Posted by Andrew Shi
The Lakers surprised everyone on Wednesday when they defeated the Spurs 98-84. What was surprising was not that the Lakers beat the Spurs but that they beat the Spurs when the Spurs' big three had taken the previous night off against the Jazz and were well rested, and when Kobe Bryant was out with a shin injury.
After being swept by the Mavericks last year in the playoffs, it seemed that the Lakers' reign might be over. This year they traded away their starting guard and co-captain, Derek Fisher, to the Thunder, traded their sixth-man-of-the-year Lamar Odom to the Mavericks, and almost traded All-Star Pau Gasol, all in hopes of acquiring Chris Paul, which did not happen. Perhaps even more monumental, their coach Phil Jackson retired and was replaced with Mike Brown whose leadership and capabilities were immediately questioned by players and fans alike
Their troubles didn't end with NBA Commissioner David Stern blocking the Chris Paul deal. Their forward Ron Artest returned as Metta World Peace which reflected his new lethargic and borderline non-existent offense. Their star center Andrew Bynum also missed the first two games for technical fouls he had incurred during the playoffs.
Kobe is Kobe though, and currently leading the league in scoring, he has heavily assisted, if not carried, the team to their current third place slot in the West. This is all not to say he didn't have help. Bynum is third in the league for rebounds, which gave him All-Star status. Unfortunately his performance has been less than consistent, and his attitude even more fickle. The pickup of Ramon Sessions from Cleveland has also added a beat to the offense.
Lastly, despite the fact that the Lakers were desperately trying to trade him away in the Chris Paul deal, Pau Gasol's offensive and defensive playing has been impressive and crucial as he averages 18.8 ppg, and 10.2 rebounds. His free throw percentage is also at a career best at .823.
The Lakers were never counted out of the playoffs - it was just noted that there were better teams. Wednesday though, the Lakers showed a depth and capability that questioned that last theory. Metta World Peace perhaps astonished the most as he took over the leading role that Kobe left behind. With an average of only 7.1 points per game, World Peace logged in 26 points and shot 67 percent. The bench also showed much more liveliness, as Matt Barnes scored 13 and Steve Blake added 10.
It wasn't so much the Lakers' offense that impressed, since they scored only 1.5 more than their average, but rather their defense. While the Lakers on average allow 94.65 points per game, they kept the Spurs at 84. This defense can be solely explained by the 60 rebounds they pulled down, eliminating second chances for the Spurs and giving their own team some. With an average of 46 rebounds per game, an additional 14 rebounds can make more than the difference it did in the score for the Lakers.
The Lakers also put up a superb 3 point percentage, hitting 11 of their 23 attempts for a 47.8 percent. This can be attributed to World Peaces' 5-8 and the 5-10 between Barnes and Blake.
If only the Lakers could play like this every game. Perhaps the only thing that is stopping them is the man who made the modern Lakers and led the team to two championships in 2009 and 2010. Kobe is known for taking over games, but that has become a habit now. This has intimidated other players - namely Meta World Peace, who has been forced him into a marginal role instead of being allowed to hit those threes.
This is not to say Kobe is what's wrong with the team - it's far from that. Kobe just needs to give up a few points and pass the ball to someone who might have the better shot.
The other improvement needed is on the issue mentioned before - that of attitude adjustments. This is mostly targeted at Andrew Bynum, who is known for his flagrant fouls and odd behavior. Bynum needs to grow up, because anyone who can pull down 30 rebounds over Tim Duncan should be the best center in the league. Metta World Peace is not off the hook either, as his name is not the only thing wrong with him this season - his playing has been almost as inconsistent as Bynum's mood.
The Lakers have all the pieces to win the Championship, they just need to fully recognize their roles on the team and some of them need to be given a dose of reality to drain those adverse affects of fame from their heads.