By Craig Kwasniewski
Kobe Bryant played by far his best game of the season as he passed out 11 assists to lead the Lakers to a 116-99 win over Denver on Monday night. 11 dimes by a reputed ball hog. 11 dishes to remind us just how good Kobe's potential can be (and 11 dishes to remind us about that unfulfilled potential, as when he took 44 shots along with 2 assists just 7 days ago against Seattle). Anyway, here's a few thoughts on Kobe's exceptional game and other things from what I saw high up in Section 316:
Jackson's key adjustment and Kobe's willingness to follow it: Many critics of Phil Jackson accuse the coach of not being a coach but more of a motivator/psychologist and his success is byproduct of the talent in front of him and not because of his of his X's and O's ability. Tonight he made a key adjustment that changed the Lakers from the stagnant offense of the past three games to the fluid, excellent passing and high scoring machine tonight. And it was a very simple move: post Kobe Bryant up.
The Lakers have many jump shooters who are limited in their ability to create their own shot. The Triangle offense is perfect for them. Motion, spacing and passing creates spots on the floor for wide open jumpers, but it also helps that the defense is keyed in on a serious low post threat. THAT has been the key when Bynum was playing big minutes. The likes of Farmar, Fisher, Radmanovic, Walton, Vujacic and Coby Karl were getting wide open looks and hitting those shots as defenses worried about Bynum's inside game. Against Memphis, Seattle and Phoenix, the Lakers lacked the low post threat to spread the defense out and they ended up looking for Kobe to bail them out.
So Phil went to his second best post option and guaranteed double-team threat in Kobe and posted him up throughout the game. So as the Nuggets doubled Kobe, he directed the offense from the post and found the open man on quick cuts to the hoop or for spot up jumpers. And when Denver stopped doubling Kobe (as they did for a few possessions in the second quarter)... well Kobe simply went "1998 Jordan" on them and got easy points in the post. Obviously the key to the win was for Kobe Bryant to buy into PJ's adjustment and trust his teammates. It's games like this where Kobe Bryant really shows just how much of an overall talent he is. Some of the passes were straight up off tha hook (especially a sweet behind-the-back pass to Ronnie Turiaf with the shot clock expiring seen here in the photo).
Of course, Kobe can easily turn back into "selfish Kobe" and jack up 35 shots on Wednesday against San Antonio. This is what can be so frustrating for me as a basketball purist. Sure Kobe can win a lot of games on his own, but the Lakers are a far better overall team when the ball is shared, as in tonight's game.
Let's not forget that Melo went down in the first half: Carmelo Anthony landed on Kobe's foot and sprained his ankle in the 2nd quarter. Melo was on fire at that point, feasting off the dead carcass known as Luke Walton (who's 3 more shitty games from losing the rights to the last name of Walton). You never know if the Lakers would have won this one if Melo continued to stay hot all night. Instead, they depended on Marcus Camby in the second half, who almost rallied the Nuggets back while being guarded by Kwame Brown's corpse (he can still keep the last name no matter how many shitty games... and there will be many of them).
Luke Walton on defense.... OLE!
Fisher/Farmar combined for an audacious 47 points: Look, the Lakers aren't going to get this kind of production from their point guard spot probably ever again. But this is the type of effort they'll need to carry them through the injuries. The key is that Jackson's able to maintain normal minutes for the players he has left. Last season as injuries started to add up, the healthy players simply broke down by the end of the season. So expect a lot of minutes for Crittenton, Turiaf and Vujacic just to keep the starters' minutes normal.
DJ Mbenga (clock-clock-clock) makes an appearance: Here's the thing about the Mbenga signing: at least the Lakers did something. Last year, with players falling left and right, the Lakers went George Bush and "stayed the course." So the team got mired in losing streaks and a once-promising season ended abruptly. So Mbenga's not Chris Webber... but at least it shows that Mitch Kupchak is working at his desk as opposed to sitting in a fetal position on the floor screaming questions at a 1985 head shot of Jerry West. Mbenga can play defense and rebound, which is all they need in case Brown or Turiaf gets injured... not great, bet it's better than nothing.
We Want Tacos: The Lakers have a promotion where a free taco coupon is given to all in attendance if the Lakers win AND hold their opponent to 99 points or less. This opens the door to "We Want Tacos" chants in place of "Let's Go Lakers!" The fans are at a near playoff level frenzy screaming for the Lakers scrubs to play defense. It's the funniest thing ever! And trust me, Linas Kleiza tried to put the Nuggets over 99 points but couldn't pull it off. Tacos for everyone!!!!!
I got tacos!