Marco Belinelli's 3-point shot, coming in the closing minutes against a seemingly motionless defense, put an end to the Lakers' hopes of beating the Bulls. “It's not about making excuses,” said Kobe Bryant after the tough 95-83 loss in Chicago, where Michael Jordan once won six titles.
But even with the Lakers not playing their best, Kobe Bryant is. Though the Lakers have a losing record this season, Kobe Bryant's stats are as impressive as ever. This fact raises the question; can a great player having a great season become MVP even if his team is struggling?
The answer is yes. In the 1955-56 season Bob Pettit won the MVP award with the St. Louis Hawks, in which the Hawks had a 33-39 record. That year Pettit averaged 25.7 points, 16.2 rebounds and 2.6 assists per game. In 1981-82, Moses Malone won the MVP with the Houston Rockets (46-36), who finished third in the Midwest Division. Malone averaged 31.1 points, 14.7 rebounds, and 1.8 assists per game.
If the Lakers manage to qualify for the playoffs, it will be thanks to Kobe Bryant, who averages 29.2 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 4.8 assists per game. He is obviously the Most Valuable Player on the Lakers Roster, but winning the NBA's MVP award should be an option open to debate if he continues his performance and leads the Lakers to the playoffs.
Last year’s MVP, LeBron James, averaged 27.1 points, 7.9 rebounds and 6.2 assists, which are impressive but not far off from Bryant’s. When Bryant last won the MVP award he averaged 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 6.2 assists. There are only a couple of players who can match Bryant’s numbers, and given the early struggles the Lakers are going through right now it would be an impressive feat for La Mamba Negra.
That night in Chicago, when the Lakers defense was unable to contain the Bulls in the final minutes of the game, Bryant took responsibility for the loss. He is the leader of the team after all, and like any leader he wants to lead the Lakers to the playoffs by carrying the team on his back. That feat is one that only an MVP can achieve, and with the Lakers only four games behind the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, that is a real possibility. Kobe Bryant for MVP? Don't count it out.
You can follow Octavio Raygoza on Twitter at @olraygoza.