Archives For February 2010

It sure didn’t take long for Kobe to get back into the swing of things. A 32-7-6 line and a game winning three-pointer in his return after missing five games was impressively seamless – however, the fact that Bryant had to bail the Lakers out for the fifth time this season was much less impressive.

The Lakers came out playing great basketball, outscoring the Grizzlies 27-16 after the first quarter, forcing six turnovers (five steals) and only committing two themselves. Things turned from there, with the Grizzlies shortening that 11-point lead to just five by the half, and taking a five point lead of their own going into the fourth quarter. It definitely wasn’t pretty, but the Lakers will definitely take the win, keeping pace with Cleveland for the league’s best record (the Lakers are still a half-game back in overall standings going into tonight’s game with Cleveland standing pat).

For those of you who missed the game, Basket Blog has a running diary of the game against Memphis, highlighting all of the big plays and adding some analysis by quarter.

Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register had a good column on how Kobe looked in his return to game action.

“Kobe Bryant produced another ending to remember.

“Just don’t forget how Bryant looked at the beginning.

“That was magical in a more unique way. The word “pure” describes Bryant’s stroke on that winning shot Tuesday night, but it better speaks to the look in his eyes as he took the basketball court for the first time after 18 days away.

“On first glance the eyes were might’ve looked dead to the casual observer because they were so steady. Bryant walked without emotion from the bench to the scorer’s table to get rosin for his hands. Teammate Josh Powell whispered that last motivation in Bryant’s right ear right before tip-off – which only happens every single game – yet Bryant listened as intently as if it were the final play call.

“And soon enough, Bryant was talking with the same focus. He set a season-high in communication in team defense, triggering extraordinary results…”

Also, in SLAMonline’s recap of all games last night, they touched on the Lakers-Grizzlies game and, of course, Kobe’s return:

While this was going on, in La-la-land, Kobe was doing what he does coming back from an ankle injury to drop 32 of his team’s 99 points, shooting 13-19 from the floor, adding seven rebounds and six assists and hitting the game-tying three-pointer then following that up with the game-winning dagger three to give the Lakers the 99-98 victory. It’s funny how tough of a time the Lakers have with Memphis. Had OJ Mayo made a pair of free throws, the Lakers would have trailed by two possessions, but you know, give Kobe room to win and more often than not, he’s going to.

How many game winners is this? Five? I think something like that. So crazy. It’s even crazier when, I swoon over the 32/7/6 line from Kobe and then go over and check LeBron’s numbers for the season. They are different players with different skill sets and different roles on their teams and I’m still picking Kobe to win the game for me, but I cannot wrap my head around just how good LeBron is on a nightly basis.

Mark Medina of the Lakers Blog at the Los Angeles Times has a great read on Kobe’s late game heroics versus the team’s collective late game collapses and Basket Blog has video of post game interviews with Phil Jackson and Pau Gasol. Andy Kamenetzky at Land O’ Lakers has a good recap of the game that chronicles the Lakers’ sloppy play after the first quarter.

“After a first frame holding the Grizzlies to a sweet 16, L.A. allowed their hosts to double it over the second quarter, then score 33 during the third. That strong defense consistently witnessed during Bryant’s ankle-sprained absence? Non-existent. Ditto the smart play. The Lakers turned the ball over nine times in the third quarter alone and 17 times in all. Well above the team’s average, and even more eye-popping, this mess’ foundation was a first quarter with just two gaffes.

“Everything went haywire, and it wasn’t a matter of Memphis forcing Laker mistakes. They just played badly.

“You can’t defend turnovers,” said PJ after the game. “They’re eventually going to catch up with you. We created our own mismatch in that (third) quarter.”

“That lack of concentration also surfaced at the stripe. After missing just twice in nineteen tries over 36 minutes, veterans became unglued. Pau, 82 percent on the season, missed three attempts during the final frame and Derek Fisher, an 85 percent guy, missed a pair. Inexcusable, and for El Spaniard, additional proof playing in Memphis messes with him. No shot was too big a “bunny” for Gasol this evening.”

3 Shades of Blue has a recap of last night’s game from the Memphis perspective, where Chip Crain declares Kobe as the NBA’s best player.

