Well it looks like Kobe truly didn't care about the scoring title. Kobe, along with Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol, sat out the final game of the season against the lowly Sacramento Kings.
Needing 38 points to surpass Kevin Durant in the scoring title, Kobe decided to rest up for Sunday's game one matchup against the Denver Nuggets. As much as I, along with many Lakers fans, wanted to see Kobe go for the scoring title, he probably did the right thing by sitting out and conceding the scoring title to Kevin Durant. The more rest on Kobe's legs, along with Drew and Pau, the better for a playoff push.
However, I must admit, I was disappointed to see Kobe sitting. Kobe is a supreme competitor, and it just seemed a bit odd to see him healthy and sitting on the bench. Kobe plays through just about everything, but rest prevailed over individual accolades. Michael Jordan has great stories of his over-competitive, even compulsive, desire to win. Such stories include an infamous quote from Michael's college roommate at North Carolina. Buzz Peterson stated, "Michael hates to lose. Play cards with him and you'll have to stay until he wins, even if it takes all night."
Even crazier is the fact that Michael visited Buzz's home in North Carolina while they were still in college. Michael and Buzz's mother began playing a game of cards, and Michael actually attempted to cheat while the mother took a bathroom break. Such competitive drive is what made Michael Jordan so dominant. Do you think he would have sat out a meaningless game if he had the chance to get the scoring title? Michael always wanted to distance himself from everyone else in the NBA. He famously destroyed Clyde Drexler in the 92 finals after critics began talking up Clyde's abilities. Clyde was definitely the second best shooting guard in the 91-92 season, but Michael made sure to show just how big of a gap there was between first and second. Michael averaged 35.8 points along with 6.5 assists and 4.8 rebounds per game in their finals matchup. Drexler put up 24.8, 5.3, and 7.8. The Bulls won in six and no one dared mention Jordan and Drexler in the same sentence again.
While Kobe is a bit old to be involved in individual battles with his peers, it would have been great to see him stick it to Durant and take the scoring title. Kobe held it all year, until Durant swooped it in OKC's last three games of the season. As an intelligent basketball mind, I am not going to question Kobe's decision or his competitive desire, but I would have preferred a different outcome. If Kobe had played, it would have been funny to see him gun for 38 while flanked by the likes of Darius Morris, Christian Eyenga, Devin Ebanks, Jordan Hill, Andrew Goudelock, Josh McRoberts, Troy Murphy, and the veterans, Blake and Sessions.
Stu Lantz commented at the end of the third quarter, "I was so happy to see Kobe, you know, say he didn't wanna play tonight. I mean, you don't want to be chasing a scoring title. He understands that there's a much bigger prize than a scoring title." Stu followed that with this, "He could have gotten 40 tonight easy the way the Kings play defense." If the core guys had not decided to sit, I'm sure Kobe would have played and he would have went for it. Without Pau and Andrew out there, it just would have seemed selfish. Kobe touched on that aspect, as well as the team's goal for a championship, stating, "You have to send that message. That's what this season is about. That's what we're about as a team. It's not about the individual goals. You have to put the team goals ahead of it." Kobe understands the goal of the team, and if he ends up winning that sixth ring, no one will care about the fact that he missed out on the scoring title.
So with Kobe, Pau, and Andrew out, how was the game? Well, the Lakers lost 96-113, as DeMarcus Cousins came one rebound shy of a 20-20 game, dropping 23 points and grabbing 19 rebounds. The Lakers and Kings both had nothing to play for, but the game had some entertaining moments. The Lakers treated the game as a night to get Ramon Sessions back on track. Ramon has been in a mini slump in his past couple of games. In the first quarter, sideline reporter, Mike Trudell, reported, "Well I wanna talk about Ramon Sessions because it was a focus of Mike Brown to get him going a little bit before we get into the playoffs. You know, he hasn't scored in double digits other than just a ten point game against the Spurs on the road, and it's something that maybe has a little bit to do with aggressiveness." Sessions answered the request of the coaching staff, dropping 14 points on 6-13 shooting, with 4 assists, 3 rebounds, but also 3 turnovers. 14 points isn't much, but Sessions' efficiency was noteworthy, and Sessions attacked the basket hard on multiple occasions. Sessions gives the Lakers their first point guard since Nick Van Exel who can utilize screen and rolls to get in the lane and either kick out or attack the rim and finish strong. This component will be huge in the playoffs and an aggressive Sessions can be a big difference maker.
With nothing to play for, the game featured little defense, leading to some nice offensive plays. Josh McRoberts, in particular, pulled out some moves that he hasn't shown the LA fans all year. I watched Josh play in Indiana a couple times, and I've seen him play with versatility. Tonight, he pulled out the stops. In the first quarter, Sessions dribbled from the top to the near wing and sent a pass to the open McRoberts in the far corner. Josh caught the ball and confidently shot the open 3, swish. Two possessions later, Josh pulled down a rebound on the near side and decided to play point guard. Josh pulled off a nice crossover, dribbling between his legs from right to left. He then promptly pulled off a behind the back dribble to avoid Tyreke Evans, who went for the steal. Josh then pushed the ball up the middle of the court and sent a pass to an open Blake at the near side 3. Blake missed, but Josh's handle was impressive. Josh continued showing off his handle a couple of possessions later. Josh got another rebound and pushed the ball full court. As he got to the top of the 3, he began dribbling right to the far side of the lane. Then he pulled off a nice spin move back to the middle to avoid a reach in by Jason Thompson.
