The carrot remains dangling there for Kobe Bryant to grab.
With two regular-season games left, the Lakers star has a legitimate shot to grab the NBA’s scoring title. He leads the league with an average of 27.89 points, while Thunder forward Kevin Durant strails with 27.79 points. A significant performance for Bryant in the Lakers’ game Sunday against the Thunder would widen the gap and lead to ongoing commentary on how he’s beating Father Time in his 16th NBA season.
But he maintains that hardly sounds enticing.
“Not very important,” Bryant said as he stared down at the ground in response to what it would mean at this stage of his distinguished career.
Not very important?
Bryant reeled off four consecutive games this season where he scored at least 40 points while nursing a torn ligament in his right wrist. Bryant went on a five-game stretch this season where he dropped at least 30 points despite wearing a plastic mask to protect his nose, which sustained a fracture during the All-Star game. He spent plenty of time after Saturday’s practice working on his shooting and post moves with Lakers player development coach Phil Handy. Bryant’s relentlessly climbed up to fifth place on the NBA’s all-time scoring list (29,458).
Wouldn’t this be a nice way to prove Bryant simply needed an innovative procedure on his surgically repaired right knee and sprained left ankle to retain his dominance? Perhaps. But then Bryant wouldn’t have sat out for seven consecutive games to recover from a sore left shin. He wouldn’t have accommodated Andrew Bynum’s want for more touches in the post. And he certainly would have scored more than 18 points on seven-of-12 shooting in the Lakers’ double-digit loss Friday to San Antonio.
“San Antonio was playing me single coverage yesterday,” Bryant said. “If it was important, I would’ve scored 50.”
Oh, Bryant loves scoring all right. It’s why he wants to take the game-winning shot. It’s why he’s already collected scoring titles in 2006 (35.4 points) and in 2007 (31.6 points). It’s why he’ll try to show up James Harden and Thabo Sefolosha as they try to make him work for his shots.
But big picture, Bryant’s more fixated on whether he can collect his sixth NBA championship this June. The rest is just gravy.
“You guys know I can get it,” Bryant said. “I’m not really tripping about it.”