“Tuesday night began like so many Grizzlies games have begun recently with the team down double digits early. Just like the Miami and New Jersey games the Grizzlies staged a furious comeback to retake the lead late in the game. However this time the Grizzlies couldn’t finish the game nor even make it to overtime. This time the people of Memphis were treated to a show by Kobe Bryant who showed why he is the best player in the game today when the game is on the line.

“Sorry LeBron fans but it is true. Give me LeBron for 3 1/2 quarters but when the game is on the line I want Kobe taking the big shots. Kobe scored the Lakers final nine points to bring the defending World Champions back from certain defeat topped off with a three point shot with the clock running out that was contested and two feet at least behind the three point line.”

Lastly, I leave you with the video of Kobe’s game winner. Phil drew up a gorgeous play, the double-screen, giving Kobe room to hide and shoot behind Gasol using Lamar and Fisher as decoys. The ball reversal created misdirection, making the Grizzlies players make decisions – exactly what you want to do if you have one shot.

-Phillip

[picappgallerysingle id="7001948"]

What a finish.

In what is becoming standard operating procedure in games that the Lakers play against the Grizzlies, this game was a close one that came down to the final possession.  Only, in this game, there wasn’t a Kobe pass and an Artest miss.  It was all Kobe and he left no doubt down the stretch who would be the guy to take the last shot.  And while this game shouldn’t have needed another Kobe game winner (you can add the Grizz to the Heat, Bucks, Kings, and Celtics on the list of teams that have suffered defeat by Kobe daggers in the final seconds), I think we can all agree that we’ll take it.  In a game that saw all the ups and downs and shifts of momentum that drive fans crazy, it was Kobe that saved the day with another batch of heroics.  It never gets old watching #24 in the closing seconds of a tight game.

The game started out with the Lakers taking control early by doing what they’d done in the five games with Kobe out of the line up.  The ball movement was crisp and directed toward the post.  Both Gasol and Bynum got touches early and took advantage of Memphis inside.  Kobe was working the offense to get good looks on mid-range post ups and penetration.  On defense the Lakers were chasing the Grizzlies around screens and contesting shots both on the perimeter and on the inside.  The pressure led to turnovers and fast break chances that the Lakers converted for easy buckets.  Everything was looking good and if the Lakers would have continued with this style of play, they likely would have maintained their eleven point first quarter lead and comfortably won the game.  Alas, it was not meant to be.

In the middle quarters, Memphis once again showed why they are a tough match up for the Lakers.  The combination of versatile scoring from Randolph, savvy and hustle from Marc Gasol, and relentless dribble attack from Rudy Gay got the Grizz back into the game. The Lakers added to Memphis’ success by an utter reluctance to go with what worked early.  Too many rushed offensive sets dictated by dribble penetration.  Too many one-pass-then-jumper offensive possessions.  Too many times the Lakers played a style that was just sloppy, leading to turnovers (17 for the game) and Memphis was more than capable of capitalizing.  By the time the the 3rd quarter ended, the Grizz had a 5 point lead and had seen leads as big as eleven.  But just as the game had turned for Memphis in the middle portions, the Lakers would control the bookends.

In the fourth quarter the Lakers would find their stride again, especially on defense.  Almost every Memphis shot would be challenged and every rebound would be contested.  And slowly but surely the Lakers would come back and make this a game in the final minutes.  Yes there was faltering down the stretch.  The Lakers would miss five consecutive free throws and would see a deficit in the final two minutes would match that miss total.  But in the end, the Lakers would make enough plays to pull out the win.  Scratch that, Kobe would make enough plays to pull out the win.  When the Lakers needed him most, Kobe was there with a long two pointer to cut the lead to 3.  When the deficit was still three, Kobe would nail an even longer three pointer to tie the game as the players at the end of the Grizzlies bench buried their heads in their hands.  Then, after a missed Pau jumper and even more important FT’s missed by OJ Mayo, Kobe would have one last chance to make his mark on this game and make his return even more memorable.  Of a beautifully diagrammed inbounds play (give Phil credit here, he drew up a fantastic play that sprung Kobe clean), Kobe would circle to the extended right wing and find himself wide open.  Much like the game winner against Sacramento earlier this season, Kobe knew exactly what to do with the game on the line with no defender in sight.  In a moment that has become all too familiar for Lakers’ opponents, Kobe rose up and nailed another game winning shot.  The fact that there were  4 seconds left really didn’t matter as OJ Mayo’s shot – a very good look, though over an outstretched Pau Gasol arm – went long.  Ballgame.

