Kobe Bryant was the only Los Angeles Lakers starter who failed to record a single steal or block in the club's skid-ending win over Cleveland on Sunday, but it was the Black Mamba's defense on Cavaliers star Kyrie Irving that keyed the Lakers' 20-point victory.
It's also that same focus on defense that will play the biggest role in the Lakers' recovery, if and when it begins.
The 34-year-old Bryant held the 20-year-old Irving to just 15 points on 7-of-15 shooting from the floor. An impressive feat when considering that the second-year player is averaging 23 points per game this season.
After the Lakers' win over the Cavs, Bryant had the following to say about the team's offensive execution (via the Bolch):
We did a pretty good job, but it's not about that. I'll almost refrain from talking about that as the season goes on, talking about the offense. It's not about that.
Clearly the Lakers are running out of time to figure things out, and Kobe is first to admit he's paying all of his attention to the most important side of the court, the defensive end, where the Lakers have been horrid for the most part in 2012-13. L.A. ranks 26th in points allowed, and is giving up nearly 102 points per night this season.
But in order for L.A. to turn things around on defense and salvage the season, they need their most competitive defender to lead the way.
Lakers point guard Steve Nash had the following to say about Kobe's defensive prowess following the Cleveland win (via Bolch):
Sometimes when maybe he's guarding someone that isn't going to demand his interest, he can wane a little bit. But when we put him in a position where he's challenged, he can be phenomenal.
It's not about Kobe being phenomenal night in and night out though. The entire unit must be solid. It's not enough for Dwight Howard and Metta World Peace to make occasional individual impacts on defense. The Lakers are going to need to become less of a show and more of a tightfisted crew.
Experts have been pointing to the Lakers' defensive woes as the cause for their struggles since November, but that's why they're experts, because they're 100 percent correct.
The Lakers' eventual resurgence hinges on the defensive end, and that revival will be keyed by Kobe Bryant's restored defensive focus.
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