Kobe Bryant’s ‘D’ is Topic A after win

Kobe Bryant forces Cavaliers guard Dion Waiters into an off-balance shot at the rim.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The NBA’s leading scorer has a new favorite subject.

His defense.

Kobe Bryant’s willingness to chase Cleveland’s Kyrie Irving around the court Sunday was a bigger point of emphasis afterward than the Lakers star’s 23 points.

Irving scored only 15 points in the Lakers’ 113-93 victory, with Bryant often keeping the Cavaliers point guard from receiving the ball in his preferred spots. Irving made only seven of 15 shots and finished well short of his average of 23 points per game.

Not coincidentally, it was the first time the Lakers held an opponent under 100 points since last year. Portland had been the last team the Lakers had kept to double digits, on Dec. 28, seven games earlier.


So even though the Lakers were a study in effective ball movement against the Cavaliers, making 40 shots on 32 assists, Bryant preferred to steer the conversation in another direction after the game.

“We did a pretty good job,” he said of the offensive efficiency, “but it’s not about that. I’ll almost refrain from talking about that as the season goes on, talking about the offense. It’s not about that.”

A constant talking point the rest of the season could be whom Bryant defends.

Lakers Coach Mike D'Antoni said Monday that Bryant would continue to regularly defend point guards, though the coach wasn’t sure if he would have Bryant try to stop Milwaukee’s Brandon Jennings or Monta Ellis on Tuesday night at Staples Center.

The guards are almost interchangeable, with Ellis averaging 18.8 points and Jennings 18.5.

Lakers point guard Steve Nash said giving Bryant the challenge of stopping a prolific scorer every game could actually enhance his defense.

“Sometimes when maybe he’s guarding someone that isn’t going to demand his interest, he can wane a little bit,” Nash said. “But when we put him in a position where he’s challenged, he can be phenomenal.”

Expending extra energy on defense didn’t hurt Bryant’s offensive output against the Cavaliers. He made nine of 14 shots and scored almost one point for each of his 27 minutes before sitting out the entire fourth quarter.

Just call him Earl

Earl Clark isn’t into the whole “Earl-sanity” thing.

He prefers the “Eazy” nickname his teammates have given him in recent years.

His rise to prominence with the Lakers was anything but easy.

Selected 14th in the 2009 draft, Clark played sparingly for the Phoenix Suns and Orlando Magic before becoming a throw-in last summer in the Dwight Howard trade.

He has become a mainstay with the Lakers in the wake of injuries to Howard, Pau Gasol and Jordan Hill, impressing with his energy and defense while averaging 15 points and 10.7 rebounds in his last three games. Gasol will miss a fifth consecutive game Tuesday because of a concussion, a team spokesman said.

Clark was a nonfactor in the season’s first two months, appearing in nine games and scoring a total of seven points. He was such an afterthought that Denver Coach George Karl invoked a seldom-used rule late in a game against the Lakers on Jan. 6, picking Clark off the bench to shoot two free throws after an injury to Gasol.

“He probably saw how many DNPs I had and he probably [figured] I took the least free throws, so let me take them,” said Clark, who made both shots. “I was kind of insulted, but I was glad I was ready and knocked them down. It’s like a kick in his face.”

Clark said the best part of his success has been hearing Lakers P.A. announcer Lawrence Tanter call his name as part of the starting lineup the last two games.

“Sometimes at night it’s what you dream about,” Clark said, “and it came true.”