The Lakers are rolling right now.
They're on a seven-game win streak. Although their opponents haven't been the highest caliber, the Lakers are finally starting to show the dominance and cohesion they displayed to start the season. They don't seem interested in merely notching W's. They romped by an 18.1 points average margin of defeat. Even if you remove the 55-point obliteration of Cleveland, the margin is still 12.0 points per game. The Lakers have averaged 106.3 points per game during this streak, and only one opponent (Golden State) has reached 100 points.
Andrew Bynum's return to form has a lot to do with the Lakers' improvement. He makes the defense better, forces double teams in the post, allows Pau Gasol to take advantage of smaller power forwards and strengthens the bench with Lamar Odom's return to the sixth-man role. Another factor could very well be Kobe Bryant's return to practice.
Kobe's been shooting better, playing within the offense smoothly, attacking the basket more and most importantly, defending better. Could it be his extra time working with teammates has had a positive result in team play? It's debatable or coincidental, since those three losses in a row to Milwaukee, Miami and San Antonio gave the Lakers the kick in the ass they needed. Either way, they're playing great. I could have chosen among a handful of players. Lamar, Pau, Shannon Brown and Ron Artest all received consideration, but it was Kobe who stood out to me.
His shooting numbers weren't spectacular against the Knicks. He shot 10-28 as the refs ate the whistle and let the Knicks hack away. Kobe deserved quite a few calls but still ended up with 27 points, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. The Lakers played tough and active D and held the highest-scoring team in the NBA to only 87 points.
Nothing went wrong against the Cavs, as Kobe got everyone involved en route to the biggest margin of victory in an NBA game in 13 years. He facilitated enough that he only scored 13 due to blowout-shortened minutes (25). In fact, the teamwork on both ends of the floor was so good that no starter scored over 16 points before they were resting on the bench icing their knees.
The Warriors game was Kobe's best. It was vintage Kobe, as he went 13-21 from the field for 39 points and scored 17 points in the final 5:49 of the game, besting Monta Ellis in a scoring duel that turned out to be one of the most entertaining games of the season to date. Versus the Nets, he scored easily over any defender the Nets put on him from Stephen Graham to Sasha Vujacic to Jordan Farmar to Quentin Ross, highlighted by this sweet move:
As always with Kobe, it isn't about his scoring. Time and again I say, this team goes as Kobe goes. When he's controlling the offense with perfect balance and walking the fine line between assassin and facilitator, the game comes so easily to him. Even more for his teammates. It's why the offense seems back on track, even with Bynum starting again. Typically, the offense doesn't seem to be anywhere near as efficient with Drew and Pau as with Lamar and Pau. I credit Kobe for looking to them, and I also credit Kobe for Ron's improved shooting as of late. He hasn't stopped looking for Crazy Pills. The continued open looks Kobe gives to Ron appear to have reinstalled Artest's confidence.
Once again, the Lakers are playing like they aren't looking ahead. Let's hope it continues, because I'm looking forward to the upcoming games this week against The Blake Griffins, OKC, Dallas and Denver. It's still only January, but I'm still a sucker for statement beatdowns on pretenders to our throne.
Here are Kobe's stats for the week:
26.5 points, 5.25 assists, 6.25 rebounds, 1.25 steals per game in 33.25 minutes per game. 38 of 78 from the field for 48.7% FG, 6 of 14 for 42.9%.
Enjoy highlights of his finest performance - vs. Golden State:
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