Kobe Bryant’s final game in San Antonio with the Lakers brings the memories flooding back
The road games are dwindling for Kobe Bryant, only 13 left before his 20-year career ends.
This might be the most meaningful one remaining.
The Lakers play at San Antonio on Saturday, the home of the eternally marked “0.4" shot and also the start of the Lakers’ colossal playoff failure in 1999.
Bryant smiles when asked about Derek Fisher’s famous fling — how could he not? — but glowers when discussing the sweep the Spurs applied to the Lakers with a young Tim Duncan and old David Robinson in Bryant’s third NBA season.
“They forced me to raise my game to a championship level very, very quickly because of the way that they played, the systematic approach to the game,” Bryant said. “They play such a mental game, such a mistake-free game. It forced me at a very early age to step up to that level.”
The Lakers eliminated San Antonio on the way to championships in 2001 and 2002, but it was Fisher’s turnaround in 2004 that Bryant remembers most about the rivalry.
“That was pretty awesome,” he said. “There’s a lot of memories in San Antonio. Pretty special.”
Bryant, 37, has already played memorable final farewell games in Philadelphia, Boston and Sacramento. There are still ones in Chicago, Denver, Utah and Phoenix.
He has played well recently, scoring 38 against Minnesota and 27 points with 12 rebounds against New Orleans. The Lakers (11-41) won both games.
Less work and more patience have paid off, Lakers Coach Byron Scott said.
“If his shot’s not falling, then he comes in and gets 500 more shots up that day. The next day his legs are gone,” Scott said. “I remember we had that talk earlier in the season where I said, ‘Listen, you’ve got to cut out the 500 a day. Let’s scale it to 200 or something like that.’
“Right now, I think less work has been better for him because his legs are fresh, especially these last couple of weeks. He has a different pep in his step.”
Jordan Clarkson wants to be an All-Star in the future.
Scott has some suggestions.
He likes the overall direction of Clarkson’s game but wants to see better defense, more free throws, more rebounds and better passing.
“His assist-to-turnover ratio has to get better,” Scott said. “Recognize once he goes to the basket, sometimes if you see big ol’ Anthony Davis coming to block you, somebody is open. You’ve got to be able to find that guy.”
Clarkson, 23, is averaging 15.2 points, second among second-year players, along with 3.8 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.9 turnovers.
He is in two All-Star events next weekend in Toronto — the Rising Stars Challenge on Friday and the Skills Challenge on Saturday. The All-Star game is Sunday.
“He’s still a baby in this game . . . but I love where he is right now,” Scott said.
Up next for Lakers:
AT SAN ANTONIO
When: 5:30 PST Saturday.
Where: AT&T Center.
On the air: TV: TWC SportsNet, TWC Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.
Records: Lakers 11-41; Spurs 42-8.
Record vs. Spurs: 0-2.
Update: Despite its strong record, San Antonio has shown cracks the last couple of weeks, losing to Golden State by 30 and Cleveland by 14. The Spurs beat the Lakers by 12 at home in December and by 13 last month at Staples Center.
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