With the return of Kobe Bryant looming, the Los Angeles Lakers seem to be not only hitting the right kind of form to make him feel a lot more comfortable getting back, but finding out that playing some good defense, especially in the final moments of games they’re supposed to win, is something they can actually do.
The Sacramento Kings aren’t exactly great proof for a team’s true strength, but one of the things the Lakers are doing this season compared to last year is winning the game they’re supposed to. They’re now 10-9 (winning 106-100), winning six of their last 8 games. Pau Gasol scoring 19 points and looking quite dangerous on the perimeter isn’t a huge surprise. Jodie Meeks hitting five three pointers and playing some excellent fourth quarter defense? That’s a bit more of a surprise.
We knew at the beginning of the season we were going to have to do it by committee. We don’t have any superstars. Our superstar is coming back Sunday, but 19 games we didn’t, so we had to share the ball. You know who he is, he’s Kobe Bryant. But he’s not going to be able to do it by himself. We’ve got to go out there and fight for him and carry him.
It’s not just Meeks, obviously. Nick Young continues to be an excellent source of scoring from the bench, finishing with 14 points despite going 0-for-6 from the outside. Young is averaging 17 points per game over the last five games, and becoming a lot more important to the team than the pessimistic predictions projected for him and the team. Steve Blake is showing he’s doing quite well as a starting point guard who actually gets to run the team’s offense, finishing with 10 assists, and being a big part of why the Lakers are the number one three point shooting team in the NBA, making 10 a game.
Mike D’Antoni continuously makes changes to the lineup, putting in Robert Sacre next to Gasol while Jordan Hill comes off the bench, bringing some toughness to a unit that might be fun to watch offensively but has been too soft and too easy to score and rebound against so far this season. It might also give Gasol a bit more room in the paint and near the basket to operate, with Sacre being a bit more mobile than Hill, having the ability to operate a bit further from the rim. He finished with 11 points and 5 rebounds on 5-of-7 from the field.
The Lakers are getting Steve Nash back in the next couple of weeks, which is something they have to worry about. Nash right now doesn’t seem like someone who can add to this team, especially if he’s thrust one more into the starting lineup which creates a lot of problems the Lakers have handled quite well since his back injury has taken him off the roster. Having to integrate both him and Kobe Byrant into the rotation might be a bit much and costly in terms of wins.
In a Western conference that’s tighter and closer than ever before, sacrificing Nash’s place on the team, at least for now, despite being the third highest player on it, might be necessary to keep their good form going.