No Kobe Bryant? No problem. These Lakers don’t need him (well they almost don’t).
When I first heard that Bryant was going to be out against San Antonio, my initial thought was this is going to be a disaster. The first time they’re playing their longtime rivals all season and Kobe can’t even play. This just won’t be pretty, but boy was I sure wrong.
The Lakers have finally been playing with some fight in them and after the impressive wins in San Antonio and against Denver, it looks as if Byrant’s absence is a blessing in disguise. Without Bryant, the Lakers have been forced to rely on their other strengths. And with their recent play, they have reminded the league just how valuable the size of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum truly is.
The dynamic duo have been the leaders of the team lately. Earlier in the week after another disappointing loss against Phoenix, Gasol spoke about the teams state. Courtesy of ESPN:
“Lately we’re not playing with that sense of urgency that I think is needed at this point when there’s only nine games left now. We have a pretty tough schedule going into these nine games.”
Gasol was right and the team listened. The beating against San Antonio is evidence of that, as was the grind-it-out win over the Nuggets. The Lakers played like they wanted it, something that had been missing in the previous games. Their desire to to win was seen in Metta World Peace’s shooting and of course in the the dominance of Bynum.
While Bynum’s antics off and on the court have been questionable, his level of play has certainly not been, and he’s gotten quite a bit of attention for it. Phil Jackson wrote an email to the Los Angeles Times discussing Andrew Bynum.
“This year has been a big step for him offensively…nice to see…and when he takes up the mantle as defensive captain the Lakers can get back in the hunt.”
Oddly enough, the next night Bynum went out and had a monster night on the boards, grabbing 30 rebounds against the Spurs. It’s nice to know Phil still looks out for his old team and clearly his old players still listen.
But Jackson is right, Bynum needs to continue to develop into a dominant leader on the defensive end so the Lakers can be a title contending team.
So while Bynum and Gasol have carried the team in Kobe’s absence, the Lakers still have wholes in the team that could be costly for them in the playoffs. Will they only go as far as the bench can take them? Sure the starting line up can be phenomenal, but the bench has to come through in the playoffs. Fortunately, the win against San Antonio had to be a big confidence booster for the bench. It should be a game they remember and refer to for inspiration.
Moreover, the last time the Lakers had a losing record on the road was during the 2006-07 season. The same season when they had a first round exit in the playoffs. While a first round exit seems unlikely this season, if the Lakers face the Grizzles it could be their most difficult opponent. The Grizzles have a two and half game lead over Dallas for the fifth seed in the Western Conference. But, slipping into that sixth spot is very plausible and would be a very dangerous matchup for the Lakers.
However, at the moment all seems to be going as best as it can be for these Lakers, and that is all that matters. Without Kobe the Lakers have managed to keep their heads far above water, going 3-1. When Kobe returns the Lakers should remember how they played without him, as it seems the key to the Lakers offense is through Gasol and Bynum. If Bryant can come back and mesh well into that system, and the Lakers continue to play with a sense of urgency and desperation, a serious title run could be just around the corner.