and the Spurs are better teams than the Los Angeles Lakers, and the problems the Nuggets are presenting to the Lakers suggest that this team just doesn’t have what it takes to go all the way in the 2012 NBA Playoffs.
Kobe Bryant scoring 43 points against the Nuggets while taking 32 shots was no longer the Ball-Hog Bryant issue. Well, maybe it was, a bit. But he didn’t shoot terribly, making 14-32, very reasonable for Bryant this season. It was how Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, despite having the clear on-paper advantage in the paint over the Nuggets crew, were stuttering all night on the offensive side.
Gasol finished with 9 points while shooting 4-11 from the field. Andrew Bynum did score 16 points, but he only took 8 shots, and his head was clearly somewhere else when the going got tough. JaVale McGee did have a hell of a game, probably the best of his career, scoring 21 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. But the big men for the Lakers have got to take over this series. The Nuggets can out run pretty much anyone in the league. But they’re not supposed to be winning games with inside dominance.
It’s not a matter of Bynum must have a 20-10 night so the Lakers can win. There are still those who can carry the scoring load even with Bynum having an off night offensively. But in game 1, when Bynum scored only 10 points, he finished with a triple double, grabbing 13 rebounds and blocking 10 shots. But that was before McGee started playing more minutes. Bynum hasn’t scored more than 19 points in the last three games, and from a Center who is arguably the best in the league, you have to expect more.
It’s not all on the starters. When Ramon Sessions wasn’t playing the Lakers struggled. Steve Blake did an OK job, be he can’t seem to be doing anymore, and against the Nuggets, your backup point guard needs to be more than OK. Andre Miller came off the bench to score 24 points, while there was no one like that for the Lakers, scoring a total of 19 points off the bench in their game 5 loss.
And again we go back to Bynum and Gasol. Without their dominance early on, the Lakers are in too much trouble against the Nuggets. True, no one in Denver can actually contain Bryant, who is averaging 31.2 points in the series. But if they feel like he’s the only real threat they have to contend with, it’s fine by them. George Karl doesn’t have a problem sending his players into a shooting contest. He’s pretty confident he can win.
But when it comes and turns into a grinding war, with a lot of points in the paint and the Lakers showing their clear advantage in size and rebounding, which didn’t happen in Game 5, the Nuggets don’t stand a chance. JaVale McGee is talented, but he doesn’t strike anyone as a guy who can put up 20-10 consistently at this stage in his career. Bynum and Gasol can.
And then there’s Bynum’s behavior, that every now and then rears up its ugly head. His arrogant claim that close-out games are easy and the foolish shoving match he got into with Kenneth Faried. There have been this warning signs here and there along the season, especially in the benching incident after jacking up an ill-advised three pointer earlier this season.
Bynum needs to understand, either by himself or by Bryant shouting it into his ear, that he’s got to be mature. In his behavior off the court and on the court. He’s not the third big man in importance anymore, like he was during LA’s title run with Gasol and Odom grabbing a bit more central role. Especially without World Peace at the moment, Bynum has got to display more toughness, mentally and physically, even if things aren’t going as easy as he’d like them to.
Kobe Bryant believes this team has what it takes to go all the way. Despite not having any real depth, and despite their problems in the starting lineup, with and without Metta World Peace. Maybe there’s a chance, maybe. But it’s only there if Andrew Bynum actually plays like the best big man in the league, as some say he is.