The following evening against Minnesota, the Lakers let an 18-point advantage dissipate in the third quarter, allowing a zone defense by the Timberwolves take them off their inside game, resulting in a flurry of missed shots around the perimeter. Those missed shots lead to long rebounds that only enabled Ricky Rubio to shine in transition—spurring a 12-0 run that nearly notched another hash mark under the loss column for the Lakers.
What was once thought of as impossible before is completely attainable now. The Lakers are beatable, even with Bryant, Gasol and Bynum. Here’s a news flash, it’s likely to be just the same if Dwight Howard were to suddenly fall from the sky in purple and gold warm-ups. Without maintaining a disciplined, or at the very least, fundamentally sound offense, teams can dismantle the Lakers and manipulate the tempo of the game. Yes, it’s become that easy, and the Lakers have only themselves to blame for providing the league with their own kryptonite.
If you’re the Lakers, it’s hard to feel good about a win, when it could have easily been a loss. It’s hard to say, that the Lakers will finally comprehend that in order to win, and win consistently, the offense has to run through all of the team’s assets—Bryant, Gasol, and Bynum. Everyone should be involved, but only after their options, one through three, have been exhausted.
Case and point: the last four minutes of the game against the Timberwolves. With 4:09 left in the fourth quarter, the game was tied, Gasol made a move to the basket resulting in a foul, and two made free throws. The next Lakers possession was a Bynum slam dunk. The next a Gasol 20-foot jumper, followed by another Bynum slam dunk. Kobe posted the last four points, cementing the win, and the rest of the points came by way of free throws.
Without a method of orchestrating the offense to take advantage of Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol’s efficiency at the rim, the Lakers are just average. Without the Lakers big men bodying up against the other big men in the league, grabbing rebounds, getting second-chance points, and making aggressive moves towards the basket, the Lakers are just average.
But the Lakers aren’t just average.
As long as Kobe Bryant suits up for the Lakers, they’ll never be just average. He’s too good a player, and even as he enters what many believe to be the twilight of his career, he still battles to be considered the best player in the league, perhaps even the best player anyone has ever seen. On Saturday, Bryant passed Jerry West to top the list as the player with the most free throws made in Lakers history. Just yesterday, Bryant would add to that, the top spot on the Lakers all-time field goals made, with 9,946. Still, the legacy that Bryant continues to harp on is the one that involves rings.
The Lakers big men aren’t average either. If the Lakers can consistently incorporate them into the offense, 13-game stretches of less than 100 points posted, will be a thing of the past.