It was the strangest thing on Sunday. I tuned in to watch the Oklahoma City Thunder play the Los Angeles Lakers and I saw the most amazing thing.
There was this guy in a white-and-purple Lakers jersey wearing Kobe Bryant’s number. The only thing was that the guy wasn’t playing like Kobe Bryant, at least not the Kobe Bryant we’re all used to seeing.
And the Lakers? They didn’t remotely resemble the disconnected mess they’ve played like all season long.
No, the Lakers were moving the ball. They were hitting their shots. They were … brace yourself … playing defense with energy and commitment.
The result was their second straight victory, this one a very nice 105-96 win over the defending Western Conference champions.
The story of the Lakers’ season to this point has been best described as a tragicomedy; as in, it’s been terrible for the team and those who follow it, but sort of fun for those whose patience with the entitlement culture surrounding this franchise has worn a bit thin.
There was the coaching change, with Mike Brown dumped overboard after just five games. There was the flirtation with bringing back Phil Jackson, only to be followed by the stunning announcement that Mike D’Antoni had signed a four-year contract to coach the club.
Newly acquired Steve Nash missed almost two months. Bryant tried to exert his shot-making, shot-forcing will on the new group.
Pau Gasol grumbled about being taken out of the starting lineup. The other big new acquisition, Dwight Howard, whined about not getting enough touches.
To say D’Antoni’s offensive system is slightly different than Jackson’s old triangle is akin to saying that Kareem Abdul-Jabbar was a slightly better Laker center than Elmore Smith.
The win was a significant one for the Lakers in that it was the first time in nine tries against the top four teams in the Western Conference—Oklahoma City, the San Antonio Spurs, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Memphis Grizzlies—that the Lakeshow was on the right side of the score sheet.
The light’s gone on for Bryant. The last two games, he has 28 assists and only 22 shots. It’s also gone on for D’Antoni and Nash. The ball doesn’t have to be in Nash’s hands for D’Antoni’s system to work.
But the key is that whoever has the ball is in control. Doesn’t that sound like Kobe Bryant’s kind of system?
The last two games have been Bryant doing what Carmelo Anthony could not do under D’Antoni with the New York Knicks. D’Antoni’s system is predicated on unselfishness, staying out of isolation sets and not playing hero ball.
As D’Antoni said after Sunday’s win, the rules of his offense are ridiculously simple: If you’re covered, pass the ball; if you’re open, shoot.
Nash paid Bryant the ultimate compliment after Sunday’s win: He said Bryant looked like Magic Johnson out there.
Kobe Bryant passed the ball a lot the last two games and the Los Angeles Lakers suddenly look like the team so many expected them to be when they brought in Nash and Howard last summer.