After an entire month without a single road win, the Los Angeles Lakers finally got a victory (against a weak opponent) away from home and without Dwight Howard, as Kobe Bryant reverted to the guy who thinks about passing and teammates, while Pau Gasol looked like the player who should be one of the best big men in the NBA.
Kobe Bryant, back to “good” Kobe – Bryant took 13 shots on a rough shooting night (4-13), but was aggressive with the ball, driving to the basket and getting to the line 12 times. More importantly? He didn’t hog the ball, most of the time. He scored 17 points, added 12 rebounds and 8 assists and regardless of the weak opponent or not, Bryant played the way the Lakers need him to: Someone who understands that despite being the most talented player on the floor, it’s better for the team if he gives up on his own shots. He also set a new individual record with 5 consecutive games of at least 8 assists.
The Real Pau Gasol? – Gasol got his place in the lineup back thanks to Dwight Howard not playing. Gasol looked like the dominant big man everyone expects him to be all through this season. It was good enough for a 111-100 win against the Minnesota Timberwolves.
It’s been a rough season so far, no way around it. Just stay with it, keep playing. You never know when things can change direction. Just play your game when you’re out there. Tonight I was able to start, play more minutes, get a good flow. It was a good game.
He scored 22 points on 37 minutes, looking active and aggressive in the paint, grabbing 12 rebounds and helping the Lakers win the rebounding battle 57-40 against the sinking Timberwolves, with the Lakers also grabbing 17 offensive rebounds.
Winning Without Dwight & Winning on the Road – This was only the fourth time this season the Lakers played without Howard, but the first time they’ve won without him. It probably has a lot to do with their weak opponent (The Timberwolves losing nine of their last 10 games) crippled by injuries to key players this season, but a win is a win. The Lakers haven’t won on the road since December 22 at Golden State; since then it was 8 in a row away for home. In the middle of a road trip, with visits to Detroit, Brooklyn, Boston, Charlotte and Miami still left to play in, getting that elephant out of the room was very important.
There’s going to be fatigue that’s going to hurt their old legs, and the level of opponents is going to rise as they continue their trip away from the Staples center, but the Lakers are suddenly a team. Not the best team, still dysfunctional and unbalanced in more than one way, but a team that is starting to make more use of the individual talents at its disposal, whether it’s Kobe Bryant keeping himself relatively refrained or Earl Clark coming out of nowhere to become one of the team’s most important players.
Once again, focusing only on the Lakers and not on the terrible start by their opponents, it proves the theory of Kobe Bryant being the man who will decide where this season goes. If he lets his ego not get in the way and continue playing like the actual point guard of the team, realizing that taking most of the shots won’t win them games or help them reach the playoffs (3.5 game behind the Rockets), maybe the second half of the season will have more happy endings.