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While everyone was watching election coverage all last night, LA almost forgot the Lakers began the post-Shaq era yesterday. The result: an impressive 89-78 win over Denver. Kobe Bryant was impressive, not with his 25 points, but with his seven assists. Many of those passes allowed Chris Mihm to score 23 points. Lamar Odom also added 13 rebounds.

Many basketball fans are acting surprised that Kobe suddenly decided to pass the ball. But Kobe Bryant is not a stupid player. He knows what everyone has been saying about him. He knows that everyone claims he orchestrated Shaq's departure, when it was Shaq who actually demanded a trade. He knows everyone expects him to shoot 30 times a night.

But he also knows the Lakers can't win that way.

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As somsone who desperately wanted to be the Lakers' leader, now is Kobe's chance to act like one. And he took advantage of the opportunity last night. A Kobe Bryant with something to prove is a Kobe Bryant you want on your team.

With arguably the game's best player, and solid players like Lamar Odom, Caron Butler, and now even Chris Mihm, and with a great coach like Rudy Tomjanovich, the Lakers absolutely should make the playoffs this year. And LAist believes they may surprise a few people.