The mamba himself returns against the San Antonio Spurs, hoping to avenge a painful loss suffered last week. Look for this to be a message game directed at the Spurs as the Lakers look to dominate the boards and paint. Kobe will be able to make a smooth transition upon his return because he is Kobe. Yes, Kobe will take a few shots away from everyone. On ESPN, Skip (who is a realist Kobe guy), mistakenly said Kobe takes 30 shots a game when he actually averages 23 per. I would say around 3-4 of those are indeed "bad" shots. If Kobe can cut those out, and take 18-20 good shots, the Lakers should be the favorite to win the West. That simple. Of course he will give the ball to the bigs, he saw what they are capable during his time as a coach. If Kobe can lead a balanced attack throughout the whole game, defenses will have to start worrying about both Gasol and Bynum. That leaves Kobe to work his magic, and pick his spots. Don't forget MWP and sessions...Sessions remains a constant for these Lakers and MWP is playing like Ron Artest. I would take this starting five over any starting five in the league. The bench is not as terrible as it once was, which includes a lethal Matt Barnes and an active McRoberts. Blake is steadily playing better, though not at the level we have hoped for. Ebanks can play well in limited minutes. Unfortunately, this at best an average bench, to be generous.
Now back the man himself.
Kobe understands what is at stake, his sixth championship, the one that would place him in the conversation with Airness himself. Kobe wanted to lead the league in scoring, he wanted to prove to everyone that he is not only elite, but the best basketball player in the world. When ESPN released rankings of the best players in the league in December, Kobe was furious. 7?! This fury was buried though. He knew that he had to prove his doubters wrong. He set out to lead the league in scoring, something he could do every year if he wanted to. Nevertheless, now that he is on the verge of doing so, his focus is on number 6. His window is closing. He is not going to mess what may be one of his last chances at a ring.
Kobe will lead a very balanced attack versus the Spurs, and moving forward. The Lakers will go at least 2-1, and will claim the 3rd seed in the West, unless the Clippers win out.
I will lay out five predictions for every game in every post. Go ahead and let me have it as I make terrible calls, but go big or go home, right?
1. Kobe will have 10 assists tonight. My thinking is that he will have learned from watching and observing. He may not get 10 every game, but look for Kobe to be an extremely willing passer in his first game back as he also looks to score as well.
2. The Lakers defense will tighten up in this game, and hold the Spurs under 90 points. After an embarrassing display of defense against the spurs the last time these two team met, the Lakers will pay extra attention to pick and roll help, and protecting the paint.
3. Bynum and Gasol will score 25 points each. Put it down.
4. The Lakers win this game in a thriller, just like the ole' days when this was an intense rivalry.
5. Devin Ebanks will quietly have a really good game.
Personally, the goal is to go into the playoffs with any winning streak, be that two or three. Looking back, teams that have had small winning streaks to end the regular season have appeared in the finals. Since 2007:
Boston 4 wins, L.A. 4 wins
Orlando 1 wins, L.A. 2 wins
Boston 1 loss, L.A. 2 losses
Miami 4 wins, Dallas 4 wins
This is a very small sample size. Looking at earlier years, teams have actually ended on losing streak and have gone on to appear in the finals. I believe the game has shifted since 2006 though. Ending strong has become the norm lately, across football, baseball, and basketball. The Giants, the Giants, the Packers, the Mavericks, the Cardinals, the Steelers and probably others have ended the season in a strong fashion and continued the hot streak into the playoffs. Momentum exists in all sports. The mental aspect of the game is dynamic, it has claimed many victims and it has resurrected many athletes.
As Steve Emtman once said in one of my favorite childhood movies,The Little Giants, "Just remember, football is 80% mental and 40% physical".