What to Make of Kobe Bryant, L.A. Lakers

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I want all basketball fans to slow down a bit. 

Yes the Spurs and Mavs (with Dirk) look like viable contenders to win in the West, but don’t count the Lakers out.  By the way the Rockets are lucky to have Clyde the Glyde announcing, Dirk stick to playing basketball.  With the great starts from those two Texas teams, everyone seems content to hand them the Western Conference…but as long as Kobe is around he will not settle for mediocrity from his team.  

Chris Ballard’s book, The Art of a Beautiful Game, perfectly describes Kobe’s killer mentality to never let up (great read for all basketball fans, even has chapters on Yao AND Shane Battier).  Ballard writes, “Call it what you will: killer instinct, competitive fire, hatred of losing or as Sam Cassell once said, ‘that Jordan thing.’ No one in the NBA embodies it like Bryant…the most competitive life-form on the planet.”  If there is any one individual in the game today who hates losing more than Kobe, check to see if they’re human.

To remind everyone when the Bulls went for their three-peat in 1997-1998, they started the season 20-9, almost the identical record the Lakers have at 22-10.  Both teams struggled in the beginning but when you have the best closer in the game Kobe/MJ it will take you far in the playoffs.

In specific the Lakers are putting up some miserable milestones (like UT football) so far this season.  Tuesday night v Los Spurs, the Lakers became the 16th team in the shot clock era (which kicked off back in ’54) to lose three straight by 15-plus (1 shy of the longest streak in franchise history), while failing to score 85 points in any of the three games, via Elias Sports Bureau.  An odd stat because even when the Lakers have struggled, it usually has been against the top teams in the West…not teams below .500.   On another note, Elias reports only one team- the ’77-’78 Washington Bullets- who finished only six games over .500 in the regular season before a fairly shocking playoff run- has lost three straight by such a margin, and won a title.

So what has been the main problem for the Lake Show?  Is it Kobe taking too many shots?  Pau’s inconsistency?  Ron-Ron not getting involved on the offensive end?  If you guessed all the above you win.

The Lakers are 5-7 when Kobe takes more than 20 shots this year.  The other night he missed 17 shots IN A ROW against San Antonio.  His field goal percentage (.443) and three point percentage (.324) are both lower than in his previous five seasons.  In his last two games Kobe is 14-43 (32.6 FG%).

At the start of the season Pau was unstoppable.  The Rockets couldn’t contain him in the season opener as he went off for 29 points.  Over the first 10 he was regarded as a potential MVP candidate, putting up huge fantasy numbers for lucky owners. Then with the rejoining of Theo Ratliff and Andrew Bynum to the team, the Lakers big man rotation has been out of whack.  Gasol remains out of sorts, with performances ranging from outstanding (in Chicago) to worse than the stat sheet would indicate (Christmas Day).  Gasol has averaged a meager 15.8 points per game over his last five games.

Then we get to the Joker.  While Artest’s personality hasn’t changed off the court, he is putting up career lows in points (7.6), assists (1.8), and rebounds (3.1).  His December number are even worse, 6.2 ppg; 38 percent shooting from the field; 28.6 percent from behind the arc; 60 percent at the stripe.  Even taking into account his reduced minutes (26 nightly), these are insignificant numbers are big reasons he can’t get extended fourth-quarter playing time.  This is the guy who basically won the game for the Lakers in Game 7 of the NBA Finals last year with his play down the stretch.  He is known for his defensive intensity but as he ages, Ron has definitely lost a step on the defensive end (this could be seen when he came to Houston).

The Lakers have plenty of time to figure out these early season struggles.  I don’t want to discredit anything the Spurs or Mavs have done so far this season.  San Antonio looks like they made a team trip to the Fountain of Youth and is playing out of their minds, killing the Lakers the other night.  Meanwhile, Dirk’s Mavs have played exceptionally well too going on that long win streak while being coined “the streak killers.”  Read Julian’s article below to get a better sense from what the Mavs have to offer.  Anyways the resurgence of these Texas teams doesn’t bode well for the Rockets as they still have six games to play against the both of them.  With all that being said, don’t ever count out the Lakers who are still my favorite to win the West.

Side Note: The top two teams in the Western Conference meet when the Mavericks hot the Spurs tonight on TNT.  It will be the first time in 10 years that two divisional opponents will face each other with both teams at .800 or better at least 30 games into a season.  The last matchup was on February 29, 2000, when the Lakers and Blazers, both 45-11, met in Portland.