Bryant drops 52 on Jazz
The chant began near the end of the third quarter, an unfamiliar roar of approval so far this season at Staples Center.
“M-V-P ... M-V-P.”
Kobe Bryant’s elevation and acceleration returned, almost as if they had never left him, leading to a performance reminiscent of many last season in a 132-102 victory Thursday over the Utah Jazz.
Fifty-two points on 19-for-26 shooting in 34 minutes.
It appeared in many ways that Bryant was back, as were the Lakers after a drab home loss Tuesday to Milwaukee.
Bryant tied a franchise record for points in a quarter with 30 in the third -- he also hit Dallas for 30 in the third quarter last December -- and he sprinkled numerous hints throughout the night that his surgically repaired knee was, well, fully repaired.
He scored just about every which way, short of a four-point play.
He nailed an off-balance scoop over lanky Utah forward Andrei Kirilenko.
He asked for the ball from Luke Walton in the final seconds of the second quarter, blew past Kirilenko and Carlos Boozer, and dunked emphatically to give the Lakers a 53-41 lead at halftime.
Then came the third quarter.
He took nine shots, making them all, and 10 free throws, making all of them as well.
He had 22 going into the quarter and came out of it with 52, marking his 12th career 50-point game.
“It was just a matter of trusting my legs,” said Bryant, who also had four rebounds and three assists. “I’m strong enough. I’m heathy enough, and now it’s just trusting.
“After the last game coming into tonight, I knew that I just had to just go for it, just believe that my strength and my health would be there.”
He was averaging 24.1 points before Thursday, nothing to brush aside as inconsequential, but off his 35.4-point average last season.
He continually asked for patience from concerned, questioning fans while recovering from mid-June arthroscopic surgery on his right knee.
On Thursday, he rewarded those who waited, an effort to remember after making only 15 of 47 shots in the two games leading up to Thursday.
“I’ve seen a lot of great games from Kobe, but that was a terrific performance,” Lakers Coach Phil Jackson said. “It was a combination of things he did tonight ... maybe not as dramatic as in the past, but there’s still plenty of fire in there.”
The Lakers held a 92-71 lead after Bryant was done in the third quarter, and there was a slight quirk of fate: The Lakers scored 42 points in the quarter, their most since the third quarter of the Toronto game in January, when Bryant scored 81.
Bryant left with 36 seconds to go in the third quarter and re-entered with 8:10 to play and the Lakers ahead, 101-81.
When he left for good with 4:47 left and the Lakers up, 116-89, Jackson high-fived him and gave him a brief hug as he walked by.
“Like I’ve said, when I play, I play to please him,” Bryant said of Jackson. “If he stands up and gives me a high-five, then I know I’ve done my job.”
And, with that, a puzzling loss 48 hours earlier to the Bucks was pushed further back into the past.
The night started with a surreal feel before fans were allowed through the glass doors. The Lakers took early warmups at the basket away from their bench because Utah, using its right as the visitor, chose to attack the basket in front of the Lakers’ bench in the first half.
That way, the Jazz could attack the basket in front of its bench in the second half. (Most teams prefer to play defense in front of their bench in the second half.)
Fine with Jackson, who couldn’t resist a tweak at Utah Coach Jerry Sloan.
“I always felt that was a sign of weakness for a coach who had to manipulate the offensive game for the players, but some teams need it,” Jackson said. “In this day and age, a lot of teams need it.”
Not the Lakers on Thursday.
Not with Bryant playing the way he did.
(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX)
Kobe Bryant scored more than 50 points Thursday for the 12th time in his career. Bryant’s top six scoring games:
*--* Pts. Opponent Date 81 Toronto Jan. 22, 2006 62 Dallas Dec. 20, 2005 56 Memphis Jan. 14, 2002 55 Washington March 28, 2003 52 UTAH NOV. 30, 2006 52 Houston Feb. 18, 2003 (2OT)