After leaving Thompson, Josh kicked it to Troy Murphy in the far corner. Murphy missed the open jumper, robbing Josh of another potentially nice assist. In the third, Josh finally got an assist off of his stellar effort. He grabbed the board, went behind his back from right to left in order to avoid a steal, crossed through his legs from left to right to get back to the middle of the floor, and then sent a perfect bounce pass to Ramon Sessions at the near top 3 as the defense caved in on him. Ramon took one dribble to attack to the near elbow and shot a running floater. Ramon made the runner as he was fouled, and one. Josh's best play was the highlight of the night. Josh used his extraordinary hops to do his best Blake Griffin impersonation. Josh boarded an errant shot by Jimmer Fredette and sent the outlet to Steve Blake. Blake probed the lane from the near elbow to the far block. Blake noticed that Josh was trailing, so he lobbed the ball right to the rim. Josh took off and slammed home the two handed jam. Josh finished as the Lakers leading scorer, shooting 6-12, including 2-3 from downtown, for 16 points, 9 rebounds, 4 assists, and 2 turnovers in 38 minutes. As a Pacer, Josh shot 3's more often, and he showed against the Kings that he can knock them down. His versatility is impressive, and maybe next season we will see more of this type of play. Josh kind of reminds me of a poor man's Lamar Odom.
The other big man to have a nice game was Troy Murphy. Murphy was brought in to LA to hit open baseline jumpers and open mid wing jumpers off of either drive and kicks or pick and pops. He did just that, shooting 6-10 for 12 points, along with 6 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal, and 1 turnover in 29 minutes. It was great to see Murphy hitting the open jumpers. Troy will be called upon sometime this postseason to hit a big shot, and he is more than capable of doing so. Don't be surprised if you see Murphy hit a big baseline jumper with 2 minutes to go in these upcoming playoffs. He may shoot the ball like a laser, but it somehow manages to go in.
Rounding out the Lakers were the nice efforts of Devin Ebanks and Christian Eyenga. Ebanks was solid, and he will be counted upon against the Nuggets. With Metta World Peace out due to suspension, and Matt Barnes hampered by a twisted ankle, Devin Ebanks will be called upon to stop one of the deepest teams at the small forward position. Denver employs the poor man's Dirk Nowitzki, Danilo Gallinari, a great big man shooter. They also have crafty scorers who can have big games with Al Harrington and Wilson Chandler. Ebanks defense is pretty solid, but if he is an offensive liability, the Lakers may have problems. Fortunately, Ebanks understands his strengths, namely, being a slasher. Ebanks finished 7-11 for 14 points, 5 rebounds, 1 block, and 2 turnovers. A majority of Ebanks' points came off of cuts to the rim. The newest Laker to be featured was Christian Eyenga. Christian probably won't get any minutes, but the Lakers may be forced to play him since he is a serviceable small forward. If Eyenga gets minutes, he will become a fan favorite in no time. The man has some hops. He had one great assault on the rim, as he curled up to the far mid wing, caught the ball and immediately attacked baseline. Eyenga exploded and threw down a nice one handed slam. Playing in his first game as a Laker, Eyenga may fulfill the empty void left by Shannon Brown as the team's newest leaper.
Andrew Goudelock also got some minutes. Goudelock started the season as the backup shooting guard, and he was great at getting off shots. His floater in the lane is only second to Tony Parker's. Unfortunately, Mike Brown started playing Matt Barnes at both the 2 and 3 in order to get Matt into a flow. As a capable scorer, Goudelock jacked up shots in his 25 minutes of burn. Although he shot 4-12, with many of those as one on one battles, Goudelock did knock down 3-5 from deep. His sharp shooting from deep may be useful at some point in the playoffs. Goudelock has been buried to the bench, but who knows how the rotation will shake out with Metta suspended.
As a whole, the game was pretty much a glorified exhibition match. However, the Lakers did introduce two new wrinkles in the final game of the season. For the first time all year, Mike Brown had the Lakers play some zone, both 2/3 and 3/2. Sometimes it worked and got the Kings to jack up contested jumpers from the wings, other times it led to defensive confusion and open drives to the rim. Terrence Williams had one such drive that will surely be on SportsCenter. A firm believer in man to man defense, Mike Brown decided to test out the zone in limited stretches. Coach Brown may choose to do this in spot situations in the playoffs. Maybe the zone will help to bait teams into forcing outside jumpers.
For the season, the Lakers finished 41-25. Pretty impressive in a season of transition. With a limited training camp, little practice time, and games almost every other day, the Lakers did well in Mike Brown's first season. Now let's see how they do in his first playoff run. The Lakers will play game one against the Nuggets on Sunday at 12:30 pacific. I will be attending this game, and I can't wait to see a home playoff victory, hopefully the first of many.
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