Wednesday, January 30, 2013

New Kobe. New Lakers.

We all know Kobe Bryant is arguably the most competitive and passionate player the game of basketball has ever seen.

To him, success is only measured in championships, and there's no such thing as 2nd best. In the past 2 games, Bryant reminded everyone just how much he puts winning above everything.

The Lakers had lost 3 straight games on the road catapulted by a disappointing loss to Miami at Staples Center that could have gone their way if not for the 8 turnovers they committed in the 1st half. Facing a 17-25 record that puts them 8 games below the .500 mark, the Lakers were running out of options, and more importantly, time to give any purpose to the remaining 42 games of the season.

With half of those 42 games on the road and rounding off their season series with plenty of playoff-bound teams the rest of the way, something had to be done...now!

Kobe had already tweaked his game defending the other team's facilitator in hopes that it would answer most of the team's defensive woes by putting less pressure on Dwight Howard to also erase easy lay-ups and on his other teammates on helping out Howard as he goes after those easy buckets. It worked for awhile. But it wasn't enough.

Bryant then took the direct approach and asked Howard during the team's meeting prior to their game in Memphis if he likes playing with Kobe in hopes of finding out exactly what's bothering the team's biggest weapon on both ends of the floor. But again, it wasn't enough.

Knowing that the team badly needs more chemistry on the court and nothing can bring a team together quickly than everyone being involved on offense, Kobe decided to take the responsibility and accountability of bringing his team together by becoming the team's facilitator.
  The result? 2 straight wins with the last coming against the NBA's best team, the Oklahoma City Thunder — their first against an elite team this season.

Kobe has totaled 28 assists in both wins and has only taken a combined 22 shots for 35 points. To maximize his ability and opportunities to make plays for his teammates, Bryant has been almost exclusively positioning himself in the high-to-mid post to force the defense to make quick decisions as Bryant backs his own defender down deeper into the paint.

Depending on what the defense gives him, Kobe would attack the rim, get lose for an open mid-range jumper, or as often happens, get the ball to an open teammate on the perimeter or through a cut to the basket. But because Bryant is the team's best threat on offense, the Lakers, as a team, are now finding it easy to score in almost every way they want to attack the defense — layups, dunks, lobs, dives, mid-range and from behind the arc — due to the other team's inability to make the correct play defensively as a unit.

Of course, the whole point in Kobe's madness is to get the entire team dedicated on defense. Has it worked? The Lakers held the Jazz, a team averaging 44.9% from the field and 36.7% from behind the 3-point line, to 42% and 21%. OKC finished Sunday's game shooting 44% from 2 and 25% from 3. Better yet, the Lakers didn't allow either team put up fast break points in the 20s.

The defensive effort they put on Russell Westbrook (27% shooting) and, to a degree, Kevin Durant (38% shooting) on Sunday is a very promising sign of what Laker fans could start seeing in the games ahead. But the road to recovery for the Lakers is still a long, up-hill drive, and they have to prove that they can sustain the team effort and focus they've shown the past couple of games.

But Bryant has brought back the excitement and given the team something to fight for. In a team with this much talent on both sides of the floor and this much competitive players, that could very well be enough to turn the Lakers around for good.

For more great articles, be sure to check out the Purple and Gold Blog.
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