A balanced attack from Bryant is better than becoming a scoring machine. Photo Credit: Keith Allison, Flickr.com
The Los Angeles Lakers are really stinging after their 103-100 loss to the Washington Wizards on Friday, March 22. They were outscored by 19 in the second half and even though in the grand scheme of things the loss didn’t damage them (they’re still 1.5 games ahead of the No. 9 Utah Jazz), Mike D’Antoni’s outburst showed that the end is near.
D’Antoni is pretty good at making snarky comments in the media. He’s always good for a sarcastic sound bite when things aren’t going the Lakers’ way. Last night, he took it to another level with these quotes (courtesy of Dave McMenamin, ESPNLosAngeles.com:
"“This is a good team that just for whatever reason can’t collectively mentally get stimulated to [play hard] every time. I told them today, we put our hands in [the huddle], and you guys have probably seen it, we say ‘Championship,’ and go out [on the floor]. That’s laughable. Championship? You got to be kidding me. Nobody understands the importance of every possession offensively and defensively. Every time they got to come out with some kind of determination to be a good basketball team, and [until] then, we’re just, we’re fooling ourselves. Right now, that’s what we’re doing. We’re just making a ‘sham-mockery’ out of it.”"
Coach D’Antoni hit the nail right on the head. The Lakers are full of hubris and aren’t mentally checked in to every game. Based on their physical talents, they can hold their own with any team in the league. For crying out loud, Kobe Bryant, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol will all likely make the Hall of Fame.
However, last night was a prime example of the team losing their focus late in the game. Through the first three quarters, the Lakers were dominating the paint on the shoulders of Dwight Howard. He had 20 points and 12 rebounds through the first three quarters, then didn’t even take a shot in the fourth quarter.
In fact, it really did turn into “Kobe” time in the fourth quarter, as he took the Lakers’ last seven shots of the game. From the time that Metta World Peace made a 3-pointer to give the Lakers a 92-91 lead with 4:24 remaining, no other Laker took a shot.
The Lakers have shown that with this team, they’re better off spreading the ball around. Is Bryant one of the best players in NBA history? Yes. Should he be taking 20-plus shots per game instead of acting more as a facilitator? No.
Bryant proved that he can facilitate AND score. When Bryant has seven or more assists in a game, the Lakers are 18-9. When Bryant shoots more than 20 times, the Lakers are 14-24. When he combines to take less than 20 shots with more than seven assists? They’re a sparkling 13-5, with the notable exception being last night against the Wizards.
Words of wisdom, indeed. The Lakers need to do their best to forget about all the negativity and focus on getting better, but doesn’t that take the same kind of mental toughness that D’Antoni is questioning?
If Bryant and the Lakers can find that balance on a regular basis, they can win the NBA championship. Unfortunately as D’Antoni said, they just don’t seem to have that mental sharpness and focus they need to accomplish it.