Another Lakers-Clippers game, another showcase opportunity for Kobe Bryant.
It’s the same old story for the Clippers, who face the challenge of trying to slow the Lakers’ superstar in tonight’s meeting of Staples Center neighbors.
It’s a home game for the Clippers, who haven’t fared well against Bryant despite becoming more competitive against the Lakers the last few seasons. And Bryant is coming off a 52-point performance in Thursday’s victory over the Utah Jazz, so guess who’s still the focus of the Clippers’ attention?
“You’ve got to have everybody working together against him,” Corey Maggette said after practice Friday. “You’ve got to have a lot of guys working hard to make him take tough shots, and try to make him uneasy when he’s shooting the ball.
“But Utah did that, he had two or three hands in his face sometimes, and he was still making shots. I just hope he doesn’t have that type of shooting night against us.”
In his sharpest post-surgery game, Bryant made 19 of 26 shots from the field in 34 minutes to lead the Lakers to a 132-102 victory.
“I feel great,” Bryant said. “It was just one of those moments, you get into one of those zones, everything kind of slows down a little bit. I’ve been feeling pretty strong on a consistent basis. It was just a matter of just trusting [my knee] again. I feel like I’m over that hump.”
Bryant was nine for nine from the field and also perfect in 10 free throws while tying his Lakers record for points in a quarter with 30 in the third -- Bryant also dropped 30 against Dallas in the third quarter last December -- providing more for Clippers Coach Mike Dunleavy to consider.
“Obviously, it was a huge game by him,” Dunleavy said. “Thirty points in the third quarter ... he has that ability. He can have those types of nights where he puts a lot of pressure on your defense. You better hope that your defense is better and can make him miss some shots.”
Before scoring at least 50 points for the 12th time in his career, Bryant’s previous high this season was 40 points against the Clippers in the Lakers’ 105-101 victory Nov. 21. In four games against the Clippers last season, Bryant averaged 40.8 points, including 50 on Jan. 7 in the Lakers’ 112-109 victory.
“He’s an amazing player, especially when he’s hitting jump shots like” he did against Utah, Elton Brand said. “You have to send two guys at him sometimes. Quinton Ross, Corey Maggette and Shaun Livingston will try to help us contain him, but it’s a team effort against a guy like that.”
Lakers Coach Phil Jackson, a day after acknowledging Bryant’s stellar effort, predictably oscillated back to a team-first mantra and advocated a share-the-ball mind-set.
“I’m sure [the Clippers] will be OK if Kobe gets his 40 and no one else scores,” Jackson said. “Then they can hold court. We want other people to participate in the offense because we don’t want to have to make it a solo shot like that.”
Option No. 2 for the Lakers is obviously forward Lamar Odom, who is off to the best start in his eight-year career.
But Odom has averaged 15.5 points and 42.6% shooting in 11 games against the Clippers since leaving them after the 2002-03 season, numbers that fall below his career averages of 15.9 points and 45.2%.
Last week Odom was off the mark against the Clippers, making only six of 18 shots and four of 10 free throws for 18 points. Still, the Lakers improved to 127-43 against the Clippers, though the teams have split the previous two seasons with two victories each.
Normally very accommodating with the media, Odom typically bristles when asked about the Clippers.
As reporters approached him after Friday’s practice, he beat them to the punch.
“I have a feeling I know what you want to talk about,” he said. “How big is this game tomorrow? Is it a rivalry?”
Then, without prodding, he answered himself.
“It’s starting to turn into one,” he said. “I’m expecting a competitive game. If you don’t respect them, you’ll lose. Hopefully we can come out with the same result.”