The Clippers handed Kobe Bryant and the Lakers an embarrassing 125-101 loss on Thursday night. Despite L.A.'s only real basketball team entering the proceedings boasting eight victories in 11 tries, the end result from this one was anything but surprising. In basketball, the better team wins more often than not. There are very few teams in the NBA right now who aren’t better than the Lakers.
As has been the case all year, it is difficult to identify why the exactly the Lakers looked so terrible in this one. Kobe Bryant had 20 points on a relatively efficient seven-of-13 from the field. (Plus 11 assists.) Dwight Howard had 20 points on seven-of-10 from the field. (Plus eight rebounds.) Metta World Peace chipped in 11 points. And yet, despite all that, the end result was never really in any serious doubt. The Clippers jumped out to an early lead, and the Lakers didn't appear to threaten them at any point in the evening.
Losing to the Clippers and heading into the All-Star break on a sour note is bad enough, but that wasn’t the most intriguing thing about the Lakers’ loss on Thursday. No, the most intriguing thing, without a doubt, was what Bryant opted to say after the fact.
Kobe not naming names, but ... "After we lose by 20 or 30 points, we definitely can’t be laughing and joking around"— Dave McMenamin (@mcten) February 15, 2013
When asked if he and Howard would bond during the All-Star break the way he and Bynum purportedly did last year, Bryant offered this response: "I don’t know how much more we need to strengthen it really. I think it’s where it should be. The communication that I have with him is about execution and about what he needs to do on the court. That’s where it’s going to stay."
So there you go.
For those of us who have watched Bryant operate over the years, it’s sort of hilarious to see him give up like this and take baby shots instead of the full-force haymakers he used to throw. This is a guy who once upon a time called out his teammates at a second’s notice. Now, despite the fact that he is playing some of his best basketball in years while his teammates absolutely suck, he is taking the Zen route. Why? Because he is smart enough to know that there is no point in really attacking Howard this year. He understands that, for all intents and purposes, this season is done. The Lakers won’t make the playoffs. It’s all about next year. And success next year centers around Howard getting healthy and remaining in purple and gold.
Bryant may sort of want Howard off the Lakers, but he also understands that in order for him to win another title before it’s all said and done, he needs the big man. Regardless of their personal feelings towards one another, he won’t take any legitimate shots at his new superstar center like he used to at Shaq. He knows better than that.
A lot of people will play up the animosity between Bryant and Howard in the coming weeks. And it’s kind of understandable because there is obviously some there. But make no mistake about it, No. 24 understands the importance of keeping Howard in Los Angeles. He definitely doesn’t want him in another uniform next year.