It’s Triple Damages in Kobe’s Court
A quick report on the state of Kobe Bryant’s game: The Kobe stopper couldn’t stop praising Kobe.
When Portland swingman Ruben Patterson was laughing at Bryant during Sunday night’s Laker-Trail Blazer game, it wasn’t to mock him. It was because Bryant kept rising up on him and making jumpers that were just ridiculous.
“He hit some tough shots,” Patterson said. “That’s why I was sitting there, laughing.”
And what about Bryant’s willingness to share the ball?
“I noticed that too,” Patterson said. “He was looking for his teammates more. I’m gonna tell you, when he first got in the league, he was looking to score. But [now] he has confidence in his teammates to make shots.”
Bryant explained, “The offense is going to come. If the team gives me a good shot, I’m going to take it.”
Somewhere on the path toward becoming the next Michael Jordan, Bryant got sidetracked and began heading in the direction of Magic Johnson. In his last two games, he has shown a Magical flair for doing whatever it takes to win, besides posting consecutive triple-doubles with an average of 33 points, 14.5 rebounds and 12 assists.
He’s showing the ability to single-handedly carry a team, as opposed to letting Shaquille O’Neal do the heavy lifting and then coming by to ask, “You need a hand with that?”
And he’s doing it in more ways than simply shooting. As recently as last season, his method of making up for O’Neal’s absence was to go for a career-high 56 points against the Memphis Grizzlies. Now he’s helping Devean George score a career-high 25 points.
Even though Bryant had three NBA championships before his 24th birthday he did have one gap on his resume: Since Bryant became a starter in 1999, the Lakers were 12-15 without O’Neal. That was a reflection on Bryant, something factored into his ranking among the great perimeter players. When on his own, he didn’t wilt the way Penny Hardaway did after Shaq left Orlando, but he also didn’t blossom as Tracy McGrady has since leaving Vince Carter behind in Canada and having Grant Hill fall by the wayside in Orlando.
This is Bryant’s chance to back up his label as the game’s best all-around player, and he’s taking advantage. He adapted quickly after nine-for-29 shooting the first night out. Of course Bryant had to shoot that night. Who else was going to make up for O’Neal’s 28 points, Soumaila Samake?
But that led to assistant coach Tex Winter and Bryant trading barbs, as reported in an ESPN.com story. That’s just their personalities. Winter is cantankerous, Bryant is bullheaded, and the issue appeared to have gone away over the weekend.
On a plane flight recently, I was stuck watching “K-19,” a movie featuring Harrison Ford -- with a horribly inconsistent Russian accent -- as the commanding officer of a Cold War-era Soviet submarine. As soon as the boat hit the water, he put it through every conceivable catastrophe -- from a fire in the galley to a forced dive to depths that almost crushed the hull -- to test the limits of the sub and its crew.
It reminded me of the beginning of the Lakers’ season: one crisis after another, like a drill to see how this team would respond to adversity.
Captain! Shaquille O’Neal on the injured list.
Rick Fox suspended six games for fighting, sir!
Media reports that Kobe Bryant and Tex Winter are saying bad things about each other!
Whew. Time to surface. Down periscope. Take a look around the NBA landscape and the Lakers are showing signs that they’ll be OK.
O’Neal came close to hitting the alarm after the first game. But that was only because he was leaning back against a Staples Center wall that had a fire alarm lacking the necessary height clearance for a 7-foot-1 center.
When I asked him if he was concerned about the Lakers’ poor showing in an 87-82 loss to San Antonio on ring night, O’Neal said, “Nahhh. We’re going to get back on track.”
The Big Train’s scheduled departure is Nov. 12, O’Neal’s projected return date from toe surgery.
It did get worse before it got better, with the Lakers sinking to a blowout loss at Portland before bouncing back with victories over the Clippers and Trail Blazers at Staples Center.
The different matchups helped. The Spurs shadowed Bryant with their big men, so when he got by their guards and made his way into the lane, he suddenly was looking up at a whole lot of Tim Duncan. On Sunday night, Portland Coach Maurice Cheeks went with small lineups, so even when the help arrived, it was easy for Bryant to look over the players and see the basket or his teammates.
Coach Phil Jackson leaned more heavily on veterans Brian Shaw, Robert Horry and Derek Fisher than he would have preferred Sunday night, but he and the Lakers felt challenged. So they responded and passed the test.
Who knows, there could be more injuries or suspensions during the playoffs. And the other teams are treating this as the real deal, not just a drill.
“Playing the Lakers is a barometer, no matter if they have this guy, they don’t have that guy,” Cheeks said.
The Lakers still think long-range -- “We’re just trying to find a rhythm and try to execute better,” Shaw said -- so they aren’t ready to panic or celebrate in November. What they’ve shown at the moment, in their reduced state, is just a little of that championship touch.
“Everybody’s eyes get wide open when Shaq is not playing,” Patterson said. “But they’ve still got Kobe and other guys, [like] Robert Horry, that can play. They’re just a great team. Without Shaq or with Shaq.”
You know what that sounds like? A compliment to Kobe.
J.A. Adande can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.