Utah, sitting atop LA as the 7th seed in the West, is a quality win. Their play is kryptonite for the Lakers. They are young, hungry, and active on the boards, everything the Lakers aren’t in their losses. They own the Lakers, beating them twice this season versus moderate resistance, and aimed for the series sweep. The Jazz first bested LA on November 7th, 95-86, the final game of Mike Brown’s shortened season. A 117-100 drubbing of the Lakers revealed an intriguing stat following the December 9th match up. The Lakers posted a 1-9 record when Kobe scored 30 or more points.
Teams happily invite Kob to drive to the bucket. They actively take away his baseline jumpers and doggedly contest any other wing looks, hoping he will throw his much debated aging body into the fray of the lane. The hope is that he will shoot. If he makes it, the inevitable has occurred. The opponent pulls the ball out of the net as quickly as possible and runs it back at him with alacrity. If he misses, the same response coupled with the hope his astonishment at actually missing will motivate him to try again, and again, and again. A pass to set up a teammate is the least of a defense’s worries.
14 of LA’s 26 team assists courtesy of Kobe Bryant have absolutely changed the game, and secured a desperately needed 102-84 win for the Lakers. A performance that surely made Magic text Pat Riley, “Wha?” The Big O most likely chuckled at the television and called to remind Kareem how he did it for him. Even Red Auerbach would have felt on his pockets, searching for a match.
How do you adjust defensively? Let Kobe score, or let him get everyone else involved? It’s mystifying and fantastic.
Sag in the lane, and he’ll pull up from 15-17’ and bam, 2 points. Press up on him and try to force him to put the ball on the deck, and he goes left or right. Trap him, leaving someone wide open, and he doesn’t ignore the advantage. Instead of a mind-boggling shot that he can make at an above average rate, he puts the ball right on their hands at just the right time. Trust does amazing things to confidence, and the Lakers desperately crave and require both.
Imagine the response at the start of the season to the assertion that D’Antoni would preach defense in a closed-door meeting, Pau would come off of the pine, and Kobe would ensure an equal shot distribution to his teammates. A large net handled by men in white coats might have escorted you to your new, padded digs. It seems that a little bit of crazy is precisely what this struggling, hot mess in LA needs. As Gary Payton so eloquently characterized his brief stint in purple and gold, “This is the looney bin.” Yet, an improved defensive rotation, Pau galvanizing the 2nd unit, and an assist happy Kobe might just right the wayward Lakers in time to aim for higher than the 8th seed.