As I mentioned earlier, watching Kobe close out games never gets old.  Yes, the team could have played better.  Once again our back up guards played forgettable (their stats were okay, but they had no impact and played outside the system for most of the night).  And we had another game where our three point shooting was sub par.  Plus Artest shot poorly again (though he did play inspired defense in the 4th quarter).  I haven’t even mentioned Bynum being unable to stay out of foul trouble for the entire second half and how he ended the night with only four rebounds.  Nor have I mentioned that Odom played without the energy that he’d displayed over the past two weeks when Kobe was out.   You know why none of that got mentioned?  Kobe made me forget until now.  He’s been doing that a lot this season.  Cherish these moments, Lakers fans.  We’re blessed with watching one of the all-timers make his mark on this league.

[picappgallerysingle id="7779434"]

Records: Lakers 42-14 (1st in the West), Grizzlies 28-27 (tied for 10th in the West, 13.5 games behind Lakers)
Offensive ratings: Lakers 109.0 (9th in NBA), Grizzlies 108.4 (12th in NBA)
Defensive ratings: Lakers 101.9 (2nd in NBA), Grizzlies 109.6 (24th in NBA)
Projected Starting Lineups: Lakers: Derek Fisher, Kobe Bryant, Ron Artest, Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum
Grizzlies: Mike Conley, OJ Mayo, Rudy Gay, Zach Randolph, Marc Gasol

The Lakers Coming in:  As we’ve heard ad nauseum over the past few days (what can we say, slow news days for the Lakers since the Boston game), Kobe will be back tonight in his first action since the Nuggets debacle on February 5th.  That was a quite some time ago.  Over the time that he’s been out the Lakers have performed quite well, but it will be nice to have Bean back.  It will also be interesting to see how Phil handles the rotations with both Sasha and Luke missing tonight’s game.  Will we see heavy minutes for Kobe?  When will Lamar enter the game and for who?  Bynum has been limited in recent practices due to his sore hip, so maybe we’ll see LO for Drew earlier than normal.  A lot of questions tonight as we have our starting group together for the first time in over two weeks.  The good news is, everyone should be well rested coming into the game.  The Lakers haven’t played since Thursday and had an off day on Sunday.  So, with tonight the first game of a back to back, the Lakers should look fresh.  Hopefully, we can say the same thing tomorrow.

The Grizzlies Coming in: Memphis has been struggling to get wins as of late.  With only three wins in their last eleven games, the Grizz have not been playing their best ball and are playing a bit more up and down than they need to in making a push for the post season.  And though some of their losses can be excused due to the quality of their opponents (Cavs, Hawks, Spurs), they’ve also lost to the Hornets (missing CP3), the Rockets (tied with them in the standings), Minnesota, and Miami (missing Wade).  Throw in an uneven performance against the Nets on Sunday (where they were down by 18 at one point), and you’ve got a team that not a lot is going right for at the moment. 

That’s because, besides the losses, there has been even more bad news for the Grizz in recent days.  Trade deadline acquistion Ronnie Brewer is out indefinitely with a torn hamstring.  Brewer, brought in to add some much needed depth on the wing from the Jazz, was supposed to be a key piece to help the Grizz make their push to the playoffs.  Brewer, despite his up and down season so far, is a good player that plays above average defense and could have been a real asset at the end of games if paired with Mayo (with OJ sliding over to the point) and Gay on the wing by allowing those guys to guard the lesser offensive threats on the opposimg team.  Now, with a question mark regarding the timeline of his return, the Grizz will have to go without their newest player and that can be a bit deflating for a team that was on the rise and looking to really make a move in the final 6 weeks of the season.

Grizzlies Blogs3 Shades of Blue is where you need to go for all your Grizzlies info. They’re smart and have skinny on the up and coming Grizz.

