Carmelo Anthony erupted for a season-high 45 points in the New York Knicks' 100-97 win over the Brooklyn Nets. Bryant answered with his own season high (42), but his Los Angeles Lakers fell, 100-94, to the Cleveland Cavaliers.
Anthony continued the efficient play (15-of-24) that has defined his best season in the NBA. His steady hand has guided his Knicks team to the top of the Eastern Conference (16-5). The Big Apple is already feasting on championship thoughts.
But Bryant's Lakers have fans going bonkers in La La Land. With 13 losses in 22 games, L.A. looks closer to an appearance in the draft lottery than in the postseason.
With both playing their way into the MVP discussion, what has allowed Anthony's Knicks the successes that have eluded Bryant's Lakers?
For both players, the answer starts at the top.
Anthony and his teammates have thrived under the direction of coach Mike Woodson. The team has bought everything that the coach has sold them.
Anthony has embraced life as an NBA power forward; J.R. Smith has eased up on his automatic trigger. Woodson's rank and file have accepted their positions in the coach's pecking order.
As for Bryant's Lakers, though, the coaching situation has been disastrous.
The Lakers opened the season under the direction of Mike Brown. But a 1-4 start cost Brown his position, leaving interim coach Bernie Bickerstaff at the helm.
Bickerstaff was then replaced by Mike D'Antoni (Woodson's predecessor in New York). D'Antoni has attempted to transition his players to his uptempo schemes on the fly. The results have been less than impressive, with the team winning just four of the 12 games they've played under their new coach.
But the leadership of these two clubs extends beyond their head coaches.
While Bryant's Lakers opted for a championship-or-bust approach to their offseason (acquiring perennial All-Stars Steve Nash and Dwight Howard), the Knicks opted to surround their existing talent with proven veterans (Jason Kidd, Marcus Camby and Rasheed Wallace, among others).
And those N.Y. veterans have brought more than just leadership to this team.
These new veteran voices on the Knicks have continued the locker room transformation spurred by the arrival of Tyson Chandler prior to the 2011-12 season. With one goal in mind, the Knicks have made the extra pass on offense and rotated crisply on defense.
The Lakers, meanwhile, have struggled to find a voice outside of a frustrated Bryant and a publicly patient Howard. Bryant's pleas for consistency have fallen on deaf ears. The rest of the locker room banter has centered around the omnipresent trade rumors that swirl every time this team struggles.
With a common goal and the right game plan to execute it, Anthony's supporting cast has been the perfect complement for the superstar. Knicks shooters have converted their perimeter looks, the defensive stoppers have harassed opposing offenses, and Jason Kidd and Raymond Felton have kept this Knicks offense clicking.
Bryant's teammates have failed to show that same resolve. Offensively, this team has been a mess without starting point guard Steve Nash:
Since Dec. 4, Laker PGs Duhon and Morris have combined to score just 43 points over five games.— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) December 12, 2012
But they've been even worse on the defensive end. With D'Antoni at the helm, perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that this Lakers team has looked disengaged and disinterested defensively.
But if there's one thing that separates these two clubs, it's trust. Trust in the right system and the drive to carry out the game plan. Trust in the next man making the right defensive rotation when a player leaves to bring help.
Anthony trusts his teammates to make the right basketball decision, so he's willing to pick and choose his spots.
Bryant, meanwhile, hasn't seen enough from his teammates to foster that trust. He's tried to will his team to wins with offensive performances built for the history books.
But with L.A. just 1-10 when he scores 30 or more points, perhaps this is yet another failed Laker tactic.
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