Regardless of how you feel about Kobe Bryant, you have to admit that he’s doing something pretty incredible this season. How many players in their 17th NBA season average nearly 30 points a game on career-best efficiency numbers? It’s unprecedented.
Problem is, Kobe hasn’t been getting an awful lot of help offensively, and he’s nowhere near the defender he once was. But if you’re looking for a non-Earl Clark related glimmer of hope for the Lakers, look to the stars.
Third Star: Ty Lawson – (24 points, 12 assists)
The primary concern with the Nuggets is that they don’t have a late game scorer, but you would never know it watching Ty Lawson tonight. Lawson was brilliant late in the fourth quarter, pouring in Denver’s last eight points to help keep the Blazers temporarily at bay. Although the Blazers tapped into some more Wes Matthews magic with a late 3-pointer to tie it, Lawson played excellent individual defense on a potential game-winning attempt from Damian Lillard. In overtime, Lawson picked up right where he left off, drilling a jumper and creating open looks for others in Denver’s sixth straight win.
Second Star: Kobe Bryant – (31 points, 6 assists)
While we’re used to this sort of offensive brilliance, the on-ball pressure Bryant put on Brandon Jennings seemed to spark the Lakers defensively. Although he still has lapses off the ball, Bryant doesn’t take kindly to being directly challenged. Putting him on ballhandlers plays to his competitive nature, and against a team that trots out offensively inept players like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, it can simultaneously accomplish the goal of hiding Steve Nash. Bryant’s locked in effort defensively (Jennings was 4-for-14) seemed to trickle over to his offensive play, where he made more of an effort to get his teammates involved right off the bat.
First Star: Dwight Howard – (31 points, 16 rebounds, 4 blocks)
Although Milwaukee is loaded with shot blockers, they lack the bulk up front to deal with a monster like Howard — even if he isn’t at full strength. Howard bullied his way to good position all night and set up shop around the rim fairly easily, putting in little drop passes from Bryant and Steve Nash with ease. Some nights it will be as easy as that offensively, but it’s the defensive side of the ball where the Lakers really need Howard to be a star. Even though the Lakers let up 21 offensive rebounds as a team, Howard contested putbacks and altered a ton of shots. The Bucks shot just 35.8 percent from the field with 34 points in the paint, which are numbers more in line with what you’d expect from a Howard-led defense. If Howard isn’t drawn away from the rim defending pick and rolls or players with decent mid-range jumpers, he can still be a force.