Anyone watching the Lakers closely over the past few weeks has seen an overmatched, out-of-sync team, being virtually willed to one victory after another, by the play and by the inspiration of Kobe Bryant. The team is composed of a small group of immensely talented players who most of the time need individual basketballs to co-exist on the same court, and a larger group of has-beens, wanna-bees, and never-will-bees, taking up roster and court space, and contributing nothing worthwhile to the team. The “new” coach has installed a “Kobe runs it” offense and has done absolutely, positively nothing to even attempt to improve the defense. His use of personnel has also been very questionable, but hey, other than the front-liners, what has he got to work with?In the closing quarter of game after game during their stretch run to the final playoff spot, it has been Kobe Bryant taking over, and pulling games out of the crapper, leading the Lakers, despite the lackadaisical play of Deeee-Wight Howard, the meta tag psycho artest thing, repeated missed games by Steve Nash, horrid team defense, the below-NBA caliber bench, and, perhaps most important of all, the injuries to Pau Gasol.
What will happen now, now that Kobe is gone for the duration, duration meaning 1) Through most, if not all, of NEXT season, or 2) Forever?
In the short run, i.e., the rest of this year, a glimmer was seen both just before and after Kobe limped off the court last night. That was the recently sensational play of Gasol. For a few games now, he has been the Pau Gasol of old, a superstar in his own right, putting up amazing numbers, and becoming once again, a team leader. He finished with a triple-double (26-11-10) last night, and if he keeps up that kind of play, the Lakers can retain that tenuous lead over Utah through the last week of the regular season.
The Lakers finish with home games against San Antonio and Houston, while Utah plays their last two on the road at Minnesota and Memphis. The Lakers need at least one win, and they can control their own destiny with two wins, and it is Gasol who has to lead them. Their next game, against the Spurs, will be critical, as it could be a preview of a playoff series. If Tony Parker is still hobbled and Manu Ginobili still out, the Lakers could not only win tomorrow’s game, but steal a games (or two) in a playoff series. However, if Oklahoma City retains its lead in the Western Conference and if the Lakers were to meet them in that payoff series, it would be lights out for LA. The non-athletic, Kobe-less Lakers would be blown off the court by the Thunder.
Can Gasol lead a motivated, emotional Lakers’ team to two wins and the playoffs, or will a dreary, eviscerated Lakers’ team, taking its lead from an apathetic, moribund Dwight Howard, go through the motions and fall by the wayside?