Let’s analyze a few aspects of yesterday’s 93-83 victory over the Heat.
Kobe Bryant – The “Masked Mamba” has been on a mission all season, but looks rejuvenated after getting some rest during All-Star weekend. After receiving a broken nose and concussion via Dwyane Wade, Bryant appears to have snapped into a zone; a zone usually seen in the playoffs for Kobe. Since the broken nose, Bryant has scored 31, 38, and 33 points, respectively; all victories. However, the efficiency in which he shot yesterday is remarkable. Bryant shot 61 percent against a very solid defensive team; a team featuring three exceptional defenders in James, Wade, and Battier.
Normally, a team with Miami’s capabilities (and Miami itself) makes it extremely tough on Bryant and forces him into taking bad shots or having to pass out of harsh double teams. Kobe faced some tough defense, no doubt, but he seemingly rose above it and still managed to score. This is a testament to his incomparable skill set, as well as the health of his legs. More importantly, it is a testament of his will and desire to be the best. He recently stated that he has never had a worthy rival in his era, and wanted to send a message that two possible rivals in James and Wade don’t hold a candle to what he’s accomplished and continues to achieve.
Metta World Peace – World Peace must have had another conversation with his psychiatrist, because he played exceptionally well in a huge game. Metta was seemingly everywhere, doing everything. Whether it was poking a ball loose from an opponent, leaking out in front of the defense for an easy basket, or hitting a timely three-pointer, World Peace prevailed. Not only this, but he did it against LeBron James, and truly bothered James on offense. LeBron still managed 25 points, but was hounded by Metta every step of the way. When asked about containing James, Metta replied “I’m going to answer this as honest as possible, but I’m one of the best defensive players ever.” It is safe to say that LeBron James isn’t fond of World Peace.
Metta has played well as of late, and appears to have found his shot and defensive rhythm. His timing in the offensive system has come around as well, as he is hitting open shots, dishing out assists, and cutting to the basket at the right times. Perhaps he was a bit out of shape during the first half of the first season as Mike Brown declared, but so far in the second half of the season, World Peace looks well conditioned. It takes a lot out of a player to play active and effective defense on a superstar and contribute points on offense, so hopefully World Peace can exhibit some kind of consistency going forward. He received 38 minutes Sunday because of his exceptional play, compared to an average of 23 minutes on the season. It will be interesting to see how the minutes at the small forward position are distributed going forward. Right now, everything seems to be clicking for World Peace.
Inside Presence – With Chris Bosh out yesterday, the Lakers’ big men dominated the Heat, mainly on defense. Gasol seemed bothered by James’ physical defense, but still managed to play inspired basketball and disrupt the undersized Heat’s front line. Andrew Bynum, who didn’t have to worry about his 6’9″ counterpart on defense, was able to seemingly take a swat at every shot that was put up by the Heat anywhere near the basket. As a result, he ended up with four blocked shots, but that stat doesn’t begin to tell the story of how tough he made it for the opposing players. Additionally, Bynum led the Lakers in minutes played for the second straight game, logging 40 minutes. This is a great sign for the Lakers as Bynum appears as healthy and durable as he as ever been.
The combined length of Bynum and Gasol helped hold Miami to just 37 percent shooting from the field. However, although the Lakers as a whole out-rebounded the Heat 44-35, they also gave up five more offensive rebounds (18-13). Although Chris Bosh isn’t a dominant defensive force, he does create match-up problems and tends to be highly productive against the Lakers. Offensively, he allows Wade and James to engage in pick-and-rolls, and also move without the ball more fluidly. Additionally, he creates spacing for Miami, as he has a solid outside jump shot. In future match-ups with the Heat, the Lakers, and especially Pau Gasol, will have to really concentrate on containing Bosh.
Road Trip/Bench – The Lakers have an upcoming three-game road trip, and are scheduled to visit Detroit, Washington, and Minnesota. The first two teams have horrible records (12-26 and 8-28, respectively) and Minnesota is even at 19-19. The trip should be a solid test for the Lakers, who have been pathetic on the road thus far (6-12). It will be especially important for the bench, who seemingly plays much worse on the road. Yesterday, the bench scored just 12 points, but it was slightly excusable because of shortened minutes (especially for Barnes). Blake played 29 minutes and scored just three points, but also had six assists. Murphy played 20 minutes and was scoreless, but played solid defense and was +10 in the “+/-” column (the highest on the team).
Rotations often shorten in the playoffs, and yesterday’s game had the intensity and style of a playoff game. However, in order for the Lakers to be effective on the road, the bench must contribute. Obviously, it is mental, as the bench responds better to the supportive home crowd. Hopefully the quality of their opponents–or lack thereof–on the upcoming road trip will enable the reserves to play big minutes, and play well. If they can gain some confidence on the road, it will be a huge boost for the Lakers going forward.
The Lakers were able to pull off a huge win at home behind the heroics of Kobe Bryant and Metta World Peace yesterday afternoon. Now that they have proven they can beat one of best teams on their home floor, it is time to see if they can proverbially turn the corner and put together a string of solid road wins. So far, the Lakers have looked sharp post All-Star break. This upcoming road trip will be a small test to see if they have truly improved overall.