On a stacked Holiday NBA schedule, the Los Angeles Lakers topped off Christmas lists everywhere in the city of Angeles as they defeated the New York Knicks with a 100-94 victory led by Kobe Bryant’s 34 points.
Christmas in Los Angeles guarantees its constituents two facts every year, the Lakers will be televised nationally and traffic on the streets will transfer over to Starbucks drive-thru’s because seasonal drinks are back in town. While the return of Steve Nash is as refreshing as a Peppermint Mocha Frappacino, the real boost came from Kobe Bryant as he became the all-time leading scorer on Christmas Day with 383 points, surpassing Oscar Robertson. Bryant’s 1 assist in 43 minutes would normally be a bit concerning, but Nash’s presence and his 11 assists alleviated some of the pressure Bryant may have felt to share the ball, regardless of the sharing holiday spirit.
With the exception of Darius Morris – a phrase that may become as consistent as free-throw attempts for Dwight Howard – the Laker starters finally displayed a glimpse as to what they are capable of accomplishing when there is a general on the court taking charge of the point-guard position. Paul Gasol finished with 13 points and 6 assists, certainly illustrating the contagiousness of Nash and his ball-sharing. Dwight Howard contributed a quiet 14 points, 12 rebounds but also an invaluable 6 for 9 shooting from the free-throw line. Needless to say, although not a starter, Metta World Peace continues to state his case as the NBA’s most valuable anomaly as he scored 20 points on 3 for 6 shooting behind the arc while also fouling out after 39 minutes of play. While not as welcoming as the Brady Bunch, between Bryant’s “death stares” and Metta’s elbows, this Laker bunch is beginning to offer a unique blend of diversity when it comes to being competitive against better teams.
The current elitism of the New York Knicks – which soon may have to become the New York Carmelo’s if his dominance continues – and the fact that the Lakers were able to brace and push through a 34 point effort by Anthony and a 25 point burst from J.R. Smith gives this win much more substance than previous victories.
It should be noted that the success of the Knicks primarily fall on the shoulders of Anthony – whose all orange uniform tribute to his alma mater may have been disguised as an NBA Holiday-themed uniform but in fact was the smoothest compliment given to coach Jim Boeheim and his recent accomplishment of 900 wins – as well as the 3-point shooting efficiency of New York overall. While unable to contain Anthony, the Lakers did take advantage of New York only sinking 9 out of 26 shots from behind the 3 point marker.
Now that the Los Angeles Lakers appear to have all their acquired pieces in place, D’Antoni and Nash reunited on the hardwood while Howard absorbs both of their offensive guidance, and their foundational players in Gasol and Bryant taking steps toward recovering in health, we are entering the much anticipated stretch of games that will afford Laker fans and “Haters” the ability to judge comprehensively whether or not this team can contend for a title. While the current 5-game win streak against both elite and subpar teams may not be enough to keep Rihanna and Chris Brown in their bench-side seats until the final siren, teams around the NBA will take these wins into account or risk becoming part of the streak. The nascency of the season still allows for some tweaks in the starting line-ups as well as opportunities for new acquisitions to shine, but the 14-14 record currently held by the Lakers place a much larger sense of urgency to win rather than improve.