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Kobe Bryant has been a one man wrecking crew, as he has been driving the lane at will like his younger days. Photo by Jeff Lewis
By Jason Lewis
Sentinel Sports Editor
Kobe Bryant drives the Lakers towards the playoffs!
There is a picture floating around social media websites that has the caption, "Lakers team photo." The picture is of Kobe Bryant. The man has been on fire as of late, but an injured ankle could derail the Lakers chances of making it to the playoffs.
After last week's heroics, which catapulted the Lakers back into the playoff race, it is hard to argue against this being a one man team.
Down by as much as 25 points against the New Orleans Hornets, Bryant led the Lakers are a 20-0 run to close the game. He scored 13 of those points, and he finished the game with 42 points and 12 assists. He became the first Laker since Jerry West to score over 40 points and have 12 assists in one game.
The very next game the Lakers found themselves down by as much as 15 points to the Toronto Raptors, and down by 10 heading into the 4th period.
Bryant turned in another super hero type performance, as he hit three 3-point shots with defenders draped all over him in the closing moments of the game.
Down by two-points with seconds to play, and being double teamed, Bryant ran around the two defenders, drove the lane, and dunked the ball to send the game into overtime. The Lakers went on to win, as Bryant scored 41 points with 12 assists.
Bryant is making a mockery out of defenders, and the way he is playing right now, for the first time in a few years, it can be argued that he is the best player in the league. Better than LeBron James.
Bryant seems to have found some type of fountain of youth. At the age of 34, he is all of a sudden driving the lane and dunking on opponents like he was 24 again. He is lighting teams up from the paint, and he has been dialed in with his 3-point shot.
The Lakers have posted a 13-7 record since their four game losing streak in mid-January. Over that course of time they have seen the Warriors, Rockets, and Jazz stumble. Mostly the Warriors and Jazz.
The Lakers win over the Bulls this past Sunday put them a half of a game ahead of the Jazz, who were on a four game losing streak after losing to the Knicks on Sunday, and 1-7 over an eight game stretch.
The Warriors have been in a nose dive. They were on a six game losing streak heading into the All-Star break, and they went on a four game losing streak shortly after the All-Star break.
Since the beginning of the Warriors six game losing streak the Warriors had a 5-12 record.
That bodes well for the Lakers, because as they continue to win, teams above them continue to lose. But they are not a lock to make the playoffs just yet, and they still have major issues to deal with. Such as being down by 25 points to the Hornets and 15 to the Raptors, two of the worst teams in the league. They were also down big to the Thunder before making a game of it at times in the second half.
Defense is still an issue for the Lakers, which is the main reason why they have been falling behind by double digits in games. They are playing much better than the first half of the season, but with Bryant's injured ankle, which may cause him to miss games, the Lakers are going to have to figure out how to weather this storm and stay in playoff contention.
Even if Bryant can make a quick recovery, which he has been known to do, the Lakers still look like a team that will be knocked out of the playoffs in the first round. They are beating the bad teams, but they are still struggling with playoff teams. The have some time left in the regular season to figure everything out. They have figured out how to win games, now they have to figure out how to beat playoff teams.
Clippers keep pace, but do not look like title contenders
This is one of the best seasons that the Clippers have ever had, so the excitement has been high all season. The Clippers have done a very good job in meeting expectations, but two recent losses may be an indicator that the Clippers are not going to take the next step.
The Spurs, Thunder, Nuggets, and Grizzlie are all playoff teams, and they all recently knocked off the Clippers, causing some analyst to back off of the Clippers a bit.
The Clippers have been abusing the bad teams, but against the top teams in the Western Conference, since the All-Star break they are 0-4. They had held the third spot in the Western Conference for a while, but now the Grizzlies have moved ahead of them.
The regular season has its ups and downs, and the Clippers have managed them well so far, but it is almost playoff time, and their games against other playoff teams can be indicators on what this team is going to do. If the playoffs started today, the Clippers would open up against the Nuggets, which would make it difficult to make it out of the first round.
The Clippers are looking to improve on last year, when they made it to the second round of the playoff. To do that they would have to make it to the Western Conference Finals, but they way that they have been playing against the top teams in the West, this season could end up as a huge disappointment.
Defense, which has been a strength for the team all season, failed them in their losses to the Spurs, Thunder, and Nuggets. The Spurs scored 116 points against the Clippers. The Thunder 108 and the Nuggets 107.
The Clippers host the Knicks, who are third in the Eastern Conference, on Sunday.
Derrick Rose has been cleared, but still sits
Derrick Rose has been practicing for about a month, but he does not feel explosive off of his surgically repaired left knee. Photo by Jeff Lewis
Eleven months ago Bulls All-Star point guard Derrick Rose had a major injury to his left knee, which was supposed to sideline him for nine months. He appeared on track when he returned to practice two months ago, and he has been cleared by doctors to play, but he is still sitting out.
Rose has said that he is having two issues. The first is that he does not feel explosive off of his surgically repaired left knee. He is struggling to dunk the ball, which had led him to fearing that he may injure the knee again. He has also said that his hamstrings are "on fire" after practice.
Until Rose feels confident that those issues are behind him, he may not take the court in a game, even with the Bulls making the playoffs. He may wait until next season to play, which has some people questioning his motives. Some people believe that he is doing this to protect future earnings.