Lakers-Raptors matchup evokes memories of Kobe Bryant's career-high 81-point performance
Surely, the Lakers have much more pressing concerns. Though they have won four of their last five contests entering today's game against the Toronto Raptors, the Lakers (33-10) have issues to correct, including improving their offensive drop-off in road games this season, providing a consistent supporting cast and sharpening Kobe Bryant's shooting percentage.
That's why the inevitable story line -- Bryant facing the Raptors four years after dropping a career-high 81 points on them in a 122-104 victory -- may seem inappropriate. Coming into Friday's game against the Knicks, there were some who also wondered whether Bryant would nearly replicate the Madison Square Garden record of 61 points he set last season.
Though he and Pau Gasol led a fourth-quarter charge en route to a 115-105 Lakers victory Friday over the New York Knicks, Mamba's 27 points on eight-for-24 shooting won't exactly go down in MSG lore. Instead, the performance just continues a recent story line that has been all too repetitive. After aggravating the avulsion fracture to his right index finger on Jan. 5 against the Houston Rockets, Bryant shot 31% over the following three games, missed the fourth quarter because of back spasms against San Antonio, returned the next night in a limited fashion against Dallas (though he hit the game-winner), and then appeared in full form Jan. 15 against the Clippers when he shot 10 for 20 and scored 30 points.
But the finger still appears to bother Bryant, who has shot 32% in the last three games. He at least involved teammates on Friday with six assists, proving that a distributor role is probably more valuable to the team than giving him rest. Besides, Mamba doesn't plan to sit out, saying rest won't significantly heal the finger anyway.
Given the recent history with Toronto, will Bryant at least pursue his excellence against the Raptors? He may not drop 81, especially considering his finger, but he has averaged 31.4 points in his last six visits at Toronto. Then again, though the Raptors (22-22) have lost two of their last three games, they have won eight of their last nine home games, including four consecutive victories at Air Canada Centre against Western Conference teams.
If nothing else, the timing of the Lakers-Raptors matchup at least provides an excuse to watch Bryant's 81-point performance again. Viewing his baskets in succession reminds me of Pop-a-Shot, a game teammates and fans would probably not want Bryant to play, fractured finger and all.