Kobe now ‘Vino’ but Lakers not popping bottles
by Sam Amick, USA TODAY Sports
LOS ANGELES – When Kobe Bryant defied Father Time yet again and soared over the Atlanta Hawks’ Josh Smith for a game-changing, eye-popping dunk on Sunday at Staples Center, the Los Angeles Lakers star made it clear yet again that he was getting better with age.
“The vino,” he said in reference to his new nickname and a tribute to his upbringing in Italy, “is out of the barrel.”
But while 34-year-old Bryant and the Lakers have made things interesting for the final stretch, they’re a long ways from popping corks on champagne bottles. The big boys of the NBA have very little reason to fear them just yet.
Yes, they have won 13 of their past 18 games, reaching the .500 mark for the first time in 61 days with the win vs. the Hawks on Sunday that pulled them to within 2½ games of playoff position in the Western Conference. But Tuesday’s test at the Oklahoma City Thunder will be the sort of game that says more about them than these past six weeks.
Their home win vs. the Thunder on Jan. 27, the one that unofficially kickstarted this turnaround after they won at Utah the night before, should give the Lakers and their fans some hope that they could do some damage if they manage to sneak into the playoffs. It was a steady and impressive performance, a one-game showcase of how all this problematic pieces could fit together. But it was also an aberration.
The Lakers are a woeful 2-15 this season against the league’s top seven teams (San Antonio, Miami, Oklahoma City, the Los Angeles Clippers, Memphis, Indiana and Denver), the latest loss against one of the big boys of the NBA coming in a one-sided 119-108 loss at the Nuggets on Feb. 25. Improved record aside, the numbers paint the picture of a team that’s playing only marginally better than before with one vital difference: they’re executing late in winnable games.
During this 18-game turnaround, the Lakers are 9-2 in games decided by nine points or less. They were 5-16 in that category during their first 42 games, … [For more on Kobe Bryant now 'Vino' but Lakers not popping bottles, click here.]