The Los Angeles Lakers are beginning to find out how to win with Kobe Bryant back. After splitting a difficult four-game road trip, the Lakers’ formula for success seems to be coming together: Bryant attacking, Pau Gasol involved in the post and Nick Young scoring off the bench.
On Monday night, Bryant tied his season-high with 21 points on 50 percent shooting from the field. He also converted his only attempt at a three-pointer -- a timely bucket that came with under three minutes remaining in a three-point ball game. Bryant was not perfect, but he was not as careless as he had previously been since returning.
“It’s getting better,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said about Bryant’s game during the post-game press conference.
Since Gasol expressed his dissatisfaction with his role in D’Antoni’s offense, the Spaniard has found himself in positions where he feels comfortable -- close to the basket. Gasol operated from close to the goal on Tuesday night, and his 21 points came on nine of 12 shooting from the field.
One night earlier, Gasol made seven of his nine shots for 16 points. If he continues attacking in these positions, he will continue to shoot a high percentage. Part of Gasol’s resurgence is due to Bryant’s return and the two-man game these two play together.
“Pau (Gasol) did a great job controlling the game from the paint,” Bryant said after the game. “He got great position.”
Apart for Gasol and Bryant, Young has been the Lakers’ most consistent scorer off the bench -- possibly overall. Young finished with 18 points and appeared to be a member of D'Antoni's trusted unit designated to finish games.
Young scored in double figures for the 11th consecutive game. Since permanently moving to the bench on Nov. 12, Young has scored in double figures in 16 of 17 games.
Sure, the Lakers still need to re-incorporate point guards and seriously put in work on their team defense, but this team is finally beginning to form a permanent identity: it’s “Kobe and Pau” with a bit of “Swaggy P” mixed in. That combination was good enough to win in Memphis on Tuesday night.