The Lakers continue to be Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
After a day of rest at home, Denver, their only real competition for dominance in the West, comes into their house without the league’s leading scorer and just slaps the Lakers in the face like Shaq did to Ostertag.
The very next night, the Lakers go to Portland, where they haven’t won since Smush Parker was our starting point-guard, where even Phil Jackson assumes the Lakers will lose, without Kobe, and win.
A few days later, missing Kobe and Bynum, the Lakers handle the Spurs with Ginobli, Parker and Duncan all healthy.
How does this make any sense? How do they let a Carmello-less team put up 126 points at home and then go out and hold Portland and San Antonio to 82 and 89, respectively, despite missing key starters?
I wish I could blame Kobe’s ankle for the Denver loss, but he played well, shooting 50% for 33 points. And yes, the Blazers were missing Roy, but the Lakers were without Kobe. And the win against the Spurs in all but inexplicable.
What accounts for these incongruous performance has less to do with who’s on the court and more to do with why they’re on the court. With Kobe in the lineup, the rest of the team is more than willing to sit-back, relax and let Kobe bail them out, again and again (See, e.g., all the game winners he’s had to hit this year).
Take him out of play, and now the players are out of their comfort zone. They have no safety net. They have no go-to assassin.
Nothing like a little fear to get a team motivated.
As I’ve noted in this space before, the Lakers need to be afraid of the team they are playing in order to be adequately motivated to play hard. Unfortunately, they could care less about Denver and Cleveland. But bring on the Spurs, Celtics or an arena they haven’t won at in years, and the Lakers will play with a sense of urgency and motivation that is lacking in most their other games. Especially when they are missing one or two of their stars.
Speaking about the effect of missing Kobe, Lamar said it best, “I think it made us a little more focused as a group, to come in here and do whatever we had to do to stay in the game.”
We can only hope that as the Lakers prepare to face a red-hot Utah, the lessons of the last two games are taken to heart. Hopefully they realize that they shouldn’t always rely on Kobe to bail them out when they’ve allowed other teams to out-hustle and outplay them. Hopefully they’ll realize how good they are when they play as a unit with a little sense of urgency. The talent and potential this team has is terrifying.
Just don’t expect them to be the terrifying Mr. Hyde every night. They still have too much Dr. Jekyll left in them.
Other Spotlights –
- Admit it: you wanted Artest to connect.
- Tim Duncan just looks defeated. It almost breaks my heart. Almost.
- The Lakers need to do something at the guard position. I love D-Fish, but he’s getting abused by the Billupses and Rondos of the NBA.
- Who’s scarier when they’re angry? Popovich or Jackson?
- Artest’s production in Kobe’s absence confirms that he’s really good for this team. As much as I love(d) Ariza, I don’t think he would have been able to put up Artest’s numbers in the same situation.