What We’ve Learned Without Kobe

For the first time this season the Lakers have strung together impressive victories over legitimate playoff teams. What’s most surprising isn’t that the Lakers are winning without Kobe, but the ease with which it’s happening. Beating Portland, San Antonio, and Utah without Kobe is impressive, but accomplishing that feat by an average of 14-points pretty incredible.

With the victories piling up and Kobe on the bench, some whispers started floating around town that the Lakers are actually a better team without Kobe Bryant. I’m sorry folks, but that’s just not an argument I’m willing to entertain. The Lakers are simply not a better team without Kobe Bryant. This is a fact, arguing that point is senseless.

I will acknowledge that the Lakers are playing better since Kobe sat out. In the past five games, the Lakers held their opponents to 86.5 ppg on 42% shooting (major improvements over their season averages). This shift in defensive focus certainly has to do with utilizing five healthy defenders (Kobe was visibly limited on defense), but we can’t discount the psychology behind this fact: when guys get more touches on offense, they try a little harder on defense.

Perhaps sitting Kobe down was a blessing in disguise, seeing as their tidy 4-1 record without him has the team playing consistently well for the first time in months. Let’s not jump to conclusions and declare the team is better without Kobe Bryant. The Blazers, Spurs and Jazz are all good teams, but only Utah had a winning record over the last few weeks. They weren’t exactly playing the ’96 Bulls here.

After starting 3-0, (surprise!) the Kobe-less Lakers started to show signs of weakness. They needed the Warriors to miss 10 of their last 12 shots to secure a victory Tuesday night, and they completely disappeared after Bynum’s dunk put the Lakers up 84-80 with 7:13 left against Boston. The Lakers lost 87-86, coming up dry 10 of their final 11 possessions. It’s not like the Celtics were lighting it up either, one or two buckets would have been the difference in the game.

Next: You think a certain someone was missed down the stretch?
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