ESPYS: Handing out Laker related awards
In another sign that the Lakers' 2010-2011 season was a sour one: the team has only one ESPY-related nomination.
Usually this honor - the Best NBA player - goes to Kobe Bryant. But with him battling various knee injuries and the Lakers falling in a four-game sweep in the Western Conference semifinals against the Dallas Mavericks, it's likely Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki will take that honor instead. But even if the Lakers' failure to win a championship in 2011 leaves plenty of Lakers fans sour, there were at least a few good moments worth of an ESPY-like honor, even if it takes a little bit of digging.
Best NBA player
Kobe Bryant - This is pretty obvious even if Bryant only warranted a B+ average in his performance as he constantly weighed how to manage his numerous injuries, ranging from his right knee, left ankle and right index finger.
There's no argument that Bryant's play isn't as dominant as it once was. Bryant's regular-season averages of 25.3 points in 33.9 minutes per game marked his lowest statistical output since the 2003-04 season. His playoff averages of 22.9 points in 35.4 minutes marked his lowest mark since the 1999-2000 season. And his missed potential game winner in the series opener against Dallas preceded a 19 points per game average in the final three games.
Even with those numbers, Bryant proved to be the team's best player, will still be relied on to close games and will still earn plaudits from opposing players and coaches as the league's best player.
Best Breakthrough Athlete
Andrew Bynum - He finally showed the full potential he has when he's healthy and here's the scary part: Bynum's only going to get better, assuming he avoids further injuries of course. But at least for one season, Bynum was able to avoid a major injury. His delayed off-season surgery and prolonged rehabilitation that caused him to miss the first 24 regular-season games divided plenty of Lakers fans. It's also indisputable that the Lakers couldn't absorb his absence, with Pau Gasol struggling to play heavier minutes despite resting for most of the summer. It's clear, however, that Bynum's long-term approach in making sure he completely healed his knee paid off.
He came back within the Lakers' good graces by taking large ownership of the team's defense, which both empowered him to finish with a Western Conference leading 12.3 rebounds and 2.36 blocks per game after the All-Star break rebounds as well as avoid further injury because he stayed closer to the basket. His team-leading 9.6 rebounds and second-best 14.4 points per game in the postseason also suggested he's becoming more efficient offensively even if there's going to be plenty of tension in determining the Lakers' pecking order next season.
Bynum soured some of that good will with a cheap forearm shove to Dallas guard J.J. Barea that earned him a five-game suspension and a $25,000 fine in addition to losing $677,272 in salary. But at least Bynum isn't missing games because of an injury.
Best Record-Breaking Performance
Kobe Bryant's 4th All-Star MVP - After a half season of constantly monitoring his injuries and fighting his own frustrations with the team's inconsistency, Bryant used the 2011 NBA All-Star game to remind everyone he can still show some vintage Bryant moves. The timing couldn't have been more perfect considering the All-Star game in Los Angeles mostly centered on the slam-dunk competition led by Blake Griffin, the uncertainty surrounding Carmelo Anthony's playing future and of course the ongoing labor negotiations. Bryant's 37 points on 14-for-26 shooting and 14 rebounds put him in a tie with Bob Petit as the only player to have earned four NBA All-Star MVP awards. And his five dunks provided an obvious reminder that his time hasn't past him.
Lakers' triple-overtime victory over Phoenix
It's sad that the Lakers' best game didn't come in the postseason since Lakers fans very well know that regular-season games mean very little in the big picture. But that's how the season was for the Lakers. Besides, this one game was particularly fun for its entertainment value alone.
The Lakers' 139-137 triple-overtime victory March 22 over the Phoenix Suns proved distinguishable for reasons beyond the fact that the Lakers played in only four games that went at least for triple-overtime, including a 133-124 triple OT loss Dec. 20, 2006 against Charlotte, a 154-153 quadruple overtime loss Jan. 29, 1980, to Cleveland, a 122-117 triple-overtime loss Feb. 2, 1969, to San Francisco and a 137-136 triple OT victory on Dec. 8, 1961, against Philadelphia.
There was excitement: Bryant made a pull-up jumper over Channing Frye that clinched the victory. Ron Artest somehow leapt for a one-handed dunk. And Lamar Odom provided enough coast-to-coast drives to leave him wanting to eat pancakes afterwards.
There was tension: Pau Gasol made two free throws to force triple overtime, Derek Fisher hit two free throws to give the Lakers a three-point lead before Phoenix extended to double overtime. And Odom's foul that gave Frye three foul shots to force extra regulation left many biting their fingernails.
And there were theatrics: Bryant bit his jersey as if he forgot to eat his pregame meal. Artest blew kisses to the crowd, flexed his muscles and kissed his own biceps in a routine that left Odom arguing he should be a professional wrestler. And the team embraced after a well-fought victory, bringing a sentimental ending to the game, or soap opera for that matter.
Kobe Bryant's dunk over New Orleans Hornets forward Emeka Okafor
The sequence of this play proves impressive enough. Bryant went through an opening in the lane and powered a one-handed slam over Okafor. The backdrop behind the play proves even more impressive.
Only a day earlier, the Lakers faced uncertainty on the severity of Bryant's ankle injury. He had hobbled off the court in Game 4, held postgame interviews in the trainer's room and made his way to the team bus on crutches. Bryant refused to take an X-ray or have an MRI exam, despite insistence from Lakers Coach Phil Jackson and the training staff, arguing it'd just waste his time.
It turns out, at least for one game, Bryant was right with his dunk prompting Bryant to roar, the bench to rise and the sellout crowd at Staples Center to cheer.
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Photo: The 2011 ESPY awards take place Wednesday at L.A. Live's Nokia Theater. Credit: Valerie Macon / Getty Images
Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant of the West protects the ball as Heat forward LeBron James of the East looks for a steal but picks up a foul during the NBA All-Star game at Staples Center on Sunday. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / February 20, 2011