Several hours before he dipped another toe into historic waters, Kobe Bryant looked up sleepily while getting a pregame therapeutic massage.
He’d just heard someone in the Lakers’ locker room say he needed 118 points Friday against the New Orleans Hornets to tie Wilt Chamberlain for most points ever in a four-game span. He weighed the comment with a slight smile, shook his head, and buried his face back under a towel.
He didn’t get 118, but continued his spree with another 50, becoming the first player since Chamberlain in 1962 to accrue four consecutive games of at least 50 points.
He pushed and prodded the Lakers to a fourth consecutive victory, a 111-105 decision over the Hornets that tied their season-high winning streak. They are now two games ahead of the Denver Nuggets for sixth place in the Western Conference.
Bryant’s outside shot was again almost infallible -- 16-for-29 shooting -- and he played all but 1 minute 8 seconds.
Afterward, Coach Phil Jackson revealed the possible incentive for Bryant’s recent binge.
“Do you remember there was a suspension about two weeks ago?” Jackson asked. “I think there’s some motivation behind that. I don’t know if we’d like to have that suspension all the time to have to work through, but I think there’s some things there that motivate him in a certain sense. He’s got that kind of passion.”
Bryant was livid when the NBA threw a second one-game suspension at him two weeks ago for striking another player after taking a shot. His tone that day was overcast, his sentences clipped and edgy when talking with reporters.
Fast-forward to Friday at New Orleans Arena, after Bryant’s fourth game in a scoring string that now reads 65-50-60-50.
“The thing that was frustrating for me is that people were talking about me as a dirty player, which to me was pretty insulting,” Bryant said. “That’s something I don’t need to do. From that aspect, to have people talking about something else besides that is a much better feeling.”
Indeed, people are talking.
He is now only the second player in league history to score 50 or more points in four consecutive games. Chamberlain had five consecutive 50-plus games in 1962, including his famous 100-point game. Chamberlain also had seven consecutive games of 50 or more points, the longest streak in NBA history, in December 1961.
Bryant spoke reverently after Friday’s game, saying he initially associated Chamberlain with an acting role in the 1980s movie “Conan the Destroyer.”
“When I was 6, I just knew him as Bombaata. ... I didn’t know him as Wilt Chamberlain,” Bryant said. “Then as I got older, I started understanding what he was all about as a basketball player.”
Jackson also joined in the nostalgic mood when asked to compare Bryant to Michael Jordan, who had a three-game streak of 50 or more points in April 1987.
“It’s phenomenal. It’s incredible,” Jackson said. “He’s shooting [outside] more than Michael was. Michael was probably doing more post-up, more penetration, more at-the-basket kind of stuff. But Kobe’s doing a whole range of things. I think his shooting has just been remarkable, the way he is raising up over people and knocking the ball down.”
Bryant and Jackson tugged at each other throughout the game, Jackson asking if he needed a breather and Bryant declining the offer. That the Lakers were without reserve forward Maurice Evans for a second game (sore knee) made Bryant’s on-court time that much more valuable.
Bryant exited briefly with 1:22 left in the third quarter and, after an 18-point Lakers lead was whittled to 12, reentered with 14 seconds left in the quarter.
“I wanted to take him out a couple times during the course of the game and he said he wasn’t doing anything out there,” Jackson said wryly. “It hasn’t been a problem to play this kind of minutes for him. We’ll ride him and see how it goes. I know that he’s got a little incentive left in him and he’ll probably go back after it on Sunday [against Golden State].”
Said Bryant: “I told Phil during the game ... ‘I can go 48 [minutes] tonight.’ I just feel really, really good.”
The Lakers were thankful. The streak continues.
While averaging 56.3 points in the last four games, Kobe Bryant has been shooting better than 50% from the field (He was shooting 45.8% before the last four games):
*--* DATE OPPONENT FG-A PTS. March 16 vs. Portland 23-39 65 March 18 vs. Minnesota 17-35 50 March 22 at Memphis 20-37 60 March 23 at New Orleans 16-29 50
Los Angeles Times
KEYS TO THE GAME
* Kobe Bryant made 16 of 29 shots and scored 50 points, marking his fourth consecutive game of 50 or more points.
* The Lakers made 50% of their shots and held the Hornets to 41.3% shooting.
-- MIKE BRESNAHAN