Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Lakers--Bryant vs. Bynum

The big question in Los Angeles now has nothing to do with the shock waves caused by the Kings beating Vancouver in Vancouver or the Clippers silencing the Thunder in Oklahoma City or even the UCLA basketball team signing the best high school player in the country, Shabazz Muhammad. No, the big question involves the Lakers, who stomped the heavily favored San Antonio Spurs in San Antonio with ailing superstar Kobe Bryant on the bench--a game the Lakers seemingly had no chance to win.

The question is this--what now? This is the same team that, a few days ago, barely escaped an embarrassing loss to pathetic, undermanned New Orleans. So suddenly they rise up and crush a San Antonio team playing the best ball in the NBA. The big difference is that, against the Spurs, center Andrew Bynum turned into King Kong, crushing the opposition, while picking off 30 boards, the most by a Laker since Kareem took down 34 back in the 70s. The other shock is that 32-year-old World Peace played like he was 22, hitting 10 out of 15 shots, racking up 26 points, giving the team a sorely missed scoring threat threat at small forward.

So where do the Lakers go from here? When Kobe comes back, does the team, which flexed its muscles without him, submissively allow him to become the ball hog again, while he shoots, as usual, in the low 40% range?

The San Antonio game set the bar very high for the Lakers. With this towering performance, they've backed themselves into a corner. Clearly, when they want to be, they can be monsters. The big question, of course, is why can't they play this way all the time?

This is what's clear. On offense, Bryant, when he returns, should take fewer shots. When his teammates have a chance to establish some offensive rhythm, they can, as they proved in San Antonio, be effective. When Bynum is the No.1 scoring option, he plays with more energy and passion. But none of this can happen unless Bryant backs off and allows for a redistribution of offensive power.

The San Antonio game showed what can happen if the Lakers were Bynum's team. But the big center is unpredictable and capable of selfish, childish behavior. One thing is sure, Bynum is finally challenging Kobe.
That's the message from his San Antonio effort.

So the Lakers have spun into a state of flux. Bynum's team or Kobe team? Will they play like the lions or lambs?  It's the NBA's most fascinating saga.

The San Antonio games set the bar