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Monday, April 16, 2007

Lakers Clinch Playoff Berth as Kobe Scores 50 Points

Kobe Bryant's critics will have to work overtime to find fault with his most recent performance: he scored 50 points on 18-25 field goal shooting (.720), grabbed a team-high eight rebounds, passed for three assists, had two steals and committed just one turnover as the L.A. Lakers defeated the Seattle SuperSonics 109-98 and clinched a playoff berth. Rashard Lewis led Seattle with 24 points.

The Lakers benefited from Kwame Brown's return and the benching of malcontent point guard Smush Parker. Brown had just three points and four rebounds but his impact is generally felt at the defensive end of the court; also, by starting him at center the Lakers are able to use Ronny Turiaf more effectively as a bench player and he responded with eight points and four rebounds in just 16 minutes. Jordan Farmar started at point guard and had nine points, three assists and no turnovers in 28 minutes; Parker came off the bench and had four points and one assist in 20 minutes.

The Lakers are now 13-5 in Bryant's 40 point games this season and 7-3 when he scores at least 50 points. They have won just two of their past eight games overall, with Bryant scoring 46 points in the other victory. The last time they won without Bryant scoring at least 40 points is on April 1 versus Sacramento; Bryant had 19 points and a season-high 13 assists in that game. Prior to that, the last time the Lakers won without Bryant scoring at least 40 points is February 26; he had 35 points, eight rebounds and four assists against Utah.

So, how can this game fit into the peculiar world view that insists that Bryant is selfish, that he is not the NBA's best player and that his scoring outbursts are nothing special? Let's try to beat Bryant's bashers to the punch:

1) Seattle is a crappy team and Ray Allen did not play, so it does not mean much to score 50 points against the SuperSonics or to beat a bad team.

Guess what? The Lakers are a crappy team, too. They benched one D-League level guard only to replace him with a rookie who they are bouncing back and forth from the D-League (Farmar looks like he will develop into a nice player, though). The Lakers' roster is so bad that the return of Kwame Brown is almost met with a hero's welcome. Could Kwame Brown start at center for any other playoff team? How many backup centers for those teams could Kwame beat out for a roster spot?

If it is so easy to score 50 points, how come Bryant is the only one who does it this frequently? Also, Bryant did drop 50 on Utah earlier this season and 62 in three quarters last year against Dallas, so it's not like he reserves such outbursts for bad teams. Bryant also had 50 points in a playoff game versus Phoenix last year that the Lakers lost not because of his scoring--which kept them in the game--but because they could not lasso one defensive rebound near the end of the contest.

2) Bryant only had three assists. He's a gunner. Why does he shoot so much?

Let's see: Bryant shot 18-25 (.720) and the rest of the team shot 24-55 (.436). If somebody was shooting too much, I don't think it was Bryant. I think that most coaches would live with three assists (and only one turnover) and .720 shooting. Anyway, Bryant's assist totals don't tell the whole story, because when he is double-teamed and passes the ball the open shot arrives after the next ball reversal. I did not get to see this game, but I'd be willing to bet that a good number of the 24 made shots opened up as a direct result of Bryant being double-teamed.

3) The Lakers can't play this way and beat a good team in a playoff series.

That is probably true. So what? Bryant's not the general manager. Bryant is leading this team to the maximum amount of wins that it is capable of getting based on its roster composition/injury problems. Bryant's Lakers have a better record against the West's elite this year than Nash's Suns do.

4) Bryant can't shoot like this every night but on the nights that he is missing he will keep shooting and the Lakers will lose.

