Kobe Bryant's and Andrew Bynum's absence spurs Lakers' team effort in 101-89 victory over San Antonio Spurs
No longer able to display his dominance on the basketball court, Lakers guard Kobe Bryant passed the time in the locker room Monday by getting treatment on his left sprained ankle. It's the very injury that has kept him sidelined for two consecutive games.
"It’s frustrating," he said. "I’m not used to it. I don’t know what the hell a player is supposed to do back here so I just got treatment on the whole game. I didn’t know what was going on half the time."
He did know that the team put together a 101-89 victory Monday against the San Antonio Spurs because of what Coach Phil Jackson alluded to "some of the guys that played extra special." That included Lakers forward Pau Gasol being the director on offense, scoring 21 points, grabbing 19 rebounds, dishing out a season-high eight assists and blocking five shots. There were Lakers forwards Ron Artest and Lamar Odom combining for 34 points because of constant drives to the basket. Throw in a stabilizing Derek Fisher (13 points) and an energetic Jordan Farmar (13 points), and you have yourself a game Gasol described as "fun."
"Obviously we’re emotional and we understand we’re banged up right now," said Gasol, who had a solid all-around game despite shooting only eight of 20 from the field. "But we’re playing hard. When you play hard and give your best, things work out and you’re happy."
The Lakers (40-13) put this all together, winning their second consecutive victory without Bryant in the lineup. They were also without center Andrew Bynum, who had missed the second half Saturday against Portland because of a right hip bruise. Bryant said his status for Wednesday's game against Utah remains a "game-time decision" as well as whether he'll play in the All-Star game this weekend. Nonetheless, trainer Gary Vitti told TNT that Bryant should remain sidelined until after the All-Star break, with Bryant responding, "If I'm not able to play, I won't play. But if I'm healthy, I will. It's as simple as that."
Though it's absurd to suggest the Lakers are better off without Bryant, his absence has surely spurred the team to increase their own contributions. That being said, the Lakers have put together a team effort these past two games against Portland and San Antonio for two reasons - they have no choice but to fill in Bryant's void and they feel more comfortable doing that when Bryant remains on the sideline.
That's not to say it's good Bryant is out, far from it. I'm also not laying the blame solely on Bryant for lacking team chemistry. His teammates have at times played passively under his wing. But it's fair to say that whenever Bryant returns to the lineup, his teammates won't have the same level of contributions. Whether that's good or not really depends on the specific game and circumstances, such as matchups, who has the hot hand, etc. But there's something that needs to stay the same: When Bryant returns, the Lakers must sustain the same energy level and collective involvement they displayed in the past two games. Odom says the team is up to the task.
"All year," he said when I asked him how long the Lakers can keep this team effort up. "Even when those guys get back in. That’s how you make it to the championship run is by playing a certain way throughout the year, especially the second part of the season."
And what's the key to making that happen?
"I think it’s just our focus," Odom said. "At times when guys go out, you start to focus a little bit more. Sometimes individually you do it when you're sick and you’re hurt. But collectively we’ve done it these past two games because we know we have to make plays."
The Lakers certainly made plays even if it didn't come right away. The Spurs started off with nine unanswered points and finished the first quarter with a 34-28 lead on a 55% mark from the field. By the time there was nine seconds left in the third quarter, the Spurs had only scored 34 more points since the first quarter. The Lakers had established a 73-68 lead after holding San Antonio to 34% shooting after the first quarter.
Then there were plays like these that provided a snapshot of the Lakers' offensive aggressiveness:
1. LO's drop step past Tony Parker in the first quarter.
2. Gasol's give-and-go in the second quarter to Farmar that resulted in a three-pointer from reserve guard Sasha Vujacic, who had eight points on three of three shooting.
3. Odom's cut to the post in the second quarter that resulted in Artest finding him on an easy entry pass.
4. Four consecutive offensive rebounds in the third quarter that resulted in Artest's putback.
Jackson made it clear he'd prefer Bryant in the lineup because of his scoring mentality and ability to draw defenders, but the effort against San Antonio made it clear the Lakers can termporarily absorb Bryant's absence if he still needs time to recover.
"It’s always good for a ball club to be able to feel like they rally," Jackson said. "We stepped into the game with two starters that were out."
And even when those starters in Bryant and Bynum return, it'll be beneficial for the Lakers to hold the same mentality that ensured these past two victories in the first place.
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Photo: Lakers power forward Pau Gasol, who finished with 21 points, 19 rebounds, eight assists and five blocked shots against San Antonio, celebrates with guards Derek Fisher and Jordan Farmar after drawing a foul while making a basket in the fourth quarter Monday night. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times.
Photo: Lakers forwards Ron Artest, left, and Lamar Odom pressure Spurs power forward Antonio McDyess during play in the first quarter Monday night. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times
Photo: Pau Gasol of the Lakers and Tim Duncan of the Spurs get ready to fight for position on a free throw during the first quarter Monday night. Credit: Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times.