Kobe Bryant-backed promises are just the best.
On the road—where the Lakers have won just 10 games—against the Dallas Mavericks Sunday afternoon, Los Angeles desperately needed a victory. The Houston Rockets had lost to the Washington Wizards just the night before, and the Lakers had the opportunity to gain a full game's worth of ground in the playoff race.
Leave it to Bryant to deliver said victory. He posted 38 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists and one block on 13-of-21 shooting from the floor in the 103-99 victory for L.A.. He also drilled 4-of-5 from behind the arc after having hit on just two of his previous 37 long-ball attempts.
.@kobebryant hits 4-5 3-pt FG (80%) in 38-pt performance vs Mavs. In his previous 16 games, he was 2-37 (5.4%) from beyond the arc.— Numbers Never Lie (@ESPN_Numbers) February 24, 2013
How's that for a response to one of the boldest predictions the NBA has seen this season? Better yet, should we have expected anything less?
To say Bryant has fared well against the Mavericks this season would be an insult. He's averaging 26.3 points and shooting 65.2 percent from the field against them this year. He seemed destined for a big game.
Still, the uncertainty surrounding how Kobe and the Lakers would respond to their recent string of confidence-boosting soundbites was thicker than the blood opposing teams have come to smell when they pull the Lakers' number.
Rest assured, Bryant does believe the Lakers will make the playoffs. Sitting under .500 as we near the final quarter of the year, however, left his augury wavering in validity. His assertion that Los Angeles would find a way to make the postseason was pure conjecture—an inkling that the numbers didn't support.
One of the last things the Lakers needed was to keep talking. They didn't need Bryant to say he believed they would make the playoffs, and they certainly didn't need Steve Nash and Dwight Howard to back him up. What they needed was to make a statement with their play, to instill faith with their actions instead of their words.
Paging classic Kobe.
In the fourth quarter alone, he made all five of his shots and scored 14 points in the final nine minutes. That this inspiring performance coincided with him becoming the fifth player in NBA history to score 31,000 career points only adds further merit to his audacious presage.
Classic Kobe. Made all five of his 4th-quarter shots, had 14 points in final nine mins. Lakers win, 103-99.— Mike Bresnahan (@Mike_Bresnahan) February 24, 2013
No, it wasn't the prettiest of displays from wire-to-wire. Los Angeles was outscored by Dallas in the paint 44-24 and committed 16 turnovers, five of which came from Bryant. But it was a win, and one that isn't collected without the Mamba.
This was just one game of 82, yet it meant everything to the Lakers' quest to inhale a breath of postseason air. It was just the fifth time all season they put together a win streak of at least three games and brought them within 2.5 games of the eighth-seeded Rockets.
Most importantly, it affords them the opportunity to reach .500 for the first time since they were 15-15.
Don't let the importance of this fail to resonate with you. The Lakers have won 11 of 15, but a loss against any teams at this juncture—let alone one to a team vying for the same playoff slot they are—is potentially season-crippling.
The Lakers will play 11 of their next 17 games on the road, where they remain just 10-18—the eighth worst mark in the Association. Of those 11 opponents, six are currently sitting above .500. And for the coup de gras, 13 of their final 25 games come against teams above .500.
Translation? The road ahead is not an easy one, but instead a winding mass of possible chaos.
So the Lakers needed this win. They needed to back their words with some concrete results. And Bryant delivered some concrete results.
It wasn't just his 38 points, but the manner in which he scored them. Connecting on 62 percent of his attempts is right in line with how he has fared against the Mavericks all season, but he was extra sensational this time around.
In fact, per ESPN Stats & Info, this marked the first time of Kobe's career that he scored at least 38 points while shooting at least 60 percent from the field in back-to-back games.
For the 1st time in Kobe Bryant's career, he has scored at least 38 points while shooting better than 60 percent in consecutive games.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 24, 2013
How's that taste, Mark Cuban?
Just days ago, Dallas' eccentric owner proposed that the Lakers consider amnestying the Mamba, questioning how they could afford him and Howard (via Tim MacMahon of ESPNDallas.com):
“If you look at their payroll, even if Dwight (Howard) comes back, you’ve got to ask the question: Should they amnesty Kobe?” Cuban said during an appearance on ESPN Dallas 103.3 FM’s “Ben and Skin Show."
Cuban has since said Bryant was merely an example, but can you really justify making an "example" of the NBA's fifth all-time leading scorer?
When it comes to Kobe, and his unrelenting hubris, some would argue you can. He's 34 and clad with five championship rings, yet considered overrated by many. It's games like these that dispel such notions, that render Cuban's remarks worthy of a sarcastic retort from Bryant himself.
Amnesty THAT— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) February 24, 2013
Dropping 38 points is a surefire way to silence even the most deafening of critics, but that just wouldn't be enough for Bryant and these Lakers.
His five turnovers are hiccups some will chide him for to no end, but if anything, he should be derided for being too unselfish. On numerous occasions he passed up open-ish lanes to the basket in favor of a teammate when he probably shouldn't of.
Bear in mind that Kobe also scored just 34 points on 41 shots against the Golden State Warriors back in December. Against the Mavericks, he dropped 38 on 21. We can't hang on a serial shooter like Bryant for making the mistake of passing too frequently.
Those 12 rebounds speak volumes about his aggression under the rim. Watching, these weren't shots gone awry, caroming off the rim past the foul line Bryant was grabbing. Most saw him battle in the paint with the bigs, jostling for position and out-leaping those with legs younger than his.
Yeah, this was still just one of 82 games, but it was one that stood for everything Kobe and the Lakers must represent over the next 25 games—unconditional resiliency.
You could make the case that not everyone showed up. That Earl Clark, Metta World Peace and Howard failed to play up to snuff. But that didn't matter.
Will Kobe lead the Lakers to the playoffs?
The Lakers will need them to improve upon their performances moving forward, but the valorous postseason prophecy didn't originate from any of them. It was uttered by Bryant himself, and as such, he was the one who needed to set himself and the Lakers apart from the competition.
And so he did.
"That's what he does," coach Mike D'Antoni told Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register after the game. "That's what he loves. That's what he trains for."
Kobe also "loves" making the playoffs. Which is just what he and the Lakers are going to do.
*All stats used in this article were compiled from Basketball-Reference, Synergy Sports and 82games.com unless otherwise noted.