Rebounds – We seem to analyze the rebounding numbers after every game, and today is no different. The Lakers had the advantage last night, 48-44, but were out-rebounded on the offensive glass, 12-9. With Kevin Love, who averages 13.8 rebounds per game, out due to an illness, the Lakers should have really dominated the boards. However, with the huge score discrepancy, we’ll let it slide this one time.
Bench – The bench was outscored 49-30, but still performed relatively well. For this Lakers team, the bench isn’t expected to score much; especially behind the “Big Three.” However, the bench gave contributions in the form of Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, and Troy Murphy at times. Blake scored all eight of his points in second quarter, and finished the game with five assists. Barnes’ endless hustle (as demonstrated with four offensive rebounds Wednesday night) is always a huge plus for the Lakers’ bench, and Murphy’s solid shooting (3-5 from the field, including one three-pointer last night) helps spread the floor.
First Game Back – Coming off a five day break as a result of the All-Star game, the Lakers looked sharp. This is exactly how they needed to play last night, as an up-and-down first half of the season has sparked endless trade rumors and debate over the state of the Lakers. Coming out “rusty,” especially against an under-manned Minnesota team simply would not have been acceptable for Lakers’ fans. They looked fresh, and put away the Timberwolves away at home just the way they should have. Metta World Peace played well, even dishing out five assists. Hopefully for Metta (and Lakers fans), he can find a rhythm throughout the second half of the season; last night would be a great place to start. Pau Gasol also played well. Although he often struggles when he doesn’t get the amount of touches he would like, Gasol found a way to be effective in the third quarter, scoring 11 points mainly via offensive rebounds and transition basketball.
The Black (Masked) Mamba – We all take Kobe Bryant for granted, whether we know it or not. It could be his flawless footwork, his complete submergence into the game, his attention to detail and study of the game, his tenacity, or his toughness, but we all subconsciously take his greatness for granted from time to time. He definitely spoils us, but sometimes we have to step back and truly acknowledge what we are all witnessing, and what we have witnessed in the past.
There have been countless injuries or other situations in which Bryant could have opted to sit out and get some rest, yet he continually proves to be one of toughest players to ever play the game and is as eager to play now as he was when he was a 17-year-old rookie. Last night was no different, as he played despite a recently fractured nose and concussion. The man simply loves to play, and gives 100 percent in each game. That is one trait of Bryant’s that can never be refuted.
It’s just just about playing through injuries, either. Even other superstars have been in situations where they were not happy and in turn were not fully involved mentally during a stretch of games. This seems to be the opposite for Bryant, as when he is faced with adversity, he seemingly wills himself to play even better.
Between 2004-2007, Bryant was left in a tough situation without adequate talent around him to compete for a championship. Although he demanded a trade at one point, his on-court performance never suffered, as he averaged 31.7 points, 5.6 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game during that stretch, including a number of record breaking performances (81-point game, four games in a row of 50-plus points, which also included two 60-plus point performances, etc). How often do you hear of a player not playing well because “he’s not happy right now” with his situation? Too often, compared with Bryant’s standards.
That’s one aspect of his greatness that we will all miss one day when he retires, therefore we should all stop and appreciate it from time to time.
Last night was a great way to begin the second half of the season, and hopefully the Lakers can maintain their focus and build some momentum going forward. With Kobe Bryant leading the way, it’s a good bet that they will.