Keys to game:  In the last meeting against the Grizz, the Lakers bigs looked tired (coming off a back to back) and not up to the challenge of facing the talented front court of the Grizz.  Randolph went for 22 points and 17 boards while Marc Gasol chipped in a double-double of his own with 11 points to go with 13 rebounds.  You add in an efficient night from Rudy Gay (25 points on 19 shots, with 3 steals) and you had a recipe for a long night. 

Tonight, rest should not be an issue.  The Lakers haven’t played since last Thursday and should be fresh as could be coming in BBQ country.  On offense, they need to get back to basics while incorporating Kobe back into the mix.  In the last outing, Kobe had a very efficient night, but dominated the ball to the tune of 41 combined FG and FT attempts while Pau/Drew/Ron/LO combined for only 42.  Tonight, in Kobe’s first game back the shot allocation needs to be more balanced and our bigs need to be more involved.  That means going into the post early and running our offense.  Let Gasol go to work on whoever is guarding him and create offense for himself and others.  If Marc is on Pau, that means Andrew will have a mismatch against Zach and he should also get ample opportunities to score the ball.  One aspect of post offense I’d like to see more of tonight is the repost by our bigs.  In the last game, Memphis did a good job of pushing our guys off the block and making their catches difficult.  If they try that same technique tonight, our bigs must fight hard to gain position to make the post catches easier.  But if they have to make a catch further out than they’d like, they need to pass back out and repost.  And then our guards must reward them by passing the ball back in to let our guys go to work.  Even against a team like Memphis, our big men have an advantage, it just may take more patience to exploit. 

However, just becasue we should focus on going inside, that does not mean Kobe should not be involved.  Quite the opposite, actually.  I want Kobe to be aggressive, but he should be much more selective with his shots and try to work the offense more to get his looks.  Make Mayo work by running him off of screens and occupy him on defense by working hard off the ball to get open looks.   Kobe has a size advantage over OJ and he should exploit that by doing his work off the ball and making catches going to basket and getting good shots that way.  Also, operate at the elboys in isolation rather than on the extended wing.  As for the rest of our guards, tonight is a game where they must show more discipline than they’ve shown for most of this season and work the ball around in order to get everyone good looks.  The push for the post season is now upon us and there is no better time to start practicing good habbits than tonight.

On defense, the Lakers need to focus on the taking away the strengths that hurt them the last time they faced this team.  That means focusing on Zach in the post and on Mayo/Rudy on the wings and taking away what they want to do.  If you thought Lamar loved to go to his left hand, Zach’s obsession may be even more pronounced.  Zach loves to make his catches in the 15-18 foot range on the right wing where he turns and faces to either shoot his feathery jumper or drive by you because of the respect you must show him on his J.  Pau needs to force Zach to put the ball on the ground to the baseline where Zach will have to either make the skip pass to the opposite corner or try to finish in the paint over our bigs.  Zach is capable of doing this, but he’s less effective in these scenarios than when he’s dictating to you with moves in his comfort zone.  And when Zach is in a straight post up postion, you must stop him from turning over his right shoulder.  Make him drop step and finish by bringing the ball over an extened right hand that’s contesting (which is quite a difficult finish for a lefty).  Stopping Rudy and Mayo is a different task as they are both players that can do it all from the wing.  Both are capable jump shooters and both can attack the basket and are effective both ways.  That said, Mayo is much more comfortable shooting the J from range (8 of his 15 shot attempts per game are from 16 feet and out) and Rudy is much more effective driving the ball (9 of his 16 shot attempts are within 15 feet).  Understand these tendencies and you go a long way in making these guys less effective.

Also understand that Memphis is in the top half of the league in pace (they’re 12th in compared to the Lakers 8th).  Most of this is due to Conley wanting to push the ball while he is in the game.  Conley is much more comfortable in the open court than in their set offense and he will try to attack our guard in the open court when our defense is not set.  Funnel him to his right hand and push him to the sideline at every opportunity.  Along with recognizing what Conley wants to do also understand that unlike against recent opponents, the Grizzlies do not run to the three point line (save Mayo).  Gay, Gasol, and Randolph all want to play close to the basket and will run to the rim.  So in transition D, the Lakers must build a wall in the paint and then recover back to the perimeter when the Grizz pull the ball back out to run their sets.  It should be a good game tonight and the Lakers should have revenge on their mind.

