The Clippers and Warriors are trying – with opposite results – to manufacture a roll heading into the playoffs, while the Lakers are scrambling just to qualify. Meanwhile, the Kings are simply trying to figure out where they will lay their heads next season.
It’s always dramatic on the left coast, and this upcoming week should prove no exception. Here’s a look at what’s shaking.
On Feb. 24 in Dallas, Kobe Bryant dropped 38 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists on the Mavericks after Mark Cuban suggested the Lakers might be better off using their amnesty clause on the future Hall of Famer. Cuban was speaking more in hypotheticals, but that sort of subtlety isn’t really of interest to Bryant.
“Amnesty THAT,” Bryant tweeted after the game.
On Tuesday at Staples, the stakes were higher. The Mavericks played to preserve their playoff lives, while the Lakers tried to stay in touch with Utah in the chase for eighth in the Western Conference. Bryant again went off, posting 23 points, 11 assists and 11 rebounds, plus four steals and two blocked shots.
Call it “Amnesty THAT 2.o.”
Bryant turned in one of his most complete performances of the season but had plenty of company as the Lakers effectively ended Dallas’ season with a 101-81 win. Dwight Howard went for 24 and 12, Pau Gasol 14, 10 and six assists and Earl Clark 17 and 12 with five blocks.
But as always, it’s Bryant who ultimately decides how the Lakers operate on any given night. He had 14 assists Saturday night in Sacramento as the Lakers overcame a horrendous first quarter to pick up the win. Even more important, Bryant (who played nearly all 48 minutes in both games) took care of the ball. Only five turnovers between the two games despite the heavy workload.
The healthy combination of ball care and distribution allows the Lakers to play far more defensive possessions in the half court, where their lack of athleticism isn’t as large a liability and Howard can dominate a game, blowing up pick-and-rolls and playing aggressively in the paint. Against the Kings, the Lakers allowed only 61 points over the final three quarters, and Dallas didn’t score more than 21 in any single frame.
The Lakers were absolutely torched in their first two games following (let’s be honest, here) a season-ending injury to Metta World Peace, but rebounded nicely in the next pair. It helps to have Gasol getting back in shape, giving the Lakers a badly needed big body to shoot over, and that Bryant put in more effort into rotations and help Tuesday than he has in a while. The Lakers, average at best with World Peace available on their own end, could guard at a high level without a guy who has made them about 5.5 points better from a defensive efficiency standpoint.
Sharing an identical record as the Jazz, the Lakers still have a lot of work left over their final seven games against a schedule featuring five playoff teams. More problems: Utah holds the tiebreaker, has won five straight, and like LA has a home-heavy slate the rest of the way.