Pivot Points: LA Lakers Follow Tough Loss with Tougher Win

Hadarii JonesSenior Writer IDecember 27, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 25:  Pau Gasol #16 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on during the game against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Staples Center on December 25, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images)
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty Images

Never underestimate the heart of a champion, because when all else fails and backs are against the wall, the only thing left to fall back on is pride, and, in the case of the Los Angeles Lakers, pride is what carried the defending champions through on Saturday night.

Kobe Bryant racked up 38 points and the shorthanded Lakers rallied to beat the host Sacramento Kings in double-overtime, 112-103, notching a positive to curb what was quickly becoming a nightmarish holiday weekend.

After the devastating defeat the Lakers faced at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers on Christmas Day, the future became a little cloudier with the announcement of an injury suffered by Ron Artest later that evening.

Initial reports say that Artest injured his elbow and suffered a concussion after falling down a flight of stairs in his home, and the amount of time he will miss has yet to be determined.

Talk about pouring salt in an open wound. The mental state of the Lakers (24-5) was a big question mark after the loss to the Cavaliers, and their road game against Sacramento was the perfect opportunity to slide even further down the slope.

Instead, the pride of Bryant and Pau Gasol prevented Los Angeles from enduring its second losing streak of the season, and it may have given the Lakers a dose of the mental toughness needed to find stability.

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The Lakers seemed in serious danger of losing in the first overtime session and needed a last-second putback from Gasol in order to extend the inspired Kings to a second overtime period.

From there, Kobe provided the rest of the spark the Lakers needed to put the feisty Kings to bed and give his own team an infusion of confidence in the process.

The loss to Cleveland was the sort that has the potential to cause issues that extend long after the final horn has sounded.

In all honesty, Los Angeles was thoroughly beaten, and the team's self image didn't resemble the product that was put on the floor against the Cavaliers.

Gone was the confident team that had stormed to the best record in the NBA; in its place was left an assortment of players that seemed unsure of themselves and unprepared for their biggest test of the season to date.

Cleveland exposed many parts of the Lakers that were perceived to be strengths, and they exploited the known weaknessess in a way from which the Lakers were unable to recover.

Gasol performed so poorly against Cleveland that his ability to compete against similar sized players was questioned, and his dedicated play against the Kings reverberated those sentiments.

Gasol has had off games since his return from an early injury, but against the Cavaliers he was outplayed by Cleveland's interior post players, and his lack of competitive fire signaled that he may have given up.

That's the reason his play against the Kings was so important, because in this game, when the Lakers needed him most, he was able to respond and was a major factor in the win.

If his confidence was damaged by Cleveland, then this was the type of game needed to begin the rehabilitation. Kobe needed no medicine for his confidence against the Cavaliers, nor was any needed against the Kings.

Bryant simply did what he does best, and that includes being the most dominant player on the court in the majority of situations and taking a game over when the opportunity presents itself.

Kobe was on his game on Christmas Day, but he was failed by his teammates at a time when he needed them the most. When that happens, Bryant sometimes presses and can become victim to his own emotions.

Regardless, Bryant is the most skilled player on the planet, but even he can't will his team to wins without some help from his talented but sometimes inconsistent teammates.

The victory in Sacramento allowed Bryant the comfort of knowing that he could trust in his teammates when the chips were down—and that his faith in them would not go unrewarded.

To be sure, the Lakers still must deal with the physical aspects of what went wrong against Cleveland, like their continued inability to defend the perimeter and the way they were man-handled in the paint.

The bench issue must still be addressed, but in terms of overcoming mental obstacles, Saturday night went a long way toward accomplishing that goal, and it gives the Lakers some confidence to face what may come in the future.


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