published Monday, April 23rd, 2012

Wiedmer: Kobe has Lakers clicking as NBA playoffs approach

Kobe Cockroach strikes again.

Yes, I'm talking about the Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant. And I mean "cockroach" as a compliment. You just can't kill the guy. The Lakers were 17 down to the Oklahoma City Thunder in Sunday's fourth quarter, still trailed by 11 with four minutes to play, and somehow won in double overtime.

And while Kobe wasn't the only guy in purple -- oops, Forum Blue -- and gold to make a huge contribution to this win, he was the guy who closed the deal with monumental two 3-pointers in regulation to force overtime and stunning overall play in the extra frames, especially the second OT, when he scored four huge points in the final 53 seconds.

"Being down double digits against a very good team, we could have folded easily," Lakers coach Mike Brown said. "This might have been our best team win of the year."

And this was after the Artest formerly known as Ron before he changed his name to Metta World Peace got himself ejected just before halftime for throwing one of the most vicious elbows to the back of an opponent's head that's ever seen outside a hockey rink.

The blow sent the Thunder's James Harden to the showers for good once he pulled himself off the Staples Center floor. It also earned Metta "Weird" Peace -- as ABC analyst Jon Barry labeled him at halftime -- an ejection and probable suspension for at least one playoff game.

But what this improbable Lakers victory did beyond handing super fan Jack Nicholson a marvelous 75th birthday present was send a message to the rest of the NBA that you dismiss these guys as serious playoff contenders at your own peril.

As long as Kobe Cockroach has a pulse, the Lakers are in it to win it.

That's not to say that when the playoffs begin this Saturday that either LA team -- the Lakers or the Clippers -- should be considered anything more than a laudable longshot to wind up with tickertape parade down Rodeo Drive or Hollywood Boulevard.

If you believe the West is best this season, then the best team in that conference -- the San Antonio Spurs -- deserves to be the favorite. Especially after the Spurs twice beat the Lakers by 20 or more points last week; the second of those with Kobe in uniform.

Or perhaps you believe the East is the beast this spring, even with Miami's noticeable struggles down the stretch in losing seven of their last 18 games.

The Heat still looks to be the best team in the Eastern Conference come the playoffs, but until he wins a ring, Miami's LeBron James will have to live with the reputation that he can't close the deal in the postseason.

Of course, the Atlanta Hawks have lived with that tag for the entirety of their 40-plus years in the Big Peach, and at least one reason why reared its ugly head on Sunday, when Atlanta lost 113-112 to the New York Knickerbockers.

Yes, the Knicks have Carmelo Anthony, who struck for 39 points. But when you surrender 113 points on your home floor you've got to wonder about your playoff potential.

Or as the Hawks' Joe Johnson said after being the only Atlanta starter to hold his man -- ironically Anthony -- under 50 percent shooting from the floor: "It's frustrating that we're still playing for something and defensively we were non-existent. There was no help [on defense]. If you were guarding somebody 1-on-1, you were definitely guarding 1-on-1."

There is no guarding Kobe Cockroach 1-on-1, of course. And though the Spurs and Heat should reach the NBA Finals this season, if Bryant's teammates begin to defend more like the Spurs than the Hawks, LA certainly has the frontline talent -- big men Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol -- to scare all comers.

Especially if reserve point guard Steve Blake can keep hitting timely 3-pointers -- he bagged three down the stretch against Oklahoma City -- and Weird Peace's expected suspension isn't a lengthy one.

There's also this quote from Kobe following the game: "It's not so much that we beat Oklahoma, but how we did it. In the playoffs, particularly if you don't have home-court advantage, you're going to have games like this. We have to have the poise and the confidence to just keep chipping away."

And once you let the Lakers chip to within striking distance, Kobe Cockroach is almost impossible to kill. Just ask the Thunder today.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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