Kobe Bryant And The LA Lakers: Have They Gotten Their Groove Back?
After a stumble during December, Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers appear to have gotten their groove back over the past two weeks. LA had cranked out seven straight wins until the tight loss on Sunday versus the cross-building rival, the LA Clippers.
But the Lakers look to make it eight out of the last nine with a win tonight [Monday] against Kevin Durant and his Oklahoma Thunder.
So, what in Laker Land has changed?
How has the team that started this season running off eight straight wins only to falter over the next 20 games, including a disappointing (dare I say embarrassing) loss on Christmas Day to Dwyane Wade, LeBron James and the Miami Heat, begun winning again?
There are multiple factors that have resulted in the Lakers getting back some of that championship mojo.
Here are the reasons LA has gotten back its groove these past two weeks...
No. 6. Easy Opponents
The Lakers have played only one opponent with a winning record over the last eight-game stretch. This could be one of the biggest factors in the recent turnaround. Not hard to pop off seven straight wins when your opponents are weak.
However, the road gets more challenging starting with the game versus Oklahoma.
And, the Lakers schedule now calls for games versus some top teams, including matchups against Boston, Dallas and Denver over the rest of January.
We'll see if they really have their groove back when they play against quality teams.
No. 5. Ron Artest
After a public feud with Phil Jackson where Artest asked Phil to quit calling Ron-Ron out in public, Artest has gotten his own personal groove back during the latest winning streak.
He’s been more aggressive both on the offense and defensive ends. And, he seems far more active and quicker to the ball.
But the real reason why I see the Artest resurgence, is actually the knee injury to Matt Barnes.
That’s because Barnes had been playing extremely well off the bench for LA and taking a good chunk of Ron-Ron’s minutes. Strange enough, the injury to Barnes that will sideline the player for up to eight weeks is actually a blessing for Artest.
Now, with playing more minutes and Phil unable to yank him, Artest can find his rhythm each game.
No. 4. Kobe Bryant Part I: Practice
After the destruction on Christmas Day, losing badly to the Miami Heat, Kobe began practicing with the team for the first time all season. Due to his recovery from knee surgery and ongoing body issues, Kobe and Phil had decided it would be better for his long-term health to not practice.
But with the way LA teetered-tottered with up and down, inconsistent play in December, Kobe took it to the practice floor and to his teammates. He was relentless and upped the ante and intensity of his team.
And, his teammates rose to the challenge.
Now, it’s reported Kobe has stopped practicing again but the effects are still evident. His teammates have responded.
This is a contributing factor to the Lakers rediscovering their winning groove.
No. 3. Laker Defense
With a re-focus from Phil Jackson and his coaching staff, including assigning Lakers Assistant Coach Chuck Person the duty of reorganizing the Lakers D, LA has gotten its defensive groove back.
They are holding opponents to under 100 points a game on a consistent basis and, although it came versus one of the worst teams in the league, the Lakers held the Cleveland Cavs to a near franchise-low 57 points.
Everything has changed with Andrew Bynum back in the starting lineup. He allows Laker perimeter players to be more aggressive, run off three-point shooters and he has become that last line of defense.
No. 2. Kobe Bryant Part II: Trust
During the up and down months of late November and December, Kobe lost trust in his teammates.
This is why he returned to practicing with the team for the first time all year. It all comes down to trust with Kobe.
When he knows his teammates are with him, ready to battle in the arena to the death, he’s a willing passer and lets the game come to him. He picks his spots.
But when his teammates struggle, the ball stops with Kobe and he puts his team on his wide shoulders.
While the Lakers will still win games with this model, it is inconsistent in the long run. It wears Kobe down and the Lakers lose all the flow that is the beauty and benefit of the triangle offense.
Nothing is more evident of this point than Kobe’s shooting percentage, which has seen an uptick over the past two weeks, as he has picked his spots and not forced the action.
The more Kobe trusts and is a willing passer, his efficiency rises, less wear and tear occurs on his body and the Lakers roll.
No. 1. Andrew Bynum Getting His Own Groove Back
The Lakers’ winning stretch coincides with center Andrew Bynum getting more and more healthier by the day. His conditioning has improved as well as his lift. He's not throwing down alley-oop dunks on the level of past seasons quite yet, but he is more active in all facets of his game.
He’s also really improved the Lakers interior defense and Drew has been blocking a high amount of shots, giving Laker perimeter defenders that backstop they have not had.
Bynum's recent play is the main reason the Lakers have their championship mojo coming back. Look for he and the Lakers to continue their winning ways by taking a close game against the Thunder.
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