LOS ANGELES -- When someone asked Mike D'Antoni before Tuesday's game whether he considers Carmelo Anthony a Most Valuable Player candidate, the Lakers coach said he most certainly does. Then he mentioned Kevin Durant and LeBron James, too.
Umm, what about your own Kobe Bryant, coach?
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"Well, if we can get up to where we need to get up to, but we need to get up there," he said. "I don't think you can put anybody as MVP when you're below .500."
Four hours later, the Lakers were back to .500 after winning their fifth in a row, 100-94, over the Knicks and Bryant looked every bit the part of a potential MVP, scoring 34 points. It was his ninth game in a row with 30 or more.
For emphasis, fans at the Staples Center frequently serenaded him with "M-V-P" chants.
Of course, Bryant was in the lineup when the Lakers got off to a 9-14 start, including a loss to the Knicks earlier this month at the Garden.
But that night Steve Nash and Pau Gasol were not on the floor. Now they are, and the star-studded Lakers are starting to look like they were supposed to look this season.
Nash, who chose the Lakers over the Knicks in a sign-and-trade last offseason, was a revelation in his second game and first at home since returning from a fracture in his left leg. He finished with 16 points and 11 assists, including setting up Gasol's game-clinching dunk with 12 seconds left.
What does Nash offer?
"Great decision-making, great ballhandling and the ability to finish, just to know what to do in critical times," Gasol said. Is that all?
Said D'Antoni: "Everybody is getting the ball and getting into the flow. It feeds and it builds. Just like a snowball it keeps getting bigger. I don't know if he's all of it, but he's maybe the last piece that makes it work."
Bryant said the Lakers' "basketball IQ" clearly has risen.
The Knicks have more immediate rivals to worry about in the Eastern Conference. But if they do reach the NBA Finals it suddenly would not be a shock to find the Lakers waiting there for them, assuming Bryant brings all of his friends along with him.