Where you can watch:  5:00pm start here on the West on KCAL locally and on NBA TV nationally.  Also ESPN Radio 710am.

Again, there isn’t too much Lakers’ news this Tuesday morning outside of Kobe definitely playing tonight in Memphis against the Grizzlies. Land O’ Lakers has some post practice interviews from Ron Artest, Phil Jackson and Pau Gasol where they collectively talk about Kobe’s return to the line up, the game against Memphis, and Marc Gasol. And here is the video of Kobe’s post game interview where he discusses the strength of his ankle and integrating himself back into the line up.

Kobe has been on featured in SLAM and GQ recently, and has now received the DIME Magazine cover which chronicles Kobe’s greatness (note: the story starts on Page 62):

“And now, the rest of the man’s legacy is on the line. Is Kobe a Top-10 player of all-time? Top five? We’ve created a glass ceiling wherein nobody can touch Jordan, Russell, Wilt, Magic and Bird – and often but not always, Oscar, Jerry West, Kareem and Doctor J – that Kobe is threatening to shatter. Why not? Kobe has more rings tha Bird and more buckets than Magic; he’s better defensively than West, better offensively than Russell, more clutch than Wilt. His flair for the dramatic is exceeded only by Jordan.

“Still in his prime at 31, Kobe is moving into a transitional period. The mountains left to climb have only older legends at the top, while at his heels are the younger stars gunning for his spot: LeBron, D-Wade, Dwight, B-Roy, Carmelo, Chris Paul. To that extent, he is constantly extended – both stiff-arming the challengers below while reaching for the crown held by his idols above.”

NBA Fanhouse has a sit down interview with the Lakers’ Jeanie Buss where she discusses the state of the NBA, the Lakers, her father and lets us know that she originally voted against bringing in Phil Jackson to coach the Lakers back in 1999. Thank goodness she lost that vote.

The Grizzlies’ 3 Shades of Blue blog has a preview for tonight’s game from the Memphis perspective where Chip Crain breaks down tonight’s game position-by-position.

————————-

Around The League

Much has been said about Zydrunas Ilgauskas returning to the Cleveland Cavaliers after his buyout with the Washington Wizards. Many fans have been upset with the prospect of Cleveland giving up little to nothing to pick up Antwan Jamison in the three-way trade. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the League would not do anything to prevent Big Z’s return to Cleveland if he chooses to do so. There was no prior agreement of Z returning to Cleveland before the trade happened and “Z was paid more than $20mm by Cavs, missing 2 seasons w/ foot injuries. Cavs then gave him $50 million deal with no insurance protection. A potential Z return will upset people but it is within rules and decision relates to a decade-long, deep relationship w/team, fans, city. Only Kobe had a longer tenure with a team. Deal didn’t have to be pre-arranged, always going to be natural b/c of rare circumstances.” (Quote via Brian Windhorst’s twitter.)

A high-ranking NBA source denied a report that the league would prevent Zydrunas Ilgauskas from returning to the Cavaliers if he is bought out by the Washington Wizards.

The source, who requested anonymity because the league typically does not comment on what is essentially a personnel matter, told The Plain Dealer there was no truth to a report from the Los Angeles Times claiming the NBA would try to block Ilgauskas’ return because the deal was previously agreed upon by the teams.

There has been no evidence of any such agreement.

Also, this video of LeBron James’ pregame handshake rituals is hilarious. ‘Bron has A LOT of pre-game handshakes.

Allen Iverson has left the Philadelphia 76ers again to spend time with his ill daughter – the same reason he missed the All-Star Game.

The Celtics Paul Pierce could potentially miss up to a week due to his injured thumb. They would play New York, Cleveland, New Jersey and Detroit in that stretch.

Lastly, Phoenix’s Steve Nash won’t be making the trip to Oklahoma City to rest his ailing back. Nash’s back has been a problem for a long time now, it must be really bad for him to be sitting out a game against a team that they’re a half-game behind in the Western Conference.

