At the mid-point of December, an ugly four-game losing streak had the Los Angeles Lakers in panic mode. The team bottomed out with a 9-14 record, but has since fought back and is now back to .500.
While Steve Nash’s return is getting much of the credit for this resurgence, Kobe Bryant deserves the accolades for his consistently high level of play through the past five games.
In that time period, the Black Mamba has averaged 43.0 minutes of play and is putting up 32.4 points, 6.4 rebounds and 5.2 assists while shooting 44.6 percent from the field (a 16-of-41 performance against the Golden State Warriors in an overtime victory has a lot to do with this lower number).
Nash has only been back for two games, and the PG is averaging 14 points, 10 assists and 4.5 rebounds on 60 percent shooting in 39.5 minutes per contest.
Those are impressive figures, but the fact that Bryant has been playing well enough to will the team to wins prior to Nash’s return—plus the fact that he’s elevated his game upon the guard’s return—makes him the early-season MVP of the Lakers.
If it weren’t for Bryant, the Lakers would be struggling mightily. Dwight Howard’s production is nothing to write home about (14.0 points, 12.2 rebounds, 2.8 blocks over the past five games) and Pau Gasol is still struggling after returning from knee ailments three games ago (just 10.7 points and 9.0 rebounds, but facilitating nicely with 5.7 assists).
In fact, Metta World Peace may have been the Lakers second-best player over the first third of the season and has turned it on even more as of late (17.8 points, 8.2 rebounds, 2.6 steals and a solid 47.6 FG percentage in the previous five outings).
Most teams would be in the basement if the player formerly known as Ron Artest was being relied upon for consistent production at this stage of his career, but Bryant’s Lakers have survived and are now thriving.
We expect L.A. to continue its epic win streak, and Bryant will continue to add to his MVP-caliber campaign, as the roster morphs into a well-oiled machine in 2013.
Don’t look now, but the Lakers have just become the team to beat, and Bryant is the biggest reason for this turnaround.