Lakers Lose Second Game in a Row Despite Bryant's Season-High 41 PointsAfter a 106-103 setback in Orlando on Saturday, the Lakers have now lost consecutive regular season games for the first time since last March. Kobe Bryant scored a season-high 41 points versus the Magic and tied for team-high honors with eight rebounds but his efforts were not enough to cancel out fine performances by Jameer Nelson (27 points, five assists), Rashard Lewis (22 points, five rebounds) and Dwight Howard (18 points, 12 rebounds); other than Derek Fisher, who scored 27 points (just two off of his regular season career-high), the rest of the Lakers were MIA, scoring just 35 points on 13-40 field goal shooting.
The Lakers have been called the deepest and most talented team in the NBA. As I wrote in my article about the difference between talent and depth, the Lakers are certainly a deep team in terms of having 10 players who can competently play at least 10 mpg if necessary--though the same thing could also be said of the Cavs--but the Lakers do not have the same amount of talent contained on the rosters of previous teams that won 65-plus games (as the Lakers are on pace to do). The reality is that Kobe Bryant is the only Laker who is among the top 20 players in the NBA and the Lakers are more dependent on him for their success than many people are willing to acknowledge; there have been several games this year that the Lakers would have lost without clutch play by Bryant down the stretch, while Cleveland's LeBron James has been able to sit out entire fourth quarters and Boston's Big Three Plus Rondo take turns taking over games. Here are recaps of just a few of the games in which Bryant had to save the day:
Kobe Takes Over in Second Half, Lakers Topple Blazers
Lakers Edge Mavs, Improve to 6-0
Lakers Slip Past Energetic Knicks
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson has been so dissatisfied with the play of his bench that recently he has shuffled his lineup, shortened the playing time of his reserve players and increased Bryant's minutes. Sometimes people superficially judge Bryant's playmaking prowess by his assist totals but that does not take into account three things: (1) Even when the Lakers are playing well, Bryant often makes the pass that sets up the assist (delivering the so-called "hockey assist") rather than directly feeding the player who scores; (2) players have to make shots in order for anyone to get credit for an assist, so many of the times that Bryant feeds teammates are not noted in the boxscore because they missed shots (or got fouled and went to the free throw line); (3) although it is often assumed that Bryant is a gunner who forces shots, the truth is that throughout his career there have been many times when Bryant tried to be a playmaker only to have his teammates pass the ball right back to him because they don't want to shoot (this happened a lot in the 2008 NBA Finals and the contested shots that Bryant was therefore forced to take with the shot clock winding down lowered his shooting percentage).
Issue number three was a major problem in the loss to Orlando but you don't have to take my word for it; here is what Coach Jackson said after the game: "I was yelling at the guys, they kept giving the ball back to Kobe after he'd hit somebody in an open situation. He was dead-legged out there and really gave us a great effort for three quarters, but that fourth quarter, he was tired." After Bryant scored 25 first half points while carrying the Lakers to a 58-49 lead, the Magic quite logically sent multiple defenders at Bryant in the second half; unfortunately for the Lakers, Bryant's teammates proved to be unwilling or unable to take advantage of the wide open opportunities that Bryant's presence created.
The way things are going, even though the Lakers are clearly both deeper and more talented than they were in 2006 and 2007--which is actually not saying much when you recall that Kwame Brown, Smush Parker and Luke Walton frequently started for those teams--it seems that the Lakers will need Bryant to go on one of his patented scoring sprees in order to maintain possession of the top spot in the West; the other players simply are not getting the job done, at either end of the court--and in that regard it is worth mentioning that in addition to leading the Lakers in scoring and assists Bryant also takes the toughest perimeter defensive assignment on a nightly basis.
posted by David Friedman @ 5:47 AM