Slumping Lakers Need Kobe to Drop 40 in "Hallway Series" GameThe Lakers' magic number to clinch a playoff spot is two, so tonight's game against the Clippers--who are fighting to get the last playoff berth--is obviously critically important to both teams. While it would be nice if Kobe Bryant "gets his teammates involved," as the cliche goes, the reality is that he cannot make shots for them, and most of the team's recent wins have come largely as a result of his prolific scoring. The Lakers have a 40-38 record, including 12-4 when Bryant scores at least 40 points. You don't have to be a math major to figure out that the team is a less than robust 28-34 when Bryant does not reach the big 4-0--which means that Bryant is literally and figuratively in a "no-win" situation. The only way that the Lakers can win is for him to score a lot, which of course means shooting a lot--but when he shoots a lot, win or lose, critics say that he is being selfish. The reality is that even when he shoots a lot he passes a lot, too, but his teammates often fail to convert their open opportunities.
L.A. Times' columnist J.A. Adande writes:
But the Lakers have been operating with no margin for error lately. Basically, Kobe Bryant needs to make every shot.
His 34 points Sunday weren't enough to get it done. Six of the Lakers' last seven wins came when Bryant scored 43 points or more. Can you say "overly dependent"? Bryant senses the same things everyone else does, that they can win only if he puts up Chamberlainian numbers.
"It seems like that," Bryant said. "I'd rather that not be the case, but it seems like that. Hopefully we can kind of break out of that funk and have guys step up and make contributions."
The Lakers are unlikely to "break out" on Thursday night, so they and their fans better hope that Bryant produces another 40 point game. Otherwise, the race for the last playoff spot could become uncomfortably close. The Lakers are 2-1 this year versus the Clippers; Bryant scored 40 points on 12-23 shooting in a 105-101 win on November 21, 29 points on 11-23 shooting in a 97-88 win on December 2 and 29 points on 13-34 shooting in a 90-82 loss on April 4.
Adande also touched upon the Smush Parker drama that is simmering around the team, noting that the team's starting point guard said, "We lost, but I had fun" after he scored 25 points in the Lakers' 115-107 loss to Phoenix on Sunday. Adande concludes, "Good for Smush. Glad someone in Lakerland enjoyed himself this Easter Sunday. But it just shows how disconnected he is from the team. Parker sulked in a victory at Seattle because he sat the final 16 minutes, and lately he has been more of a problem than a solution to the Lakers' woes...For the most part Parker did more good than bad Sunday. He helped Bryant carry the scoring load in the first quarter. He even made shots in the fourth quarter. But he also made the crucial mistake of the game. With the Lakers down by three points and nine minutes remaining, the New York native got a little too Rucker Park, putting the ball behind his back on a fastbreak, which only gave Steve Nash more time to set up and draw a charge."
The other big problem for the Lakers is the lack of production at center. Kwame Brown is out with an ankle injury and young Andrew Bynum seems to have regressed during the latter stages of the season. The L.A. Times' Mike Bresnahan summarized the situation this way: "Perhaps no player symbolizes the Lakers' regular-season rise and decline more than Andrew Bynum. Time is firmly on his side — he's still six months from his 20th birthday — but the 7-foot center saw better days back in November and December, much like the team." He also cited this interesting quote from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the NBA's all-time leading scorer and Bynum's mentor among the Lakers' coaches: "This is probably his fourth or fifth year in competitive basketball. My fifth year of competitive basketball was the eighth grade. He's got to learn a lot on the fly and that's tough. I don't envy him. I think Andrew wants everything to work and unless it works, he's not going to try, so he's become very tentative."
Ronny Turiaf provides a great energy boost off of the bench, but Coach Phil Jackson has explained that Turiaf cannot be the starter or play 40 minutes because he is not able to sustain that kind of performance over that length of time.
The Clippers have lost three games in a row since beating the Lakers, while the Lakers have lost two in a row and four of their last five. Obviously, momentum is not really on the side of either of these teams. Bryant will have to be the difference maker, either by scoring or by attracting so much defensive attention that his teammates get wide open shots--and make them. Based on the Lakers' recent performances, the team will need him to score 40 points and shoot at least .450 from the field.
posted by David Friedman @ 8:08 AM