By Tamara Latta
There is a valid reason to have butterflies and bite your fingernails if you are rooting for the Lakers– they have just about everyone in Los Angeles perplexed.
Most fans thought the series would be over by now, including myself, but the New Orleans Hornets are not going out without a dogfight. After sweeping the Hornets in the regular season 4-0, the Lakers find themselves playing desperate basketball against them in the playoffs. What aren’t the Lakers doing right?
First off, the Hornets’ Chris Paul is having a field day on the floor. If the Lakers can contain him, then the games would be much more soothing. He’s all over the floor– if he’s not scoring, he’s making plays and getting his teammates involved. In game 1 of the Western Conference playoffs, Paul had a sensational performance, racking up 31 points, 14 assists, seven rebounds, and four steals. It looks as if the Hornets are enjoying being the bad guys and giving the Lakers fans anxiety.
All of a sudden, the Lakers were in a must-win situation playing in game 5. After New Orleans tied the series 2-2, they began to put pressure on the Lakers. With Bryant nursing a sprained ankle and Gasol becoming a non-factor in the line-up, no one knew what to expect, but it turned out to be a night to remember. Bryant only played eight minutes in the first quarter because Jackson thought he was a liability on defense, but when he got back in the game, he took advantage of his playing time, making moves he made back in 2001. Okafor’s name will now have longevity since he was the victim to that spectacular dunk. Bryant was so active on the court you wouldn’t know that he was hobbled by a foot injury. All he needed on the floor with him was his afro from 1999. His performance most definitely brought back memories.
In Tuesday’s game, the stat sheet for the Lakers was a bit impressive. Bryant finished with 19 points on 8-13 shooting (on a sprained ankle) Gasol had 16 points and eight rebounds, while Fisher and Artest dumped in 13 points. Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom bounced back with 13 points and seven rebounds. This is what we will have to see throughout the playoffs– everyone contributing in points, rebounds, steals and assists.
On the other hand, Gasol continues to get criticized for his absence in this series. He has yet to have an admirably fine game. But a lot of people didn’t know he was suffering from an upper respiratory infection, which could have had a big impact on his game. Playing for the Lakers means no injury or sickness is acceptable or excusable, thanks to Bryant. You have to be a warrior if you wear purple and gold. Bryant has worked hard to become the player he is today, and if you are his teammate, you should consider yourself blessed. Blake was out the first two games due to the chicken pox, and Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said he expected him to miss the entire first series. Of course, he was back, suited up and ready to go for game two. We can all thank Bryant for that fast recovery.