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Rhythm lessons

Not to be a total downer, but the lofty dreams Lakers fans have conjured over the highly successful first 37 games of the season- I'm talking about winning the Pacific, maybe even the Western Conference- are officially out the window with the injury to Andrew Bynum.  The growth in his play and his influence on games is the single greatest factor in L.A.'s improvement this season, and without that production in the lineup, they're simply not going to win as many games.  Hopefully he comes back with enough time left in the season to regain the sort of form he was showing up until Sunday.  If he does, the Lakers have a chance to make some noise in the postseason.  If he doesn't?  They're a whole lot more like the teams of the last couple seasons... and we know how that turned out.

Where they finish, though, when mid-April comes will be determined by how they fare over the next eight (hopefully not more) weeks.  Sunday night, Kobe talked a lot about rhythm, how they'd established one with Bynum, and how they need to find a new one with him out of the lineup.   

I hope they don't settle on the one they used last night. 

There's no question last night's game was exciting, nor is there any question Kobe was incredibly clutch down the stretch.  But there's also no question that over the next 30 or so games, if they rely on Kobe to be the beginning, middle, and end of the offense, they won't be very successful.  It was one game, and there's no reason to freak out and assume this is how things are going to be going forward.  Given that they were playing the wrong end of a back-to-back the night after a crushing injury, it's not all that surprising that Kobe put the weight of Sunday's game on his back.  But remember, this was the Sonics, who absolutely suck.  So squeaking out a win in OT against them, however admirable, doesn't mean the strategy is a long term solution.  At least not against teams that are any good. 

But going forward, with a couple days to practice and a chance to start reasonably fresh, the Lakers have to try and find a way to simulate as best they can, the diverse attack they've been able to sustain this season.  When Kobe is forced into/forces (depending on your perspective) the sort of attack they had last night, in long run, it hurts.  First, it puts an enormous amount of pressure on Kobe to sustain excellence night in and night out on a level that even he can't always meet. Last night, in 44 shots he was nearly 50% from the floor.  Take away two or three of those makes, and it gets ugly.  Yeah, you can say the same about other players- that if they miss a shot here or there, the game ends differently- but when one guy has such a disproportionate portion of the total product, the bad stuff hurts more.  Everything we've ever read, every scout we've ever spoken to all points to the idea that the other team likes it better when Kobe takes the team on his shoulders, rather than trying to keep everyone involved.   

Second, Kobe spent most of his time attacking from the perimeter.  He only shot seven free throws.  Chalk some of that up to the refs missing a few calls if you want, but generally Kobe wasn't penetrating.  Too many jumpshots mean too many long rebounds, too many run out opportunities, and too many easy buckets for the other team.  And the alternative, attacking the hole over and over again night after night after night opens him up to an incredible amount of physical pounding- even more if the other team is keying on him.  Not a great alternative, either.

What the Lakers need to do, and it won't be easy, is find that rhythm they had at the beginning of last season.  There's no reason not to continue working to create as much balance as possible.  Obviously, Kobe is and should have the biggest impact on the game offensively for L.A.  But for the first 40 games last year, they managed to get to a place where everyone was working as a pretty cohesive unit.  The circumstances aren't the same right now, as last year the Lakers had Drew backing up Kwame, and currently they're frightfully thin up front. On the other hand, the backcourt is stronger with Fish and an improved Farmar, and Ariza provides an athletic, slashing finisher they didn't have a year ago.

As always, the onus to make this happen is shared.  Kobe has to keep faith in his teammates, and they have to respond by staying active, playing aggressive basketball, and not becoming dependent on him to do everything.  They must keep the offense moving towards the rim, either by posting guys like Odom, Walton, Kobe, and (yes) Kwame, then staying extremely active without the ball.  In theory, they should be able to make it happen.  It worked a year ago.  In practice, I think they'll struggle mightily for the next few games trying to make it happen, but the payoff could come on the long February road trip. 

Realistically, the Lakers aren't going to finish near the top of the conference anymore.  They no longer have that x-factor pushing them up with the big boys in Bynum, who provided a true inside-out attack that helped create cleaner looks for everyone and a growing presence on the defensive end.  What they can do is not completely abandon those things that have made them successful this season, even if their ability to execute at a high level is diminished.  And remember, guys like Sasha and Vlad should give a little more depth to the rotation once they're healthy. 

In short, don't panic.  Don't freak out.  The good news is that if they can maintain the same sort of team-centric approach, when Bynum comes back they could be stronger for it. 

BK   

 
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Laker Lover,

>>>Thus far, Kobe as the #1 has led to 0 playoff series wins. With Bynums improvement
>>>that might change this year, but it depends who the lakers get in the 1st round.

And I would counter that Kobe as one of the main players on a TEAM has won two
championships. LeBron made it to the finals with just slightly better players than Kobe
had last year, but in a weaker Eastern conference. If LeBron's Cavs had to face one of
Phoenix, San Antonio, Dallas, Utah, Denver, or Houston in the first round, then he would
also have 0 playoff series wins.

