It's no secret that it's been a roller coaster season thus far for the Lakers, with a lot more downs than ups.
There were plenty of legitimate excuses for the Laker faithful at the beginning. First, it was battling through getting a new coach. Then, it was Steve Nash going down with injury. There was also Pau Gasol missing several games and not fitting into the system the time he actually was able to see the court. Dwight Howard not being 100% and missing free throws. Kobe Bryant shooting too much.
|Photo by: Tom Szczerbowski|
There have been various moments in the season when things were starting to look up for the Purple & Gold. Fans regained optimism. The Lake Show seemed to have figured it out.
But what goes up, must come down. And it didn't take long for Los Angeles to end up right back at square one, because the ceiling they've reached this season hasn't been all that high to begin with.
They had a season-high 5-game winning streak in December, but have only won 3 or more consecutive games twice. Shortly after, they went on a season-high 6-game losing streak, and have lost 3 or more consecutive games four times throughout the season.
Fingers have been pointed and tension has been high in the Lakers locker room all season long, but it appears that a team meeting prior to last Wednesday's loss to Memphis could have given the team the spark it needed.
It might sound absurd since the Lakers followed up the team meeting with a 13-point loss to the Grizzlies, but the ripples of that closed-doors meeting reach far beyond just that night. Los Angeles bounced back with an 18-point romping of the Jazz, and a 9-point defeat of the Thunder, which is easily their best win of the season.
The main take-aways from both those games was that Kobe shot a combined 68.2% from the field, averaging only 11 shots per contest and 17.5 points per game. More importantly, he averaged 9 rebounds and 14 assists.
Yes, that means KB24 racked up more assists than shots in back-to-back games.
Bryant has been criticized throughout his career for shooting way more than passing. He often gets called a "ball hog" for not sharing the rock, and while the stats might show that Kobe indeed shoots an awful lot of the time, I would say that the number of shot attempts he takes doesn't always tell the whole story.
The only reason why Kobe doesn't average as many assists as LeBron James, for instance, is because, unlike LBJ's teammates, Bryant's don't hit their shots. Nobody steps up offensively, so Kobe has to carry the load.
In those 2 games that the Black Mamba recorded double-digit assists, the rest of the team shot a combined 52.3% from the field. His teammates averaged only 44.9% from the field prior to that.
This just goes to show that when others are knocking down shots, Kobe has no problem sharing the ball. In turn, it also allows Bryant to be more efficient, take much smarter shots, and save his legs for defensive or rebounding purposes. Hence, the ridiculous 68.2 field goal percentage and 9 rebounds he averaged.
Exactly what was said in last week's meeting is unknown, but I can take an estimated guess as to what it was.
Reports have surfaced of Dwight and Kobe clashing yet again. According to the Los Angeles Times, Bryant was straightforward and asked Howard if he had a problem playing alongside him. And since Dwight has never been confrontational, he of course didn't really answer the question. It was also reported that he recently complained about his shot attempts during a game, and when Kobe was made aware of it, Dwight wouldn't admit to him that he complained.
So I'm sure in that "clear the air" meeting that Kobe shooting the ball too much once again must have come up, and in part, he made it known to others that they needed to be aggressive and take some more shots. As a result, Pau Gasol has looked for his shot more in his new role off the bench, and Metta World Peace had the most shot attempts in both games.
This is the winning formula for this Lakers roster, and if they continue to build off this momentum, I like the team's chances to get back on track and make a strong playoff push.
Everyone should know their roles by now. It's up to the team to put forth the effort, not just one man.
The 7-game road trip coming up will make or break the Lakers. If they come out on top after that long stretch, their season should be salvageable. But if they limp into the All-Star break at well under .500, it might be time to wave the white flag.
Simply put, it's do or die time for the Purple & Gold.