Mike’s Take: Kobe Returns

If there was any question as to whether the balance of power in the NBA has shifted from last year, the Lakers have done their best in the month of February to put that to rest. With their leading scorer and playmaker Kobe out for 18 days with injury, the Lakers simply went 4-1, including a road win against the streaking Jazz.  Only a narrow one-point loss to the Celtics rose against their record.

The icing on the cake came last night with the return of Kobe Bryant to the lineup. On the road against a Grizzlies team that has played the Lakers tough in recent games, Kobe scored the Lakers’ last nine points in an efficient 32-point outing highlighted by yet another game winning jump shot in the closing seconds.

The implications of the Lakers’ recent streak are more significant than the impact on their overall record. With Kobe sidelined, the Lakers’ other marquee players demonstrated a confidence and swagger that is sometimes missing. The bench also performed to a higher level than it has during any stretch of play this year, perhaps sensing the urgency that Kobe wasn’t around to close games out. Add to this the best fourth quarter performer in the game (who is now rested and healthier than at any point this season) and one can understand why the rest of the league may be taking notice.

While it is often the case that a team rallies in the short-term when a star player goes down, there seems to be something more far-reaching about LA’s latest streak. However, there remains a lot of basketball to be played, and the Lakers still need to put everything together into a cohesive, consistent package. If they manage to do so, we may well be looking at a repeat NBA champion.

[nba-video vid=channels/play_of_the_day/2010/02/23/20100223_pod.nba]

Lakers will meet the new and improved Mavericks tonight at 9 PM ET.

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