But the true measure of whether you are a "hater" or not will come if the Lakers progress
out of the first round this year (or next year or whenever). At that point, most people would
say, "ahhh. The young Lakers have finally grown up enough to form a good team around
Kobe, and so Kobe has led them on in the playoffs". A hater would say, "Bynum led the
Lakers to the second round, and once again Kobe is riding on the coattails of a good
center". As long as you give credit when it is eventually due, then you are not a hater.

zen,

>>>I dont think anyone answered this question. How can the Lakers sign anyone else
>>>when they are over the cap?

They still have about 1 million worth of MLE money that they could spend. Starting
very soon, that money becomes pro-rated and I think it vanishes completely at the
trade deadline or thereabouts.

Gdchild,

"AK or BK, don't throw that Kobe only re-signed one day after Shaq got traded. Per NBA rules, the first day any free agent could sign was Jul. 15, and Kobe re-signed with the Lakers only one day after that. No need to emphasize the timing at all."

I'm well aware of the free agent signing rules. But that year (2004), it wasn't July 15, it was actually the 14th.

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/print?id=1830779&type=story

And even if it were the 15th, I still wouldn't buy that explanation, because during that two-week period, Kobe was remaining absolutely mum as to his intentions, doing more to indicate that the Clips were on his radar than reassure the Lakers that he would return. Even if you can't sign, you can let a team know of your intentions. So he's undecided all that time, then "happens" to wholeheartedly make up his mind the day after Shaq's gone? Throw in the backstory, plus the obvious hurry the Lakers felt to move Shaq ASAP and that's a LOT to dismiss as pure coincidence. And to do so is pretty naive, in my opinion.

AK

Just a quick interjection regarding the constat comparisons between Kobe and LeBron...and yes I acknowledge James as a great, great player.
James plays in the EAST! Do we seriously still take stats in that conference seriously? Out her, when Kobe drives to the hoop, he first has to get by his man and then meets Duncan, or Camby, or Yao, or Chandler, or any other of the numerous Western Conference big men who are so adept at blocking/altering shots from the weak side. Beyond Garnett, Wallace, and Howard, who in JV land is stopping James in the paint? Emeka Okefor? Dalembert? Shaq 0.0? Nenad Krstic? Not to mention the fact that there are far less good perimeter defenders out east to stop penetration in the first place. Gotta be kidding me. Cavs wouldn't have even made it out of the first round last year if it hadn't been for the Wiz missing 2 of its big 3. Kobe plays a far great proportion of his games against superior competition, yet even before Bynum the Lakers had a better winning percentage than the Cavs, and the Cavs have a power forward that can catch a bullet pass for a dunk.

Anyways, this is starting to sound like one of those Anti-James/Pro-Kobe rants that I hate so much, but I'm going to post it anyways. Have a good one :)

Go Lakers!

Adir (and to a lesser extent Laker Lover),

>>>If the Lakers get used to Kobe shooting 40 shots a game, then they wont know what to
>>>do when Drew gets back.

The thing is, I don't think the Lakers have gotten used to Kobe shooting 40 times a game,
nor do I think they will.

What I think we saw is that the Lakers lost the second best player on the team and had no
time to work on switching their offense and defense to account for Kwame in the middle
instead of Bynum. Add to that the fact that the team's probably a little down that they just
lost socks, and suddenly the play-level from some players isn't as good as it has been the
last few weeks. Kobe saw that the team was kinda flat, so he turned his game up a notch.

That doesn't mean that Kobe's going to jack 40 shots every game for the next 8 weeks. It
was 1 1/2 games. The Lakers were bleeding and Kobe applied a tourniquet. But you
don't leave a tourniquet on. You use it to slow the flow of blood until you can repair the
wound, and then you remove the tourniquet.

With the 3 days off, the Lakers can readjust their offense and defense to account for the
fact that they don't have Bynum. Kwame is not Bynum, but he's not terrible. And here's
a good piece of news that I read - while Kwame was out and rehabbing, he worked with
Craig Hodges on his foul shooting. If he could shoot 66% on free throws like he did on
Monday, that could help a little. And I think Kwame will play himself into shape.

And one more thing on the Kobe-ball phenomenon. Kobe knows that what you're saying
is true. And he has been very good about not over-shooting this season. But I have no
problem with Kobe busting out the guns once in awhile. In this case he did it because
the team was struggling, and in other cases this season, I've seen him do it because he
had a hot hand that night. As long as he only does it once in awhile, I'm all for it,
especially if he's shooting anywhere near 50%.

Because let's face it... people WANT to see 50 point games. The only person who doesn't
like it when Kobe goes off for 81 or 65 is the opposing team. I agree, and PJ agrees, and
Kobe agrees that it's better for the team if he balances the load more than he did those
nights, but those nights are good for the Kobe, they're good for the fans, and they're good
for the NBA.

