April 1, 2012; Los Angeles, CA, USA; Los Angeles Lakers player Kobe Bryant (24) during the game against the Golden State Warriors at the Staples Center. Mandatory Credit: Jayne Kamin-Oncea-US PRESSWIRE
Sometimes, a basketball team will be successful because they get contributions from across the board. Everybody does their part, everybody plays their role, and everybody performs when the time comes. You win basketball games when each of the eight or nine or more players that sees the court does their job well. And sometimes you win games because players one and two are just un-freaking-stopable.
This week, the Lakers won basketball games because Kobe Bryant and Andrew Bynum were unreal, the kind of one-two punch that cannot be stopped. And after that one-two, the Lakers maintain quite the capable three-four as well.
Beast: Kobe Bryant
Since last Saturday's worst ever high volume shooting performance for Kobe against the New Orleans Hornets, in which he nailed a difficult contested three with time winding down to seal the victory after literally shooting 10% from the field before the shot, Kobe has found his sweet, sweet stroke on jump shots, and the results have been ridiculous. Roughly 32 points a game for the Mamba is pretty good ... getting there on 21 shots per game over the last three is amazing, for a couple of reasons. First, it's great efficiency for a guy who isn't the most efficient player overall, and has been even less so for the past month. Second, any game in which Kobe plays that well and doesn't take a ton of shots because he can is a beautiful thing.
Oh, and he's also on a late game tear that might be unprecedented even for him. Counting back to the contest in Golden State two Tuesdays ago, Kobe has hit big late game shots that have sealed Laker victory in four out of six games. The fifth was a loss to a better team, the OKC Thunder, and Wednesday night, Kobe's heroics weren't really needed, but the man has been unreal in the final moments of important contests the past couple weeks.
Beast: Andrew Bynum
Bynum's week wasn't perfect, but for once, the lack of perfection didn't have anything to do with his being an idiot. He only played 10 minutes against Golden State, and missed the New Jersey Nets game completely with a sprained ankle, but his performance (in the first game back from said sprain, by the way) in Wednesday's Clips contest was worthy of Beast status all on its own. 36 points on 26 possessions (Drew didn't turn the ball over once), he was absolutely unstoppable in a way that you can't really say about any other player, because Drew is bigger than any other player. And he used the entire arsenal in getting those points. Hooks to both sides, jump shots out to 15-20 feet, fadeaways, scoring is so easy for him right now that he's literally making up new things to try as he goes. His defense was a step slow, which could be his ankle but could also be his attitude (which does remain suspect), but the dude is quickly morphing into one of the toughest covers in the entire league, and probably the toughest on the block.
Beast: Ramon Sessions
Without thinking too hard about it, what would you say about Ramon Sessions' week? Off the top of my head, I'd think he played well but wasn't anything special. A bit quiet really, when placed next to Kobe's hot shooting and Bynum's unstoppable night against the Clippers. So what kind of numbers did Sessions throw down in a week in which he wasn't first or even second on Lakers Nation's mind? 17 points, 10 assists and 4 boards, on better than 50% shooting. THAT'S HIS "NOTHING SPECIAL" WEEK.
Beast: Pau Gasol
Pau Gasol makes the cut for two reasons: He stepped up big time (as he usually does) when Bynum went down with an injury. In the two games that Bynum was missing or limited, Gasol went for 26-11 and 22-12. He doesn't seem to have that in him all the time, and it's strange that he was so effective and aggressive when he was the Lakers' sole post resource, but fails to do so in the minutes he gets without Bynum when Drew is playing. But it's nice to know that if Bynum does go down, the Lakers plug Gasol into the post and don't miss a beat.
The second reason Pau makes the cut is because it takes a certain kind of dude to be able to withstand Blake Griffin's insane onslaught without A) getting intimidated, and B) fighting back. Honestly, I don't know if another NBA player could get dunked on as ferociously as Pau did ... twice, get pushed in the back by the same guy as he had a free dunk attempt of his own, not retaliate in any way, and then still man up with an important stuff of Griffin later in the contest. Say what you want about Pau Gasol. He's not been at his best this season, and he is, factually, a weak man in comparison to his peers. But he is not weak-willed, and is as even-keeled as they come.
Burden: The Bench
There's no other way around it. Without Ramon Sessions, the Lakers bench is back to being the worst in the league. It no longer matters, because with Ramon, Mike Brown seems to have finally figured out there's no need to have a unit on the court that doesn't have two Lakers play makers at all times, but whatever minutes the bench gets have been terribly unproductive. Over the last four games, the bench is averaging 16 points, shooting 35% from the floor, and but for one bizarre outlier (Troy Murphy was a team high +18 against Golden State this week), the bench has combined to be -16 when the team overall has been +100 over the same time period. Especially weak, as highlighted by Zach Lowe the other day, is which ever guy has to play out of position when Kobe needs rest. The Lakers don't have a true shooting guard, Andrew Goudelock has been (rightfully) buried on the bench in preparation for the playoffs, and neither Steve Blake (too small) or Matt Barnes (too slow) has filled in effectively.
Burden: The Defense
As highlighted yesterday, the Lakers defense has been as bad in recent weeks as the offense has been good. The Lakers started the season strong defensively, and have been in a near constant state of decline ever since. Are they tired? Are they lazy? Are they over-confident because of how easily they are scoring? I won't re-hash the details again here, but the fact remains that the Lakers defense will be the key to any postseason success or failure, now that they have an offense that isn't dragging them down like an anchor. This needs improvement.
Burden: Mike Brown
Brown gets this spot simply for stating that the Lakers will be shortening their bench in preparation for the playoffs. Uh, Mike? Your bench was already pretty fucking short. Until this week, Kobe looked burned out. Gasol has looked burned out the whole season. The team as a whole is defending without intensity, because most of the primary players have huge minute totals. If shortening the rotation means giving all the big man minutes to either McBob or Murphy but not both, fine. If it means playing Sessions, a young dude who hasn't played that many minutes on the season because he was the backup in Cleveland, fantastic. But if that means you plan on keeping Kobe at a 40 mpg pace, Pau at 38+, WTF? You need these guys to be at least somewhat fresh going into the playoffs, especially as the Lakers seeding and position becomes a bit more locked in. But hey, kudos on improving the Sessions/Bryant minutes management I guess.