The ubiquitous and seemingly insurmountable 3.5 games between the Lakers and the 8th seed in the playoffs now stands at 2.5, thanks to a second-straight outstanding performance by Kobe Bryant. His 38-point retort inched his squad closer to the post season, and silenced Mark Cuban’s club, following his advice that the Lakers could avoid tax issues by using their amnesty clause on the Mamba. Back pedaling all day, assuring the media and the world that his comments were “hypothetical,” and he isn’t a complete loon, Cubes retraction didn’t come soon enough.
Kobe shot 13-21 from the field, even rectifying his recent 3-point drought with a 4-5 effort from behind the arc. The Lakers combined for 13-25 from 3 to join the celebration. Bryant also chipped in 7 dimes and 12 boards, including two huge defensive rebounds off of late Mavericks’ three-point attempts to tie. His rebounds allowed the Lakers’ second-best free throw shooter to ice the game at the line. Not to be outdone, Nash stepped up in the city where his NBA legend began and poured in a season-high 20 points, also on 4-5 from three. His contribution, as well as continued solid play from the bench triumvirate of Blake, Meeks, and Jamison, filled the void of Dwight’s foul plagued evening.
Dirk looked like Nash’s old teammate as he jumped in the way back machine as well and led his squad with 30 points and 13 rebounds. Despite only registering a single point, an important FT that stretched the lead to 3 with 16.8 to go, Metta World Peace bothered Dirk in the 4th and slowed him just enough. He challenged a fall away that led to a technical on Dirk for complaining to the ref. Although the replay showed Metta tapped Dirk on the arm, his physical play frustrated Nowitzki enough to stop him from punctuating his best performance of the season with a W.
That job was left to Kobe and his backcourt mate. 14 of his 38 came in a back and fourth 4th quarter featuring 8 lead changes as each team matched clutch bucket after bucket. Nash scored 13 of his 20 in the second half. His 3-point dagger off of Kobe’s 7th assist with 1:44 to go increased the lead to 4, following an OJ Mayo 3 that closed to gap to 1. Nash recovered from an awful 2-11 night against the Blazers and reminded the Dallas crowd of the days of Nash to Nowitzki.
This was the chemistry Dr. Buss envisioned when he green lit the trade for Steve to join Kobe in purple and gold, a pair of clutch veterans taking turns hitting huge shots to catapult their team into the playoffs. As they have navigated the choppy waters of this season, taking turns as either facilitator or shooting guard, they struggled to discover a common ground for their respective abilities. Both need the ball in their hands to operate at their peak efficiency.
Following three-straight wins after the Al Star Break, it seems like they are finding a comfort level together. Their ever increasing momentum represents a dynamic that could spell danger for the top tier teams in the West, as their potential to compete in the first round continues its steady growth.