The NBA... where Kobe-ball happens.

LTLF -

Great insight, especially the part about having little time to prepare.
I am sure with the few days off to prepare for PHX the Lakers will have a different look/philospphy Thursday night...

Phoenix is SLOOOOOOOOWLY starting to unravel...Stay tuned...

gdchild,
Clearly Kobe did not make an effort to keep Shaq on the Lakers, because pretty clearly the Lakers would at least have tried to keep Shaq, if that is what Kobe wanted. That may or may not have been a good thing, but for you to pretend that Kobe wanted Shaq to stay is silly.

Adir,

>>>Lebron just hit 51 with 16 LESS field goal attempts. Kobe was by no means "efficient".

Yep. that was an excellent performance by LeBron, and I congratulate him.

And if LeBron's team were in the West, they would currently be the 10 seed.


exhelodrvr,

>>>If they go 9-18 (which is probably more likely), they would be in 7th place, just ahead
>>>of Golden State and just behind Denver.

First of all, it's not very likely that they'll go 9-18. Last year's team with Kwame playing the
bulk of the minutes and with Smush Parker at PG did pretty well before anyone got injured.
They didn't play at the level of this year's team with Bynum, but they were well over .500.
The current team sans Bynum is BETTER than the team from the beginning of last season.
They're arguably better at the PG and SF positions, the same at PF and SG position, and
only a bit weaker at the C position. This is comparing the team right now to the pre-injury
team of last season.

I think the current squad can do better than .500, possibly much better. It will help to get
Sasha and Vlad back into the fold to regain some depth, but I think they'll be 4 or 5 games
over .500 for the span of games Bynum misses. I agree with AK that that will probably
take them out of the top 4, but I think it's possible that if Bynum comes back right at
8 weeks and gets back into the swing quickly, they could conceivably still win 55 and be
a top 4 seed. It's not that far fetched. And bear in mind that Phoenix and Denver have
some injuries right now (no Grant Hill, no Nene, no K-Mart, hobbled Najera), so the next
two games aren't exactly sure losses.

But I guess we'll all know how it works out over the next 8 weeks as it happens, right?

LTLF

LOL damn straight. James does it all in the JV league.

In Kwame we trust :)

Go Lakers!

Mamba24 -
Holy Crap...

It just dawned on me...Kwame is starting every game for the next 8 weeks...
When Kwame starts the Lakers win!!!

We have nothing to worry about! Oh man, this is just awesome...When Andrew returns we will have run away with the pacific division and broken the 33 game win streak record held by the 71-72 Lakers...

LA LAKERS 2007-2008 NBA CHAMPIONS!!!

AK,

That was a pretty extensive response to Hobbit Image. I'm jealous. I don't agree with your conclusion, however. I believe that Kobe is finally maturing a bit. I think the return of Derek Fisher has helped put a lot of things in perspective for him. A person who says he can perfectly predict the future is a fool, but I don't forsee any future freakouts from Kobe regarding the Lakers organization.

Long Time Laker Fan,

Elton Brown, eh? I'll have to keep track of him.

NO MVP! NO PEACE!

GO LAKERS!

Jon K,

Like I told Hobbit Image, I'm not "predicting" Kobe handles things badly, per say. I did note to Hobbit a few times that I've been very impressed with Kobe's leadership this season, and that he's thus far proved my early season thoughts along those lines incorrect. But I do think it's fair, given Kobe's past and recent history, for me to be concerned that the possibility of a bad reaction exists. I don't consider that being too hard on Kobe.

AK

What is going on with you people, who crowned Drew king? He is not the Messiah. I rather lose Drew to injury than LO. Remember the lakers first 10 games 7-3, Brown was the starter. I believe Drew is good because of Fisher, Odom, and all those guys that look for him for the easy shot. Get real! Who said the Lakers can't win 20 of the next 26 games. Drew is not the heart of the Laker team. The Team is 14 players, one goes down the others step it up. If you don't have faith your worthless. GOOD TEAMS PLAY Through adversity, this is the Lakers test, they will make it work, if they don't Kobe will leave LA! That's why they play well, to show Kobe that they are worthy team mates. They won't disappoint us.

"But I do think it's fair, given Kobe's past and recent history, for me to be concerned that the possibility of a bad reaction exists."
- AK

Only a Kobe Hater would post a statement like that

AN1,
"Only a Kobe Hater would post a statement like that"

Well, then I guess I'm one, too. I am concerned about that possibility, too. Which is smart, based on Kobe's past actions.

Let me clarify that statement Ex person.

"Only an irrational Kobe Hater would make that statement, because it makes absolutely no sense. There is no basis of fact to support it."

Of course, if you want to stand by that, that's fine by me. To each his own.

"There is no basis of fact to support it."

Just Kobe's actions in the past.

 
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