Andrew Bynum

Did Kobe finally learn his lesson?

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and for Kobe Bryant last night that meant passing. In his postgame interview with ESPN’s Doris Burke (who’s so good at her job as a sideline reporter that it’s unsettling, both for the viewer and Phil Jackson, who’s used to treating sideline reporters like they’re his grandchildren), Bryant mentioned his sudden lack of ballhoggedness in last night’s 103-94 win in Game 5 over the Denver Nuggets.

“It was a big gamble for me coming in, but I wanted to kind of change my approach this game and be more of a decoy,” Bryant explained. “I felt like the past couple of games they’ve been really loading over to my side and I wanted to make a conscious effort to try to be a decoy and open up some opportunities for my teammates. It’s risky to change it right now, but it worked out well for us.”

Actually, it would have been risky not to change what the Lakers were doing offensively, both because they were in trouble against an increasingly confident Nuggets squad and because the Lakers’ offense has such a huge effect on how they play defense. It’s often said that effort on the defensive end leads to offensive opportunities, as if simply guarding their men, jumping passing lanes and blocking out will lead to nothing but dunks in transition offensively.

For the Lakers it isn’t that simple. They have a huge advantage over the Nuggets in terms of height and length, but are extremely vulnerable when they miss outside shots (which they’ve done a lot of lately, as they’re shooting 33% from 3-point range this series). So when Bryant, Derek Fisher, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmar and Trevor Ariza settle for jumpers, Pau Gasol, Lamar Odom and Andrew Bynum not only get frustrated, they’re woefully out of position when the inevitable long rebounds lead to transition buckets for Denver.

On one hand, I understand Kobe’s penchant for taking matters into his own hands when his teammates aren’t producing as he’d like them to, but trying to score every point himself saps his energy, discourages his teammates from working hard on both ends and leads to far too many easy baskets for the opposition.

LeBron James almost always plays with the mindset Kobe had last night, but he lacks the teammates to actually make that work. Would you rather your second and third options were Gasol and Odom, or Mo Williams and Delonte West? Not really a tough decision, unless you’re Williams’ or West’s mother.

While constant fronting and double-teams led to only 9 shots for Gasol last night, it was clear that he played with more energy defensively than at any time this series (5 blocked shots, 2 steals and 9 defensive rebounds — as good a performance as he’s had all year). The Spaniard obviously flourishes in an offense where unselfishness and ball movement are rewarded, which is why he’s the perfect big man for the Triangle. So even though he wasn’t getting many touches, Gasol was still in his element since the offense wasn’t “run down court, watch Kobe pump fake and shoot a 3 over two defenders, turn around and get back on defense.”

Odom added 4 blocks and 10 defensive boards (14 total), and for perhaps the first time in months actually took more shots (15) than Kobe (13). Odom coming back to life and his sudden involvement in the offense weren’t coincidental.

The Lakers don’t have a rebounding advantage over the Nuggets, nor are they a better shooting team. However, they are a far superior passing team…when they want to be. Kobe’s 8 assists last night came with 7 turnovers, but that’s fine. The Lakers made some unbelievably sloppy passes last night, but never got down on themselves since their overall offense was so much more fluid than it had been at any other time in the series. No matter how long the Nuggets stuck around, there was never that feeling of desperation that followed them throughout Game 4, when Kobe took 26 shots (including 2-for-10 on threes).

Other not-so-deep Lakers/Nuggets thoughts

–Who has the most obvious hair transplants: Tiger Woods, John Travolta or Lakers season ticket holder Andy Garcia?

–Phil Jackson is widely thought of as arrogant, but why does George Karl get a free pass? His remarks on how the Nuggets are a better team than the Lakers come so often and are so brash, it sounds like he’s trying to convince himself this is the year he’ll finally win his first title.

–If I were Karl, I might worry less about convincing everyone within earshot how great his team is and more time making sure Kenyon Martin doesn’t take 15 shots in a playoff game on the road.

–Can omeone tell Mark Jackson we’re still not exactly sure what a “knockdown” shooter is?

–Since every technical and flagrant foul is usually added, rescinded or changed after each game anyway, why even call any at all? Is it simply to annoy Jeff Van Gundy, who disagrees with every single tech/flagrant the officials call?

–Someone needs to check Vujacic’s hands for excess hair mousse before the game, because there’s got to be some explanation for an NBA guard being such an awful shooter. It’s gotten to the point where every time Sasha hits a three, I flip on the Giants game to see if a Giants infielder hit a homer at the same time.

–Is it fair to call Chris “Birdman” Anderson a white, coked-up (I’m sorry, I mean “formerly” coked-up) version of Ronny Turiaf?

–All those boys gelling their hair like Anderson for Nuggets games in Denver have to make their parents proud. “Good job son. I can’t wait to hear from your junior high vice principal that you were caught shooting up in the janitor’s closet.”

–Buying your Birdman-loving son hair gel is almost like buying your Paris Hilton-loving daughter a video camera.

–Prediction: Shannon Brown gets invited to the NBA Dunk Contest next year.

–Andrew Bynum’s last two games: 41 minutes, 9 fouls.

–However, Bynum’s first foul last night, a hard smack of cheap-shot artist Dahntay Jones, was definitely warranted…don’t be surprised if someone on the Lakers gets suspended for hammering Jones the first time L.A. and Denver meet in the regular season. Sounds like a job for Adam Morrison.

–Remember what I said about the officials trying to keep open the possibility of a Lakers/Cavs Finals? Exhibit A: Mickael Pietrus’ phantom foul on LeBron at the end of regulation in Game 4. Exhibit B: Chauncey Billups gets 3 fouls in the first half, and Nene fouls out midway through the fourth quarter.

–LeBron will still get that call tonight at home, but if any Nugget gets into foul trouble tomorrow in Denver it would be a bigger upset than Craig Sager wearing a charcoal-gray three piece suit tonight on the sidelines. Doris Burke on the other hand, I could definitely see her wearing such an ensemble.

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