After their victory Wednesday night, the currently 8th seeded Los Angeles Lakers traveled from the Twin Cities in Minnesota, to the Bradley Center in Milwuakee, Wisconsin. The Lakers had not won both ends of a back to back matchup all season. It was the same story Thursday night. The Lakers lost Thursday by the same margin that they won on Wednesday–3 points.
In a matchup of 8th placed teams, Kobe Bryant‘s 30 points on the evening were not enough to help the Lakers get the win. Kobe’s points came on a 6-17 shooting performance though. He began this year shooting the most effective percentage he has in years, but it has trended down towards his career 45%. The Lakers success does not seem to be predicated much on Kobe’s point total, or even his efficiency as a scorer. You can’t question the man’s effort since he plays virtually every minute of every game, injured or not.
But Kobe’s attitude has a tremendous influence up and down the Lakers roster and organization. He was right early in the season when he said make no mistake, this is his team. When Kobe missed a few games the Lakers weren’t at their best, but without Kobe the rest of the roster had no choice but to take over and will the team to victory–like Kobe would. This empowered guys like Antawn Jamison and Jodie Meeks who need to be assertive and effective while on the floor. Kobe was both supportive and instructive from the bench.
With Kobe back out on the floor he plays the role of critic in regards to his teammates. He plays the role of hero, to bail the Lakers out of tough spots. But he doesn’t play the role of teammate that well. He alienates his teammates with his amazing play and high expectations. It’s not a crime. But he is not very easy to identify with for most of the Lakers roster. They don’t understand how to play with Kobe Bryant. It’s hardly the Lakers only problem, but those issues in identity manifest themselves in things like team defense, hustle, and rebounding. The Lakers didn’t have a preseason, and they’ve had as much injury problems as anyone in the league, but the Lakers don’t quite get each other. That’s a problem.
Kobe understands the importance of role players, but he doesn’t understand their difficulties and struggles in the context of the team. He just expects what needs to be done to get done. Kobe never had to explain to Brian Shaw how to hit huge 3-pointers in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals against the Portland Trailblazers. He never had to coach Robert Horry how to hit a big shot, or Derek Fisher how to take a charge. Those things happened. Kobe can’t articulate how to accomplish what needs to be done from a physical and mental standpoint. And he doesn’t know how to support them through the process. A chunk of the responsibility would fall on Mitch Kupchak and Jim Buss for not signing the right role players, but Kobe doesn’t understand how they succeed in their roles.
This is Kobe’s team, but neither he nor this group of teammates understand how to be a team yet.
The Lakers only have 9 games remaining in the regular season, but things look to get bad in a hurry before they can get better. Metta World Peace is out with a torn meniscus for at least another month, Steve Nash injured his hip in the game Thursday, and while it is unlikely to keep him out of the game, Kobe has a bone spur in his foot. With Utah and now Dallas in the mix, things are starting to look grim again right before playoff time.
Hubsters, Can You Really Blame Kobe for the Lakers Struggles?