I watched the Heat-Cavs game this morning knowing full well that the second game of the day, the Lakers vs Suns match up, would be a thousand times better. And it was. 59 more points were scored, 8 more threes, I didn’t have to watch Sasha Pavlovich miss open shot after open shot, I didn’t have to watch Anderson Varejao do anything, I got to see Trevor Ariza completely posterize Grant Hill in probably the most in-your-face explosive non-Kobe dunk the Staples Centre crowd has seen since Eddie Jones had hops, and I got to see Kobe smiling after Santa Claus granted the best Christmas present he’s had in years. This is what Kobe got for Christmas:
- The Lakers 9th win in 11 games, putting them 8 games above .500, good for second in the Pacific division and percentage wise, the 4th best winning record in the Western Conference. Read that again - the Los Angeles Lakers have the 4th best record out West and we’re a third of the way through the 07-08 season
- The greatest game of Andrew Bynum’s career. Kobe did his best to keep a lid on it after the game, saying the young fella had to continue to work on his game and get better, but I think deep down inside he was as excited as I was when I unwrapped the Voltron castle for my 6th birthday. Bynum seems to be topping his career-high on a weekly basis. A few weeks ago his improvement could have been described as “steady” but now its getting ridiculous. At this pace – and a special scientific formula was used to extrapolate this - in three weeks time Andrew Bynum will be due for a 46 point, 27 rebound game shooting 93% and blocking 12 shots. In all seriousness though, in this game against the Suns he did something very special: Bynum became only the fifth player in the last ten years to go 28-12 with 2 blocks while shooting above 84% from the field. He’s in pretty good company too, the others to achieve this feat being Shaq, Zo, the Mailman and Pau Gasol (ok so Pau is the odd one out there)
- A 38 point (shooting 60%), 7 assist, 5 rebound performance to rank amongst Kobe’s best ever all-round games. While I’m in a statistical mood I thought I’d check to see how rare this kind of game is, and I was surprised to learn that Kobe has had six of these games over the past ten years – more than anyone over this time. Seems like any concerns around the effects of Kobe’s groin injury have been alleviated – he’s looked in MVP form over the past few games, which leads me to..
- A whole load of extra fuel for the “Kobe for MVP” debate that Chris Broussard kinda kicked off here. While I try to restrain myself from leaping onto bandwagons, today officially marks the start of my own Kobe for MVP campaign (and in my defense, this can hardly be called a bandwagon because most would still be picking KG/ Nash/ Duncan). The argument is pretty simple really. No one would dispute Kobe’s individual brilliance on the court – as one longtime NBA scout recently said (from the Broussard article) “The crazy thing is that he’s so far and away the league’s best player… It’s not even close. It’s like he’s playing a different game than everyone else”. The knock against Kobe has always been his team’s lack of Ws, but that argument is losing credibility as the Lakers are storming towards the top of the Western Conference and playing their best ball of the post-Shaq era. If they continue on this 52-win pace and KG and the Celtics starts to stutter as I predict they will, that will be enough for Kobe to win his first MVP
- A glimpse of a championship-contending team that his Lakers can become. Kobe said himself after the game, “I’m focused on one thing and one thing only — winning the championship”. I was a little stunned to read that in the game recap. That is not the kind of comment you usually hear from an NBA player post-game unless one of two things happens: 1) They’ve had a realisation that their team is ready to contend for a title, a realisation that is still so fresh and surprising that it leads to dellusional post-game comments of this nature or 2) A cliche used when a player is trying to brush off the insignificance of a regular season game that has been hyped well beyond reason. Now situation (2) is usually only applicable to playoff-ready teams who regularly contend for titles anyway which the Lakers clearly aren’t, and this LA vs Suns game was no more hyped than any of their last three or four duels. Which all points towards Kobe having had a special Christmas day moment, perhaps while he was on the bench in between Ariza creaming Grant Hill and Bynum throwing one down on Amare’s head… a little moment to say “hey, we might be ready”. I’m not about to go proclaiming the Laker’s as title favourites – they’re still well behind about six teams in my opinion - but no one has ever doubted that Kobe’s incredible, almost stubborn self-belief is enough to give the Lakers a chance of winning any game. If he now believes they’re ready to contend for a title, that is a scary prospect for the rest of the league. You better believe it.