For those who believe the Lakers can win consistently against elite teams without shooting guard Kobe Bryant, sidelined for five games while battling an ankle injury and finger issue, they’re mistaken.
Sure, the Lakers are a strong club even without him, but they’re that much better with the perennial All-Star on the floor, directing traffic, leading the fast break, and taking the last shot in crunch time.
The proof was rendered last Thursday night when Boston invaded the Staples Center. In a shoddy effort by both, the Celtics prevailed, 87-86, behind shooting guard Ray Allen’s game-best 24 points, and point guard Rajon Rondo’s 14 points with 11 assists.
Power forward Pau Gasol’s 22 points topped the Lakers, while small forward Ron Artest added 15 points, center Andrew Bynum tossed in 14 points with nine rebounds, and swingman Lamar Odom had 13 points with 14 boards.
Sure, it was close, but don’t you think the outcome would have been slightly different had Bryant suited up?
The Lakers have won four of five, but Head Coach Phil Jackson and crew are panting for Bryant’s return, which is scheduled for this week.
The Lakers are the defending NBA champions, and own the best record in the Western Conference (42-14). They have the second-best mark behind Cleveland, but were beaten by the Cavaliers twice in their only regular-season meetings.
A four-time NBA champ, Bryant is averaging 28 points, fourth best in the league, along with 5.3 rebounds and 4.6 assists.
Playing in the enormous shadow of one-time Lakers’ center Shaquille O’Neal, who departed after the 2003-2004 season, Bryant has finally developed a well-rounded game.
It took a while, because some in the media and many fans thought Bryant to be arrogant and aloof. In truth, Bryant takes basketball seriously, and only wants to be the best.
Often going unnoticed is Bryant’s good side. Show me an instance when Bryant won’t do an interview, or turn down a sick child’s request.
Bryant is a tireless worker on and off the court, a fierce competitor, and despite the presence of Cleveland power forward LeBron James, is still the NBA’s best overall player.
You’d be silly to select anyone other than Bryant to take the final shot, which he took in the Lakers’ 90-89 win over Boston on Jan. 31.
That’s what great players do, and Bryant, who has averaged 30 points or more three times, with a best of 35.4 in 2005-2006, wants the ball at the end of the game.
But it’s what a player does over his career that sets him apart, and Bryant has shined with a 25.3 scoring average, 83.9 percent at the free-throw line, and 5.3 rebounds with 4.6 assists.
Like Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, and Michael Jordan, it’s always about winning, floor leadership, toughness, and pride.
In so many words, Bryant won’t be denied, something that Jordan, a six-time NBA champ, arguably the best ever, and the one player Bryant is most closely compared with, had as well.
Bryant has been in the league since 1996, and when he recently passed Jerry West for first place on the Lakers’ all-time scoring list, he was humble, which shouldn’t have surprised anyone.
His goal every season is to win an NBA title. The points will come, and so will the accolades, which are plenty.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, and is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a contributor to trufanboxing.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.