UP, UP & AWAY: The Lakers have seemed to find their mojo and Kobe Bryant has regained his shooting form as they head to Salt Lake City for Game 3 Saturday against the Utah Jazz.
Lakers showing signs of life
Starting unit carries team while second unit struggles to hold leads
By Jason Lewis
Special to Sentinel
Judging by the mood of the Lakers locker room and media reports it would seem like the Lakers are still in their slump and have no resemblance of a championship contender, but thankfully this team looks like they are finally coming around.
The Lakers starting unit woke up just in time to avoid being embarrassed by the upstart Oklahoma City Thunder, but the second unit is still cruising along with no sense of urgency. That unit nearly caused a Game 7 and they showed no signs of waking up in the early stages of the series against the Utah Jazz.
The starting units turn around could be contributed to Kobe Bryant coming out of a slump where he shot around 30% for the final month of the season and the first three games in the first round. The word was Bryant was old and could not perform up to his standards, but the problem was really his health.
After scoring 31 points on 12-of-19 shooting in Game 1 against the Jazz Bryant said that he’s feeling pretty good. He was driving to the basket more frequently, which he has not done much of because of a sore right knee. Watching an injured Bryant clank long jump shots off the rim had everybody worried, but he’s starting to look like the dominant player who is unguardable.
Brant shot 33-of-63, 52%, from Games 4,5, and 6 against the Thunder and Game 1 against the Jazz and the offense has been running a lot more efficiently.
But the problem has been at the beginning stages of the fourth period, when Bryant and the starting unit are taking their final rest of the game.
In the close out game against the Thunder and Game 1 against the Jazz the Lakers held leads in the fourth period only to watch the second unit give it all away. It appears that the second unit is like a baseball middle relief picture that is left in one inning too many. The longer they stay in the less likely they are to hold the lead.
Phil Jackson may need to bring his starters back much sooner in the fourth. It seemed a little unusual to see Jackson keep Bryant on the bench for so long late in games. Sitting out half of the period is not normal for Bryant, but it may be because Bryant has not been healthy for a good part of the season.
The Lakers need Bryant to as healthy as possible, and the deeper they get the more they are going to rely on him to play more minutes. Relying on the second unit for long stretches, especially late in games, could cost the Lakers.
Working in the Lakers favor is the long rest between Games 2 and 3. It certainly is not good for the fans, but with a banged up Lakers team this is just what they needed.