He did his best to save the Lakers again on Tuesday. The Black Mamba tied his season high with 40 points (on 28 shots) against the Indiana Pacers.
Trouble is, the rest of his Lakers teammates couldn't match him...in total. They tallied 37 points between them, which left the Lakers two points short of the visiting, Danny Granger-less Pacers in a 79-77 loss at the Staples Center.
Pau Gasol looked slow, weak and earthbound by the tendinitis in his knees. The slumping Spaniard was solid on the boards but managed just 10 points on 2-of-9 shooting, five of which were blocked.
You read that right: A seven-footer with four All-Star appearances under his belt had five of his shots turned away.
Dwight Howard was strong from the field (17 points on 7-of-10 shooting) and dominated on the defensive end (four blocks, a steal, a gazillion shots changed). But, as has been the case all season, he laid more bricks than a stonemason during a housing boom. Howard stepped to the line 12 times and put the ball through successfully on just three occasions.
But Howard was hardly alone in this regard. In total, the Lakers shot 23-of-43 from the stripe, including four misses in the final minute. Metta World Peace, Antawn Jamison and Darius Morris combined to shoot as well from the line (3-of-12) as did Howard.
And it's not as though those three were any better from the field—2-of-21 combined, to be exact. Oh, and the bench scored as many points as I can count on one hand.
The list goes on and on. But the point is, two guys produced for the Lakers tonight—two-and-a-half if you count Pau's paltry performance. Metta brought the energy, but that didn't exactly translate to his teammates.
Kobe was a game-time decision with flu-like symptoms, but ironically enough, it was the rest of the roster that looked sickeningly lethargic.
Not that Bryant was flawless; he finished the evening with a triple-double in points, rebounds (10) and turnovers (10). He made plenty of poor passes, struggled to execute the pick-and-roll with Pau against Indiana's stifling defense and too often tried to force the issue to no avail.
This may be a new Lakers team, with a new roster and another new head coach in Mike D'Antoni, but on this night, like others this season, they were plagued by the same, old, chicken-and-egg conundrum.
That is, did Kobe try to do too much because his teammates weren't getting the job done? Were his teammates disconnected, if not fearful of failure, because Bryant was doing his darndest to take over?
Whatever the case may be, the two issues seemed to feed into each other once again. Kobe was hitting shots, and nobody else was. And so it became the Lakers' modus operandi, even under D'Antoni's spread-the-wealth philosophy, to give the ball to the Mamba at every turn and pray that he could save the day.
He couldn't, and probably wouldn't have, flu or no flu.
But, again, this is nothing new for the Lakers. They've become all too accustomed in recent years to crumbling around Kobe and hoping he'll bail them out. It's as if the Kobe System has come to dominate the purple-and-gold culture.
It's a culture in which the Lakers almost inevitably lose when the burden becomes Bryant's to bear. With the loss to the Pacers, the Lakers are now 1-5 in 2012-13 when Kobe accounts for 30 or more points.
On the bright side, the Lakers defended well, holding an offensively inept Indy team to 36.7 percent shooting, winning the battle of the boards and forcing 17 turnovers. And to the Pacers' credit, their typical defensive game plan—pack the paint and dare the opposition to beat them from the perimeter—worked to a tee.
But it's how the Lakers reacted to Indy's strategy that's cause for concern in the bigger picture. Kobe's teammates came out flat, and when their shots didn't fall, they turned to their symptomatic savior for answers.
Kobe's not the only crutch who's trying (and failing) to bail out the Lakers these days, though. The specter of Steve Nash—along with the absence of Steve Blake and the increased minutes for Darius Morris and Chris Duhon—seems to linger over every Lakers loss, every miscue, every botched pick-and-roll and poorly run fast break.
It's become an all-too-familiar refrain for the Lakers: Howard's not 100 percent, Nash has missed the last 13 games, Gasol is playing with tendinitis in his knees, so it's not fair to judge this team just yet.
And maybe (probably) it isn't. But neither is it fair to equate the anticipated return of Nash, at 38 and still adrift in L.A., to that of a white knight trotting through the downtown L.A.—even though D'Antoni is apparently banking on it.
It is also not particularly useful to ask Kobe to play "Hero Ball" and expect him to have the cape to match. That hasn't worked all that well in years past and has yet to yield encouraging results this season.
And judging by the latest returns, it won't likely be the antidote to all that ails L.A. going forward.
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