Before yesterday's game against the Sacramento Kings, I said the Lakers had a chance to demonstrate an ability to roll with the punches after looking absolutely punchless the previous day against Cleveland. Besides theoretically rebounding from a loss, they'd be competing on the second end of a back-to-back, without an oddly-sidelined Ron Artest, and facing a Sacto team that does well at Arco. I guess my message hit home with the Lakers, because they decided to see my "three elements working against them," then raise me a "make it happen in OT," and then re-raised it to a "double OT." From there, Kobe Bryant went all in with an "I'll barely be able to feel my upper right arm during much of the second half because of an in-game elbow injury."
Talk about pushing your chips into the middle.
As we've come to expect in moments like these, number 24 added another page to a book already filled with heroic tales of playing through pain. Working for a while primarily as a one-armed southpaw, Bryant occasionally found himself in over his head (for example, trying to connect on a closely guarded lefty turn-around), but mostly was able to make big plays when his team needed them. Finding Shannon Brown for an "and one" layup with an opposite armed "Peyton Manning" pass. Stripping Tyreke Evans in space on the Kings' final possession to force OT. Drilling a pair of three's in the second bonus period to put the game on ice for the Lakers. Throw in some terrific plays during the first half while operating with the use of both appendages, and Dave McMenamin was prompted to sum it up through understatement:
- "It's awfully nice to have Kobe Bryant on your team."
But like I noted yesterday, a date with the Kings offered a team-wide shot at redemption, and for the most part, the roster appeared collectively interested in seizing the opportunity. Brown was a huge asset off the bench, providing 15 points (seven in successive possessions) and seven rebounds off the bench. Filling in for Artest as a starter, Lamar Odom had a 13/15 double-double. And after seeing his string of eight consecutive DD's snapped on Christmas, Pau Gasol hopefully kicked off a new streak (24/11), with six blocks added for good measure. He also provided a "redemption within the redemption" moment by tipping in Derek Fisher's missed J to force a second OT, making up for two critical missed free throws at the end of regulation.
And if you check out the box score, you'll notice the Kings' point totals decreasing quarter by quarter, reflective of a defense digging in its heels as the game progressed.
This is not to say everything was perfect, of course. The defensive improvement was built off a lousy start. Andrew Bynum may have grabbed nine rebounds, but he also took nine shots and hit only one of them. (Drew's overall energy was lagging at times.) The Triple Towers as a starting crew left Phil Jackson largely underwhelmed, and the Lakers remain inexplicably willing to deny Gasol touches even when he's at his most efficient. After going 5-5 in the first half, Gasol waited until the 7:33 mark in the third before getting another FG try, where he remained perfect on an 18-foot jumper. Until then, he barely touched the rock, which is simply unacceptable for a system often at its peak when run through El Spaniard. Whether you agree with Marc Stein or not, there's a reason he could even consider making a reasonable argument for Gasol as trimester league MVP:
- L.A.'s muted start without Gasol and its 15-2 record since Gasol returned from a hamstring injury have been handy reminders that it was Pau's arrival in February 2008 that triggered the Lakers' return to glory and reconfigured the league's landscape. He's simply the perfect complement to Kobe -- thoroughly content to be a No. 2 but sufficiently long, mobile and skilled to supply down-low commodities Kobe can't -- and seems to be getting better with age like Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash. One example: Gasol is suddenly averaging 12.2 rebounds per game after eight seasons during which he never topped 9.8 boards.
Stein also gives Artest dap as his trimester DPOY. PJ thinks Ron Ron will be a "go go" for Monday's game against the Suns.
Would loyalty to tenure prevent the Cavs from moving Z?
Randy Foye's return to Minny will be interesting.
Knicks fans chanting for Nate Robinson to play are wasting their breath.
Richard Jefferson thinks the Spurs aren't tenacious enough.
Five items for thought, courtesy of HoopsWorld.