Finger This Out:
Four and one – that would be the Lakers’ most recent record on their first extensive road trip of the season. It could also just as easily describe the number of healthy fingers Kobe Bryant's been working with on his right hand and the one bummy finger that he’s been forced to adjust to on the very same hand. More significantly, however, four and one might better allude to the obsessive image that’s taken captive of Mamba’s mind ever since last season ended – the image of the four rings he’s won and the one ring he still has left to claim for the season. And if his performance on this past road trip was any indication, there was clearly only one finger on Kobe’s mind the entire time - his fifth-ring finger.
Needless to say, starting out a road-trip with your best player’s prized index finger fractured and overly-padded is never an encouraging sign for any team. Fortunately, this is the Lakers we’re talking about, and the best player in discussion just so happens to be the best player for every other team out there as well. So despite fracturing his index finger against the Minnesota Timberwolves last Friday, Kobe Bryant sucked it up like he did a year ago when his pinkie was falling off and converted some of that pain he had to endure through into pain that his opponents could never withstand.
But Superman can only endure so much, and as the Lakers opened up their trip against the Utah Jazz, Kobe came down with a fever that really sucked the life out of his game and his team. If it wasn’t for this one untimely illness in Utah which only added further insult to injury, the Lakers would be sitting right now with a 5-0 record, a 16-game win streak, and an MVP award presentation for Kobe Bryant in December. Kobe’s response? He wants the MVP award handed to him immediately anyway, as he averaged a cool 34.5 pts on 51% shooting, leading the Lakers to a 4-1 road record the rest of the way. In Chicago, he caught fire and made John Salmons look like chopped salmon and Captain Kirk look like Cap’n Crunch ( I don’t even know what this means, but it flows). In Milwaukee came the epic game-winning shot that didn’t happen and then did happen, as Kobe made Charlie Bell look like the Kobe-stopper one second, and then like Charlie the Unicorn the next. Yet another legendary finish to add to an already voluminous archive of Mamba lore. The next two games against the Nets and Pistons were status quo performances for the Mamba, who did his damage early by helping the Lakers build insurmountable leads that their Stench would, inevitably, make surmountable (the bench will regain its proper name when it starts playing more intelligent and controlled team basketball and does a better job of maintaining our 20 point leads), but still hold on to win.
Team Assessment Summary:
Pau Gasol was a beast and really helped Kobe man the team on this past road trip. He demanded the ball more, scored with his norma,l efficient ease, played some solid defense, and “got all the effin’ rebounds” as Andrew Bynum would say (but not do himself). But really, outside of Pau Gasol, Kobe didn’t have much else to rely on in terms of consistency regarding all the rest of his teammates, especially the Stench. Andrew Bynum, of course, continued to show everyone that he hates In-N-Out double-doubles by averaging a paltry 3.8 rebounds and failing to do much else outside of getting his own shots up. He’s yet to have a double-double game since Pau’s return and is quickly reminding everyone why Pau, despite missing the first 11 games of the season, still deserves the All-Star nod over him come February. Ron Artest played consistent defense, but he sure played some inconsistent offense as well. Lamar Odom continued to rebound the ball well and played with a little more intelligent assertiveness, but still only scored in double figures just once. Furthermore, as the supposed leader of the second-unit, Odom has yet to do much leading, unable to steady the Stench scrubs and help maintain the proper flow and balance that the triangle offense entails. Derek Fisher, of course, hit another clutch shot, yet also had another 0 pt game (his fourth of the season, can you believe it, Ripley?). Shannon Brown and Jordan Farmar each had their respective moments (especially Shannon’s Chicago special), but were also mired here and there by questionable shot selection and decision-making, most evident in both their play against Detroit. Adam Morrison, Josh Powell, Sasha Vujacic, and DJ Mbenga…I won’t go any further. The overall point: TGWHK. Thank God we have Kobe. Or as Ron would say – Thank God we have…god? Blasphemous.
Back to Kobe, All-day, Every-day:
Despite all these minor quips, the Lakers are still looking like a dominant powerhouse (especially on defense) that just needs a little tweaking here-and-there to reach full invincibility. The fact that they look this way even with all their inconsistencies is a testament to just how solid the leaders on this team are and a bigger testament to just how much of a consistent guiding force Kobe truly is to this team. As we saw on Saturday night when the Lakers fell to Utah - when Kobe’s out of sorts and unable to passionately lead by example, the team ends up looking just as ill and fractured as he does. Luckily, when Kobe’s Kobe and only has one finger injury to worry about, the Lakers never look like they’re in trouble – even when their Stench gives up big leads or when they find themselves in a jam, trailing by one. Kobe’s still there to save the day. He is, after all, a Road Scholar (and probably a Rhodes Scholar as well) who knows how to steady the ship and get his guys ready for long trips such as these. Four and one against sub-500 teams may not sound impressive, but let’s not forget that everyone plays their best ball against the Lakers – and while they try to play their best against Kobe as well, it never really works out. The Mamba loves playing on the road more than he does at home; undeniably ruthless in the sadistic satisfaction he gets from ripping out the hearts of opposing fans in sold-out arenas who end up chanting his praise anyway…as if he were right at home.
So whether he’s putting on a new ring, tearing a ligament in his pinkie, or fracturing the index finger of his shooting hand, Kobe Bryant sure loves making his precious fingers the center of all basketball attention. There’s a reason why his Nike, puppet-hand shirt only has four fingers –not just because he has four rings, but because he always seems to have one finger end up looking like Luke Walton: you know, injured and inactive. Strangely enough, however, a finger missed for Kobe usually means more fire made when it comes to the continual torching of every opponent standing in his way (just ask Charlie, his name might ring a Bell). Just don’t ask Kobe how his finger’s doing - he’ll give you the finger. And by You, I mean the rest of the league.
(Update: Kobe Bryant has just won his 24th Western Conference Player of the Week Award. Like we didn't know.)
There's a lot of rocky road in the fridge,
Jonathan Hernandez (Chick's Fridge)