COMMENTARY | It wasn't supposed to be this difficult -- the Los Angeles Lakers were one of the NBA's elite teams from the onset of the 2012-13 season.
But in 48 minutes during Sunday's loss to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Lakers may have seen their season come to a premature end. That's because the Clips clinched the Pacific Division and knocked the purple and gold out of the coveted eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference by defeating them,109-95. To make matters worse, the Utah Jazz beat the Golden State Warriors to overtake the Lakers in the standings and hold a half-game lead going into Monday. Since Utah holds the tiebreaker, the Lakers are looking at an uphill battle.
In 74 games this season, the 17-year veteran is averaging 27.0 points per game and shooting near a career-high in field goal percentage at 46.4 percent. He's battled through injuries and come up clutch in moments when his team needed him most and turned in vintage performances on an almost nightly basis.
Most importantly, he's proven to be the most valuable player on a roster that was designed to take pressure off of him, yet has done just the opposite.
When L.A. brought in Steve Nash and Dwight Howard over the summer, analysts, opposing teams and fans all but anointed the Lakers as one of the NBA's favorites to go deep into the postseason. But this season has proven to be one of the most trying in recent memory for all stakeholders in Los Angeles and Bryant himself.
The Lakers' star is logging heavy minutes in a season where he was supposed to have support from a powerful supporting cast and be able to gear up for the playoffs. Injuries, lack of chemistry and the inability to get stops when needed most have all blemished a special, MVP-caliber season for the Black Mamba. He's been outstanding in every sense, and he's exhibiting the essence of what it means to be the Lakers' most valuable player.
Based on the way the season has unfolded, it's hard to imagine that any player is more valuable to his team than Bryant is to the Lakers. He's adjusted his game to suit the needs of the team in a masterful way, shifting effortlessly between scorer and facilitator. Without him, the Lakers wouldn't be in the playoff conversation.
It wasn't supposed to be this way given the capabilities of a player like Howard and the high basketball I.Q. of Nash. But circumstances and injuries are to blame for the team failing to live up to its billing.
Bryant deserves a look at the MVP award this season, whether the Lakers make the playoffs or not. He's been that good. Without him, the Lakers wouldn't be in the position they're in at this juncture, despite it being an undesirable one.
Michael C. Jones covers the Los Angeles Lakers and the NBA as a Southern California-based sports journalist and editor. He contributes to SB Nation in addition to Yahoo! Sports and is the Managing Editor of Sports Out West.
Catch up with him on Twitter @MikeJonesTweets
- Sports & Recreation
- Los Angeles Lakers
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- Kobe Bryant