From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen & Roll: With the playoffs approaching, and the Los Angeles Lakers looking more and more likely to be an active participant after all, sportswriters the world over will soon be attempting to distill all the complexities of a match-up between two teams and 16-20 players into just a few paragraphs. One of the most used gimmicks is to define an X-factor for each team, the guy who isn’t a star, yet still holds the power to make or break his squad’s chances. The choices for this often feel shoehorned, because while the gimmick can be accurate, it often fails in its application to all situations. If, however, the Lakers do sneak in to the back end of the Western Conference playoffs, no shoehorning will be required, because the Lakers have one hell of an X-factor.
From Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Los Angeles: But no, the Lakers are not a better team without Bryant. They are a better team now because they’ve learned how to cope with adversity throughout this star-crossed season. They are a better team now because that adversity seems to have brought them closer together, instead of ripping them apart. They are a better team now because it finally got so embarrassing and humbling, they flat out had to change. “We’re just not making any excuses,” said Jamison, who finished with a game-high 27 points Sunday. “I think once we finally had our back up against the wall and people were counting us out, that’s when we kind of went, ‘OK, we’ve got to start playing better.’ There’s no excuse for us not to turn this thing around and make it one of the best stories in sports.’” They also looked around the room and realized that even without Bryant and Pau Gasol, they had more talent still standing and playing than most of the NBA.
From Kevin Ding, OC Register: Kobe Bryant sat out because of his ankle sprain, opening the door for Dwight Howard to lead the Lakers for the first time. And Howard knew to lead his way instead of trying to lead Bryant’s way. Howard stuck to defense and rebounding principles that have keyed the Lakers’ late-season surge and didn’t try to overdo his individual offense to fill Bryant’s void. The result was a nice team victory Sunday night over the Sacramento Kings, 113-102. The 36-32 Lakers are four games better than .500 for the first time this season. “For me,” Howard said afterward, “it starts on defense.” Bryant didn’t even appear on the bench during the game to do any coaching, but reserves Antawn Jamison (27 points, nine rebounds) and Steve Blake (16 points, eight assists, five rebounds) converted the additional opportunities they got without Bryant and with good Lakers ball movement.
From Eric Pincus, LA Times: The Lakers defended their home court on Sunday night despite playing without Kobe Bryant, defeating the Sacramento Kings, 113-102. In one of his best games of the season, reserve forward Antawn Jamison scored a game-high 27 points and had nine rebounds for the Lakers, who used a seven-man rotation. Metta World Peace added 22 points for the Lakers, who shot 56.9% from the field. Both Dwight Howard and Steve Nash notched a double-double; Howard finishing with 12 points and 17 rebounds and Nash contributing 19 points and 12 assists. The Kings, playing without center DeMarcus Cousins, went on a 10-0 run in the fourth quarter to close the deficit to two points, 90-88. The Lakers immediately responded with 12 unanswered points to re-establish a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
From Dave McMenamin, ESPN LA: Injuries have been the story of the Los Angeles Lakers’ season as much as anything, from Dwight Howard’s back and shoulder to Pau Gasol’s knees and foot to Jordan Hill’s hip, Steve Nash’s leg, Steve Blake’s groin and now Kobe Bryant’s ankle. And there was another injury that went unreported and hampered L.A., as well. After scoring 22 points on 10-for-13 shooting against the Sacramento Kings on Sunday, Metta World Peace revealed he had been playing through a right leg injury for more than two months. “I popped something in my fibula, but it didn’t tear,” World Peace said, saying he suffered the injury when the Lakers hosted the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 11. World Peace said he took a charge on San Antonio’s Tiago Splitter on Jan. 9 and got kneed in the pelvic region, which led to the leg injury in his next game. “Messed up my alignment,” World Peace said. “Most injuries come from when your pelvis is not aligned. People don’t know that.” The injury, combined with an injury to his right arm around the same time that made it difficult to bend his elbow, prevented him from doing his normal in-season weight lifting routine.
From Kurt Helin, Pro Basketball Talk: Kobe Bryant tried to play on his sprained ankle Friday night, because he’s Kobe. But that led to 12 minutes of playing, 0-4 shooting as he had no elevation or separation from defenders, and then the next morning his ankle was worse. So he sat out Sunday night, a Lakers win over the Kings at home. And he’s not likely to suit up Monday night when the Lakers are in Phoenix, reports Kevin Ding at the Orange County Register.