An odd thing happened at the Rose Garden in Portland, Oregon last night. The Lakers beat the Blazers for the first time in the Rose City in nearly five years. Stranger yet, LA did it in convincing fashion...without superstar Kobe Bryant in the lineup (okay, in fairness, Brandon Roy sat for Portland as well—point made.)
Anyone who watched the game or highlights, witnessed a fired up Lakers team; the key word being team. LA played team ball for the first time in many games. Nearly everyone participating in the win. Even Bryant, by being absent.
As Kobe nursed a bad ankle and mangled digit, Ron Artest and Lamar Odom came to life. Both filled the void with inspiring play, the Candy Man grabbing 22 rebounds and Ron Ron scoring 21 points on 9 of 12 shooting (75 percent from the floor; not bad).
Against a lesser opponent in a more Laker-friendly venue, the victory wouldn't generate a second thought. In Portland, against the usually feisty Blazers and a very loud LA-hater dominated crowd, it's thought provoking. So much so, that it forced my mind to wander into unthinkable territory the morning after.
This is hard to get out, and it feels like committing heresy, but here goes. How about bringing Kobe off of the bench on given nights? No, I've never seen a crack pipe let alone used one. I've been getting plenty of rest, take vitamins, and have had a cup of coffee this morning. I'm a picture of health.
Just allow your imagination to take over for a minute. If Kobe came off the bench, what would it do for LA? Does it piss the Mamba off, and make him even better? Does it overwhelm opponents' second units? Most importantly, does it force the likes of Shannon Brown and Lamar Odom to step up rather than step aside for Bryant? Strange chemistry indeed! Maybe Kobe even heals a bit in the process.
It's an off-the-beaten-path thought, and I'm sure Bryant's super ego would never tolerate the idea.
Phil Jackson on the other hand, now there is a guy who might consider the experiment. It would take every new age book that the Zen Master has ever read plus a little bit of hypnosis to convince his superstar to consider the possibility. Maybe last night's milestone win (only because of the long losing streak that it broke) opens his eyes to the possibility.
Saturday, Portland prepared for the same LA team that it had soundly beaten on its home court nine straight games. No reason to do anything different. Until the Lakers showed up without their superstar. One small change in the lineup made a big difference—addition by subtraction in this case.
Portland planned the game around containing Bryant and forcing him to take bad shots. That game plan obviously wasn't much use with the Mamba at home watching the game in high def. It's history today, but a lesson nonetheless.
So rip me apart for unconventional thinking. Have at it. But the possibility of bringing Kobe off of the bench is intriguing to at least one person in world. As the saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
From my angle on the armchair, the purple and gold looked like a sputtering broken-down junker Friday night versus Denver. The same unit, minus a part (the turbo charger perhaps?), rolled into the Rose City Saturday night and looked unbeatable against a team that used to own it. Makes a guy think wild thoughts the next morning.