-Phillip

[picappgallerysingle id="7626386"]

As we’ve been reading for the past couple of days, all indications point to Kobe returning against Memphis on Tuesday.  Obviously, this is great news for the Lakers as the team is finally getting it’s key players healthy for their late season push into the playoffs.  We all know that Phil Jackson loves to have his team peak at the right time and his goals are always focussed on the big picture of performing the best come May and June and not necessarily January and February.  That said, those preparations for the playoffs do start now (if not already) and eventhough the Lakers will be without Sasha and Luke, the goals will now start to shift towards what this team will look and play like heading into the second season. 

So, now that Kobe is back, what can we expect?  A lot of people have weighed in on what the Lakers were like in his absence, but answering this question is more complex than it appears on the surface.  We all know what Kobe is capable of, but in his absence we’ve also seen a more disciplined and team focussed approach without our best player (which is natural, btw - this has happened to many NBA teams over the years as they miss their best player – look at Houston’s long win streak without Yao two seasons ago for further evidence of the bunker mentality that develops with your top guy out) .  The goal, at this point in the season, should be combining the best of both worlds (Kobe the difference maker + more aggressive and disciplined teammates) with a push towards the ultimate goal.  With that in mind, here are some thoughts on the Lakers offense, defense, and rotations with Kobe back in the fold.  We’ll start in reverse order…

Rotations:  We’ve already covered what missing Luke Walton means to the Lakers rotations.  And now that Sasha is out with his sprained shoulder, we’re likely to see even more shuffling of the lineup to compensate missing roation players.  So, in this regard, the return of Kobe could not come at a better time for a team that suddenly finds itself short on bodies that can play on the wing.  With these injuries, we’re likely to see Kobe resume his role as the primary backup to Artest at SF with him also logging more minutes at his traditional SG spot.  As we’ve discussed in the past, Phil has shown he’s quite comfortable with Kobe playing SF for extended stretches, especially with thet Farmar/Shannon backcourt.  And with Sasha also out (even though he was getting limited minutes on the season), I think we’ll also see more of Kobe in general as Shannon is the only back up SG on the roster and Phil starts to shorten rotations and play the players that he trusts most.

In the end, I think the Lakers will move more towards their most effective lineups and that means more Kobe at either SG or SF.  This may also mean experimentation of lineups that we have rarely seen this season (Shannon as a PG, LO as a SF, Ron as a SG) just because this puts our best players on the floor for more minutes.  At first take, this would surprise me as Phil is rarely one to tinker with lineups in this manner this late in the season.  It would not surprise me if these lineups were worked on in practice, but to impliment them in the games would be a step away from the normal for Phil as he traditionally has liked to build consistency throughout the season with his substitution patterns, minute allocations, and roles within units that are on the floor.  But, Phil has shown (in subtle ways) that he is not afraid to go to the players that work best (Farmar had been closing a lot of games out right before Kobe’s absence) and as the team preps for the playoffs, Phil will get players ready mentally for what he thinks their roles may be.

Defense:  Getting Kobe back is a two sided proposition to the Lakers’ defense.  On the one hand, Kobe is an All-NBA level defender.  He has the ability to slow any wing player in the league and make that player work hard to not only score the ball, but to even receive it.  I’ve often said that Kobe is one of the best players in the league at ball denials and he often does a lot of his best defensive work off the ball.  That leads us to the other side of the defensive coin with Kobe – he’s a tremendous off ball defender that truly does like to gamble and play “free safety” when he’s not the primary-on-ball defender.  This is even more true when the player that Kobe is guarding is not an offensive threat.  So, what getting Kobe back on defense means will be greatly determined by what his mind set is.  Will Kobe be the off the ball gambler whose individual freelancing help tendencies can sometimes comprimise our team help schemes?  Or will Kobe be a more traditional help defender, play his excellent ball denial defense, and exert his doberman mentality when playing on the ball?  I think the answer will probably be in between and vary based off matchups, but this will be something to monitor.

