LOS ANGELES — Without question, the 2012-13 season is one of the worst in the history of pro basketball’s marquee franchise. But no matter what kind of hole the Lakers dig for themselves, you can’t ever count them out of a game because of a grizzled youngster named Kobe Bryant.
Yes, Bryant is in his 17th pro season at age 34, but he’s playing every bit as superbly as he did at age 21. Game after game he does whatever is necessary to keep the Lakers from becoming an embarrassment, and the last two wins are indisputable examples Kobe’s greatness.
After scoring 42 points Wednesday night in New Orleans to lead the Lakers back from a 25-point deficit to beat the Hornets, Bryant bombarded the Toronto Raptors with 41 points — 15 in the fourth quarter — to give L.A. a 118-116 overtime win at Staples Center.
The victory moved the Lakers to one game over .500 at 32-31, just the second time this year they’ve gone above the break-even point, and the first time since coach Mike D’Antoni’s debut on November 20.
Bryant also had 12 assists for the second game in a row, but hurt the Laker cause a bit with nine turnovers. He said that gave him even more incentive than normal to try and lead the Lakers to a victory.
“I was completely irresponsible with the basketball all night long,” Bryant said with a sigh. “I wanted to get into a position where I could somewhat redeem myself.”
Redemption came in the form of two spectacular three-pointers in the last 29 seconds of regulation that sent the game into overtime, where he added four points, including a driving dunk with 10 seconds left to seal the win for the Lakers.
Dwight Howard backed up Bryant’s effort with 24 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks, and said that despite the nail-biting tension, come-from-behind wins like that are a lot of fun to play in.
“They are great fun to play in,” said Howard, who immediately added that they’re really only fun if you win them. “These kinds of wins are good for our team as we continue to try and get better.
“We stuck together, made some plays and Kobe hit some tough shots at the end. He’s putting everything he’s got into it and we’re doing our best to help him out.”
Even if it takes mighty runs at the end of games to squeeze out victories that should have been much easier.
D’Antoni is certainly not taking a “hey we won and that’s all that matters” approach, saying the Lakers have to give a better effort from tip-off until the final buzzer if they want to have any hopes of making the playoffs and possibly advancing.
“We come out playing like we’re seeing if we can win without exerting ourselves,” D’Antoni said disgustedly. “Then, when that doesn’t happen, they turn it into high gear.
“We’ve got to have more intensity coming out of the gate, especially defensively.
“The first five minutes tonight were just bad, and when we play like that, we’re risking (a loss). We have to change our mentality.”
Because as great as he is, even Kobe Bryant can’t bail you out every night.
1. Games like the ones Friday night are great confidence boosters for the fans, but players know the real story about what’s going on with their team. And while nobody will say it on the record, the fact is that the Lakers just aren’t anything more than a mediocre basketball team with four future Hall of Famers and an enormous payroll. Despite a nice run of 15 wins in 23 games, they still haven’t had that huge, confidence-building victory that could propel them into the playoffs with a legitimate shot at an NBA title. With the huge comeback win over New Orleans Wednesday, you’d think something like that would spark them to give maximum effort for 48 minutes — or more. For some reason, however, it doesn’t resonate with this Laker team.
2. It’s easy to blame the coach for the team’s shortcomings — that’s why most get fired if their squad consistently underachieves when surrounded by high expectations. Most of the time that’s an easy way out for management when it needs a scapegoat for a bad year, but in the Lakers’ case, blaming the coach is not only easy — it’s correct. Not to play amateur psychologist here, but it’s obvious that D’Antoni hasn’t found a way to get through to his players and convince them to play with heart and determination every time they step on the floor for practice or a game. From what I’ve seen, there’s no reason to think it’s ever going to happen. Only an unlikely run to a championship will give D’Antoni and his staff job security once this season ends.
3. Sometimes D’Antoni is his own worst enemy when he opens his mouth. Recently, he’s been talking about how great Pau Gasol had been playing before tearing the plantar fascia, and how big of a role the Spaniard will have when he returns in a few weeks. Excuse me, Mike: Isn’t this the same guy you were belittling not long after you took over from Mike Brown? The same Gasol you said was kept on the bench late in a game because “I wanted to win the game. That’s the reason.” Now he’s making Gasol sound like a purple and gold savior. And don’t think that Gasol’s teammates haven’t noticed the inconsistent treatment the popular 7-footer has received ever since D’Antoni was hired.