It started off, as so many games have this season for the Los Angeles Lakers, with bad news. Steve Nash tried to give it a go, but it was clear from the opening tip that his strained hamstring would prevent him from contributing, and he was subbed out of the game at the first opportunity. Meanwhile, the Lakers D was non-existent as Sacramento put up 30 points in the first 8 minutes, 37 in the first quarter. The Lakers were down big, and with Utah winning their contest against Brooklyn, it appeared as if the proverbial dagger to this tumultuous season might finally be coming.
But the Lakers played on. Kobe played on. He didn't take his customary early 2nd quarter rest. He just kept pushing on, directing the offense and dropping assists. He didn't make many shots, though he did pass Wilt Chamberlain for 4th on the all time scoring list in the 1st half. But he kept at it, not taking a seat until 22 seconds remained the 1st half. The second half was more of the same. More assists, more rebounds, more minutes. His team was in a desperate place and so Kobe Bryant delved into what remains the deepest well in sports to dig out enough to get his team through. He did not spend a single second on the bench in the 2nd half. Bone spur in his foot, an ankle that quite recently was severely sprained, 34 years of age, 17 years in the league. 48 minutes played (if you round up).
It's incredible. Even if he had sucked, it would have been incredible. But he did not. Kobe may not have shot well from the field, but his overall game more than made up for it. 9 rebounds, 14 assists, and just one turnover. With Steve Nash out, Kobe Bryant once again assumed the role of point guard, and he made sure he would not need any help to do so. But he did have help. In the second half, a funny thing happened. Dwight Howard showed up.
Anybody watching the Lakers these past few weeks has known that Dwight has looked better and better. More engaged, more active, more healthy. But I've never seen him do the things he did tonight, not in a Lakers uniform. Tonight, there were possessions in which Dwight Howard covered three players by himself. Tonight, Dwight grabbed any rebound within a 10 foot radius of him. After giving up 37 points in the first quarter, the Lakers held the Kings to 61 points the rest of the way, which means the team played some pretty solid D on a Kings squad that, for all their faults, knows how to score. But the Lakers did not make defensive adjustments. They did not change their strategy to something the Kings were unable to solve. The Lakers defense consisted of one thing, and one thing only: Dwight Howard blowing shit up. In other words, the plan, the one the team had all along, worked tonight. Dwight Howard was the guy who is such a defensive monster that he can single handedly make a team decent.
Tonight said a lot about the Los Angeles Lakers, and not all of what was said is positive. Despite getting a monster game from Dwight Howard and Kobe Bryant, in addition to strong efforts from Pau Gasol and Steve Blake, the Lakers could barely hold on against a lottery bound Kings team. Steve Nash's inability to play indicated that the basketball gods are in no way done treating this Lakers season like Gallagher treats a watermelon. But you see Dwight play like he did in the 2nd half, you see Pau Gasol contribute 10 assists and shoot > 50% from the floor, and you see Kobe Bryant fight to the bitter end like the warrior he has always been, and you can't help but think maybe this could work after all. The experiment may fail this season. It may fail next season. But its nice to see that the experiment had a foundation in fact after all.
Tonight, we saw all the best qualities of the three active stars on the team, and they all worked in harmony with each other. The end result was a desperately needed win, albeit an unimpressive one against a mediocre team. But there's reason to hope that the grand design of this experiment isn't so fatally flawed after all.