Enjoy the show (cont.)
Posted: Monday March 26, 2007 4:05PM; Updated: Monday March 26, 2007 10:49PM
That's the way he's been playing the last few weeks, and the other Lakers seem to have accepted that this was Kobe's destiny all along. Veteran NBA players can develop a certain veneer with the media, answering questions with little candor or expression. But when I asked Lakers center Andrew Bynum, the youngest player in the NBA, what it was like to play with Kobe, Bynum's face lit up. "Dude is so nasty on the basketball court!" Bynum enthused. "Playing with him, anything he does makes it easier on me. If he cuts by me, my guy almost always goes with him, which gives me openings on the court."
And to Kobe's credit, he's been finding the open guys when he's double-teamed. Well, usually. Then again, if I were Kobe, with some of these teammates, I'd be jacking the ball up, too. Kwame Brown is almost equally as entertaining to watch as Kobe, but for far more nefarious reasons. Brown must lead the league in forcing refs to choose between calling an offensive foul or a turnover. I'm not sure if it's ever been explained to Brown in such explicit terms, but the goal is to catch the basketball when it comes into your personal space, not bat it about aimlessly.
Phil Jackson referred to reserve forward Vlad Radmanovic as a "space cadet." That was a few weeks before Radmanovic separated his shoulder while snowboarding over the All-Star Break. Lamar Odom seems to drift in and out of games. Walton is probably their most solid player right now, other than Kobe. Never in his life was Brian Cook's return from an injury so eagerly awaited.
The more I watch the Lakers, the more I'm reminded that they're sort of a franchise adrift at the moment, not good enough to contend for a title but fitted with young players (like Bynum) who will be great a few years from now. In the meantime, until the Lakers are able to recover their royal lineage, there's Kobe, endlessly driving to the rim and firing up three-pointers.
During the game tonight, Kobe started out on fire, scoring nine points in the first three minutes, but then settled down and didn't look to force things in the fourth quarter. The Lakers won, but Kobe's streak of consecutive 50-point games ended at four games. Tonight, alas, he only scored 43 points. Again, he only scored 43. That's 268 points in his last five games, an average of just 53.6 points per game over the span.
Why shouldn't we root for Kobe to score, score and score? He may not play basketball the way Larry Brown would want him to, but he could morph into Magic Johnson and it still wouldn't help Kwame catch a pass. Right now, we're witnessing a prolonged show of dominance from Kobe Bryant, the likes of which we haven't seen in the NBA in a long time.
At least since that O'Neal guy was in L.A.
Lang Whitaker is the executive editor of SLAM magazine and writes daily at SLAMonline.com.