They're no longer coached by Phil Jackson, but Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol are carrying the Lakers just like ol' times — especially in the 4th quarter.
You could argue that this should have been what the Lakers are doing since the start of the season, but you could also argue that the Lakers never really had a coach since Phil Jackson's departure who had any clue in how to utilize the 2 players who happened to be teammates when the Lakers won their last 2 championships.
The point of coaching is to win and winning titles is what Kobe and Pau know. So why would any coach not take advantage of what they know about winning and winning championships?
But at the very least, Mike D'Antoni has figured out (or swallowed his pride) the offense is actually more fluid and more dynamic when Gasol is added into the equation with Bryant before it was too late.
Remember when D'Antoni relegated Gasol to the bench as his way of getting one big out of his whole offense?
Funny how things tend to change when you're desperate.
With Kobe and Pau playing together and looking for one another, the Lakers stand a better chance at winning their remaining 3 games and succeeding in the playoffs no matter where that journey eventually end up for the team.
But Gasol's sudden rise to the occasion couldn't have come at a better time.
Since a 103-98 victory in Sacramento, Pau has been in the thick of things becoming a hub for Kobe and Dwight Howard as well as a scorer at the high or mid-post.
In the last 6 games, Gasol is averaging 17 points and 7.6 assists — that includes leading the team (and tying Damian Lillard) with 9 assists in finally sweeping a back-to-back this season against Portland last night. In fact for the last 2 games, Pau has been the focus of the offense more in the 2nd half, and he has been answering the bell and on defense, as well.
Against the Hornets on Tuesday, Pau had 3 blocks and a steal. Versus the Trailblazers, he notched in 2 blocks. It's possible that Gasol's injured foot has healed really well and is no longer an issue. Or that Pau has learned to block whatever soreness he may be experiencing in his foot or body. Either way, it's good for the Lakers.
As for the Mamba, there's really nothing else to say about him this season.
If he does retire after next season, he's definitely going out with a bang regardless if he wins his 6th ring or not.
After 17 seasons, Bryant is harnessing a lot of youth and even more toughness than he's shown before. It goes to show just how much he wants to win under any situation.
In the same last 6 games, Kobe has accumulated a total of 274 minutes. That's nearly 46 minutes a game.
Versus Portland last night, he turned in perhaps his most complete game of the season with 47 points, 5 assists, 8 boards, 4 blocks and 3 steals. He made 14 of his 17 field goals (52%) and all 18 of his free-throws while playing the entire game…at the age of 34.
Kobe has indeed become a more enjoyable spectacle within a game this year. His will to lead the Lakers into the playoffs has dampened all of the frustrations this season and has single-handedly salvaged whatever expectations and hope Laker fans now have for this team.
At least now, Gasol is riding shotgun with him.