No one can shoot like this every night; most players can't shoot like this on any night. Bryant's job is to keep shooting open shots from his high percentage areas and to pass the ball when he is double-teamed and cannot beat the trap off the dribble. Anyone who watches him play should be able to see that this is exactly what he does, game after game. Sure, he shoots better on some nights than others, but he has spent the whole season doing exactly what he has been asked to do--and nobody in the league does it better or could do as much as he has done with this kind of team.

posted by David Friedman @ 4:04 AM


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At Monday, April 16, 2007 4:41:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

kobe played great last night 72%wow this guy is unreal in scoring the ball he makes 50 points look like scoring 25 for any other player jordan couldnt do this consistently like kobe does 81 points shot 60% 4 straight 50 plus games 10 50 point games the guy is amazing. he's going to go against the king of intangibles next steve nash as great as kobe is he going to have to play more like nash to win playoff series like he did last year. unless he shoots 60 and 72% then he could do this and they have a chance to win but to be real even if he plays like nash i dont think he could do much with that team there going to get swept in the playoffs by the suns and the suns will win the championship or have a good chance they got to get better on defense

At Monday, April 16, 2007 5:08:00 PM, Blogger David Friedman said...

IF Kwame Brown is healthy and IF the Lakers can find a way to play like they did in last season's playoffs--using the "Inside Man" strategy--the Lakers have a chance against the Suns. Certainly, they are better off facing Phx then they would be against either Dall or the Spurs. However, the Lakers are so beaten down with injuries and have become so dependent on Kobe's scoring that it is doubtful that they can do as well against Phx as they did last year. Dallas or San Antonio would probably sweep the Lakers but I don't think that Phoenix would.

At Tuesday, April 17, 2007 3:28:00 AM, Anonymous jn said...

What's with the Lakers and injuries? It happened two seasons ago, they lost Kobe to injury and their season crashed and burned.

I can understand dropping games when half your starting lineup is out injured, but all teams have injuries, many players are banged up this late in the season and they still play. The Lakers had a playoff spot all but clinched a couple weeks ago and almost lost it with their latest losing streak (after Walton and Odom came back, even with Odom hurting).

All this in a Western Conference playoff race not as hard as last season, in my view.

At Tuesday, April 17, 2007 4:59:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

Mark Heisler of the L.A. Times just wrote about this. He said that the Lakers are built in a way that they have no margin for error; if no gets hurt, then they can contend for a 4-5 seed, as the team was doing in the early part of the season--but they do not have the depth to withstand being without Odom, Walton or Brown for any period of time. Odom, Walton and Brown are still not 100% healthy, both in terms of the original injuries that sidelined them and also in terms of all the conditioning they lost while being inactive. The fragile state of the Lakers is pretty much summarized by how much they depend on Kwame Brown; he is their defensive anchor in the paint and Phil Jackson has said several times that without Kwame the team cannot do much against the league's better teams.

Memphis lost Gasol for half a season and went from being a playoff team to having the worst record in the league. Kobe has pretty much singlehandedly kept the Lakers from completely sinking; they dropped a few spots in the standings but they still made it to the playoffs on the strength of his tremendous scoring in recent weeks. Without all those 40 and 50 point games, the Lakers would be stuck around 30 wins, because they have struggled to win at all when he scores less than 40 points.

At Wednesday, April 18, 2007 1:05:00 PM, Blogger marcel said...

kobe done what he has to do of late but he aint caried nuthing he caried them the first 41 not the last 40 becasue they went 14-26 thats not carrying your team. i know your going to say injuries was the reason odom was out during that 27-14 and they went 12-8 during that time he carried them then even with these no good players no one was makeing excuses then and as soon as they start loseing lets blame the rest of the team "he's playing with players who are no good". and they didnt have the have the toughest of schedules they were losing home games to portland , sacremento, clippers teams like that at home theres no excuse kwame brown been out all year so you cant say they didnt have him if you lok at other teams in the league injuries happen to them they stil righted the ship. hopefully the lakers could make noise in the playoffs kobe going to have to get 60ppg and they got to keep the suns from running they got to play vilanov vs georgetown 85 try to hold the ball for 23 seconds keep it under 100 plase or we gonna lose all 4 games i do think kobe good for a game thats it though the other 3 going to be hard to get.


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