As we come to the close of the season, the Lakers have painted themselves into a corner. Eight games remain, six of which are against teams currently in the playoffs. Their come-from-behind victory (without Kobe Bryant) against New Orleans coupled with the Clippers’ recent loss has given the Lakers a bit of breathing room (one game in the loss column), but this is no time to relax.
In no way was that a veiled shot at Bryant, as I think resting him will be very beneficial towards any playoff run the Lakers make. With the memory of Bryant’s tired legs vs. Dallas during last year’s playoffs, I’m hopeful this rest will revitalize Bryant for what could be the most hotly contested playoff race in recent history. While the Lakers hold the tie-breaker over the Clippers if the two building-mates were to end with identical records, falling beneath them would likely result in a 1st-round meeting with the red-hot Memphis Grizzlies. Eventually (if you advance) you’re going to have to face the toughest teams regardless, so you can’t avoid it forever…but do you really want to have to potentially start the postseason on the road?
If the Lakers are to ever reach their full potential, Mike Brown is going to have to find a way to get his All-Star center (Bynum) back to playing at the same level of output/dominance he started the year with. Many analysts, and even fans have noticed the striking difference between Bynum’s efforts and actions prior/post trade deadline. Rather than rehashing the same opinions and stories, I wanted to take a look at the raw data and statistics:
In the month of February, Bynum averaged 15.7 points, 13.7 rebounds, and 2.3 blocks per game. The Lakers held opponents to an average of 92.1 points per game, and only surrendered 100 points, twice. In the month of April, while Bynum’s scoring has increased (19.2 ppg on three additional shots) his rebounding average has dipped below double-digits (9.4) for the first time all season. Not coincidentally, the Lakers are surrendering an average of 105.8 points (in April) and have already permitted the opposing team to pass the 100-point threshold three times.
Of course, the Lakers’ struggles are not exclusively due to Bynum’s slippage, as the lack of productivity from the bench is definitely a source of concern. At a certain point, we’ll have to simply accept the fact that it is a sub-par group, but that should not prevent us from asking for (at least) a consistent effort on a nightly basis. The same, transitioning back, can be asked of Bynum and his front-court mate Pau Gasol. When Gasol plays assertively on offense, and Bynum plays as the all-out defensive stalwart he ‘can’ be, the Lakers are a formidable opponent in any series. Although there are plenty of built-in excuses for Coach Brown, the head coaching position of the Los Angeles Lakers comes with the added pressure of being expected to succeed in the face of turmoil.
Whether it should be ‘responsibility’ to manage/coddle the egos and feelings of multi-millionaire professional athletes isn’t important. What is significant is that he will ultimately be held accountable, so it would be in his best interest to get this team on the same page for the final stretch. Whether or not Bryant plays tonight vs. the Spurs (as of right now he is out), it is time for Brown’s Lakers to bind together. With multiple teams on their heels, and (again) six of the remaining eight opponents being potential playoff opponents, the Lakers’ post-season begins now.