In the end, I think we need to understand that the Lakers have been one of the best two defensive teams (measured by pointer per 100 possessions) all season.  So, even with Kobe playing “center field” on defense, the Lakers have still been quite difficult to score on.  However, as has been noted, the defense has picked up with Kobe out of the line up and I think the coaches will continue to emphasize the Lakers D when Kobe returns.  I do think he’ll buy in to what the team wants and needs, but we’ll see it first hand come tomorrow evening.

Offense:  It is on the offensive side of the ball where we will see the biggest impact from Kobe’s return (pause to let obviousness sink in).  That said, the Lakers’ offense will need to incorporate Kobe in a way that optimizes what the Lakers are capable of on that end of the floor.  This is something that has not always taken place this season as evidenced by the Lakers offensive efficiency this season (hovering around 10th all season which is in direct contrast to the top five ranking of the past two seasons).   Simply put, Kobe is so talented on offense that he really hasn’t needed the intricacies of the Triangle to score his points.  Early in the season when Gasol was out, we saw Kobe in the post a great deal and he was essentially a guard version of Bynum.  He was scoring at an efficient clip, but rarely using the motions and passing opportunities built into the offense to get other players good shots.  Since Gasol has returned, Kobe has vacated the post much more, but has still relied heavily on isolation plays from the wings and P&R’s to get jumpshots or to create driving opportunities.  And because Kobe has the ball in his hands a lot, this has led to an imbalance in shot distribution that has not been slowed because his teammates have not been as agressive in either calling for the ball or forcing the ball movement away from Kobe to better set up the Lakers offense.

In the games that Kobe has been out, we have seen less of this perimeter isolation play from our wings and the fluidity of the offense has looked much better.  Yes, we’ve still seen a bit too much P&R (mostly from Farmar) and we’ve also seen a fair amount of over-dribbling, probing, and settling for jumpshots (mostly from Shannon).  But for the most part, the offense has been run through the post and this has led to better shots within the flow of the Triangle.  However, while this has led to a more aesthetically pleasing offense, it has not been any better at producing a better performing Lakers offense.  As Phillip linked to earlier today, the Lakers offense has struggled in the majority of games that Kobe has been out and moving forward, the Lakers will need to integrate Kobe in a manner where he is both killer and facilitator, primary offensive weapon and decoy that sets others up for easy shots.  The only person that can make this happen is Kobe and it must be a concious decision by #24. 

In order to accomplish this, I’d like to see Kobe operate less as a primary ball handler and much more off the ball.  If this takes place, Kobe will then become a player that will get shots more through the motions of the offense than through his own ability to create a shot.  He can use the weakside screen actions to curl to the ball.  He can set up at the weakside elbow where he has an almost unstoppable jumpshot while also eliminating double team opportunities for the defense (and if the double team does come, he can easily see where it’s coming from and make the appropriate pass – ala the Denver series last year).  Kobe can also use the “blind pig” sequence in the offense where the ball goes into the high post on a flash from the weakside (aka the pressure release) and then the weakside guard (Kobe) cuts to the baseline  where he can either receive a pass from the big on his backdoor cut or he can cut and then post up to get an easy look inside.  Essentially, Kobe can utitlize this offense better and do it in ways that he has been for years under Phil Jackson.

When Kobe does have the ball coming up the court, I’d like to see him call for the P&R less and instead initiate the post entry from the top or pass to the corner to initiate our sets.  As a captain of the team and a 10 year veteran of this offense, Kobe knows this offense inside out.  He also knows that our big men are our most efficient players and that their efficiency is at least partially based on the attention that he draws as a primary focus of the defense.  There is a balance to be struck on offense and over the past few games we’ve seen what the motion should look like, but we have not seen the high level of finishing that is possible.  With Kobe back in the fold, will now be possible again.

In conclusion, Kobe being back will be a tremendous boost to both our offense and our defense.  He will affect the game in positive ways even if he doesn’t play in a manner that fully promotes team play for every minute that he is on the court.  I mean, we will need hero Kobe at least once or twice more this regular season and in the playoffs; he will need to take over a game and that is the benefit of having him on our team.  But, I do think we will see more of a team committed Kobe than at any point we’ve seen this season.  His missed time allowed other players to get comfortable in what they need to do on a nightly basis, allowed Kobe to observe those same things, and also gave Kobe the time to rest up and come back fresh for the stretch run.