More Than Kobe: Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom Will Lead LA Lakers to 2011 Repeat

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More Than Kobe: Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom Will Lead LA Lakers to 2011 Repeat
Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Kobe Bryant is the Robin of the L.A. Lakers—as in Robin Hood of course, and everyone knows that every Robin Hood has a company of Merry Men at his disposal.

This year, more than ever, this Robin will depend on his Merry Men to carry him to a Three-Peat.

The playoffs are fast approaching, and the Lakers are making a convincing run for the NBA’s setting sun, with only two losses in their last 19 games. 

More importantly, the Lakers have made dramatic statements by disposing of both the San Antonio Spurs and the Dallas Mavericks in a stretch of games that have them gaining tremendous ground in trying to achieve the No. 1 seed.

Tinsel Town’s third NBA championship in as many years—as well as a second three-peat—seems to be within their grasp, but if there is any truth to the expert assessments of this season, it will be more difficult to win it all this year. 

For the most part, Robin Hood and his Merry Men consist of the same blueprint of players as last year’s championship run, but there are two dramatic differences this year.  First and foremost, Bryant’s sore left knee is not going anywhere. Secondly, there are more legitimate contenders in both the east and the west then there has been in recent memory.

While in the twilight of a stellar career, success for the L.A. Lakers this season would put the perennial superstar Bryant in the same double three-peat boat as Michael Jordan, and he will undoubtedly be regarded as one of the top ten greatest players to ever play the game.

Although Bryant remains a key contributor and the number one scoring option for his team, Father Time has ensured that he is not as consistently dominant as he used to be. 

His bone-on-bone left knee is feeling the effects of playing the better part of 82 games, a grueling schedule in which Bryant has given himself little rest for a cause that instead could have freshened his legs in favor of a strong playoff run.

It has been well documented that the veteran did not practice with the team during much of the first half of the season, in an effort to save the cartilage starved knee from increased wear and tear while still playing 30-plus minutes.

It is also well documented that Kobe has been practicing with the team since after the All-Star Break, and while the "save the knee for the playoffs" scenario goes right out the window, it’s the most likely reason the Lakers exchanged their previously innocuous game for more improved play during the month of March. 

After games, Bryant spends much time icing the knee and is usually the last one out of the locker room—an act of supreme dedication and focus towards the ultimate goal. 

After undergoing three operations on the same knee (the most recent being this past offseason), Bryant continues to have it drained every few days. It’s not an unlikely scenario that the intensity of the upcoming playoffs will reduce his otherwise sharp edge.

Bryant’s shooting percentage has been in decline this year, most likely from trying to adapt to a perimeter game with far less punishing drives to the rim.  And while there have been many games where he shoots the lights out and can dominate with the best of them—as reflected by field goal percentages that are far above 50 percent—there are still other games where his arrow just does not find the mark—as reflected by field goal percentages that are far below 40 percent.

Not only does Bryant have one of the lowest shooting percentages on his team this year, but he ranks far lower than many other NBA players.  For example, Lamar Odom and Pau Gasol rank in the top 15 in FG percentage among qualified NBA players, while Bryant ranks 65th at 45 percent.  By comparison, Dwyane Wade and LeBron James have each made about 100 less attempts than Bryant, but they are both averaging 50 percent.

In the recent loss to the Denver Nuggets (95-90), Bryant scored 28 points on 10-of-27 shooting, and in the previous game’s win over Dallas, Bryant was 8-of-21, yet the Lakers still beat up on the Mavs (110-82).

When Bryant is hot and his shots find the mark, the opposing teams require hope and a prayer to dispose of the Lakers. A positive sign going into the playoffs is that when Bryant is cold (like in the Dallas game), the Lakers still have the potential to pull out a win because of their incredible depth.

This year, a Lakers’ three-peat will not likely come at the hands of Robin Hood himself because of the knee and its extreme lack of rest—but it is still very possible that the championship will come.

That’s because, in the inevitable playoff games in which Robin’s arrows miss their marks, the four Merry Men (listed in these slides) will carry the Lakers to victory—and three of these four are capable of causing nightmarish matchup problems against their opponents.

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