Is Kobe going to play? From the Ironic Returns Department, he may come back against the team he suffered the severely sprained ankle against. Kobe practiced with the team Saturday and said afterward he was about 75%. If he doesnâ€™t feel any pain and there isnâ€™t any swelling Sunday, he said he would be ready to go.
Does 75% of Kobe make the Lakers better? Probably on offense â€“ run the triangle through him and it should go more smoothly than when run through Odom, who never played it until a month ago. On defense, Kobe will not be the shut-down perimeter guy he can be, so he shouldnâ€™t be matched up much on LeBron, but the Cavs do not get much of their scoring from their true guards (they count LeBron as a three) so Kobe wouldnâ€™t be a liability.
If Kobe plays Sunday (or Tuesday against the Jazz), he will have to play in the All Star Game Sunday. Frankly, I like the idea of him not playing in that game â€“ especially with a back-to-back right after the break â€“ but Kobeâ€™s not going to play 40+ minutes in Denver and would still get treatment. Itâ€™s not that big a deal.
There are two things the Lakers need to keep doing when Kobe does come back, whether it is against the Cavs or whenever:
1) Keep using Atkins off the pick-and-roll/pick-and-pop. With Kobe running the show before Atkins was largely relegated to the role of spot-up shooter. Heâ€™s shown (as he has previously in his career) that he works better in a high-pick offense where he can penetrate/dish/just shoot. With Kobe on the weak side drawing attention, Atkins may have even more room in these situations.
2) Run more plays for Lamar. In Rudy T.â€™s offense it was All Kobe All The Time. Lamar has shown he can be the focal point of the offense and needs to be given the chance to be so more often.
Kobe or no, the Cavaliers will be a tough test for the Lakers â€“ the Cavs are 18-5 at home this year. When the Lakers beat the Cavs last month, they reversed season trends by grabbing more offensive rebounds (17-11), winning the turnover battle (18-13) and taking more shots than their opponents. They also got to the free throw line 35 times (making 28) compared to Clevelandâ€™s 16.
The Lakers also held down the guys with the second and third best PERs on the team â€‘ Drew Gooden (20.54 PER) scored just 8 and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (18.83) added just 13. The Lakers will have to repeat that type of defensive performance to get a win.
Cleveland has the seventh best defensive efficiency rating in the league at 100.4 points per 100 possessions. (For the record, the Lakers remain 22nd at 104.5.)
The Laker game is scheduled to start at 12:30 on ABC, or after the end of the NBA Finals preview in the morning. Kobe, finding a way to get back in time for the nationally televised game, that sounds just like the dramatic kind of thing heâ€™s done for years.