The Los Angeles Lakers are 3-15 for the 2015-16 NBA season, and Kobe Bryant has played a significant role and minutes in all three of their wins.
Truthfully, Bryant didn't have a massively instrumental role in the Lakers' win over the Brooklyn Nets, as New York's other team played horribly bad to remain win-less at the time. However, Bryant poured in 31 minutes on that occasion, which equaled his season high at the time.
In the Lakers' second win over Detroit and the third win over Washington on Wednesday, Bryant logged 36 minutes of game time. Both times, he played the full fourth quarter. Against the Detroit Pistons, no. 24 flirted with a triple-double by finishing with 17 points, eight rebounds and nine assists. The 37-year-old guided his young team to victory and then took the next night off to rest his aging body.
Apparently, Bryant did more than rest, as he claimed on Wednesday, that he had been doing extra conditioning for a couple weeks, and his legs appeared to finally feel strong in the nation's capital.
"The legs feel really good right now," Bryant said on TWC SportsNet after Wednesday's win. "I pushed it really hard over the last two weeks in training and running, and my legs are starting to catch up to that right now, so they feel pretty good."
Against the Washington Wizards, Bryant poured in 31 points in 36 minutes, including two clutch game-winning buckets. On Wednesday night, Bryant scored two go-ahead buckets in the final minute, and the second of those buckets gave the Lakers the lead for good. Seemingly, the Lakers need Bryant to play like an all-star to get wins, which makes sense considering the heavy minutes he's playing and the point at which he's playing them, i.e. the full fourth quarter.
However, before alarm bells go off, Lakers coach Byron Scott is not idly sitting by and just watching his retiring superstar wear out. After the game, the coach relayed that Bryant stayed in the game past the point at which Scott would normally pull him, but the Lakers managed to run plays that did not put the ball in Bryant's hands for a bulk of the time down the stretch.
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"Really, until the last couple possessions, we went away from (Bryant)," Scott said after the game. "The last couple of minutes, tried to get (the ball) to (Bryant) just in case they foul so he can make the free throws and just so he can do what he does."
Likely, staying on the court allowed Bryant to avoid stiffening up on the bench, which has been a complaint for the 37-year-old recently. Also, the Lakers going away from Bryant conserved energy that the 20-year pro needed at the end of the game. As an additional benefit, the young Lakers, particularly Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle, earned valuable opportunities to make plays in the fourth quarter of a game.
When the final two minutes came around, though, the Lakers changed their game plan. Bryant got the ball. Despite playing on the second night of a back-to-back and in the fourth game in five days (in four different cities), Bryant managed to hit a deep three-pointer that signaled his legs felt good. Then, he delivered on a game-winning fallaway jump shot, which confirmed that the plan had worked and that his legs had responded.
Of course, the Lakers' thin squad needs Bryant playing well to win games. However, he is not doing it out there on an island. In Brooklyn, the youthful trio of Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson and D'Angelo Russell combined for 46 points. Against Detroit, Clarkson scored 18 points, and Nick Young caught fire for 13 points off the bench. Against the Wizards, Randle, Russell and Clarkson again combined for 46 points, with the fresh 21-year-old Randle grabbing 19 rebounds in the game. Lou Williams also deserved as mention, as the scoring guard added 12 points and accounted for seven of the Lakers' 18 steals.
Essentially, the Lakers' formula for win relies as heavily on Bryant being special as it does on the young kids performing and at least one of the veterans off the bench providing a necessary boost. Exactly how many wins this formula yields remains to be seen. So far, the Lakers are 3-15, but considering Bryant is getting his legs back and the kids should only get better, the next 18 games should result in more than only three victories--should.