Kobe Bryant is used to surpassing scoring milestones
There’s rarely been a month that has gone by this season in which Lakers guard Kobe Bryant hasn’t moved up on the NBA's all-time scoring list. With exception to the month of December and in the Lakers’ first two regular season games in October, Bryant has broken a scoring record at least once in all the other months. That’s a total of six times, including twice in November, once in January, twice in February and in the Lakers’ most recent game, a 92-83 win Wednesday over the San Antonio Spurs. That game featured Bryant eclipsing Alex English (25,613) for 12th place on the NBA’s all-time leaders scoring list with 25,636 career points.
It’s pretty well-established that Bryant scores a lot of points. But it’s surreal to see the pace at which he’s doing it. Last season, Bryant moved up from 23rd on the scoring list to 17th, moving past Larry Bird (21,791), Gary Payton (21,813), Clyde Drexler (22,195), Elgin Baylor (23,149), Adrian Dantley (23,177), Robert Parrish (23,334) and Charles Barkley (23,757) along the way.
It also proves to be interesting how his record-breaking performances fit in the context of each game this season. They came on good performances, bad performances, wins and losses. Nonetheless, each game described after the jump provided vivid memories.
Wednesday: 92-83 victory over San Antonio Spurs
On a night the Spurs tried to double team Bryant, he still made them pay. He first played the facilitator role, finishing with six assists and proving the Lakers don’t always need him to score points. But he also did that, exploding for 10 fourth-quarter points.
Bryant’s career milestone almost became an afterthought entering the game, what with the Lakers’ uninspiring six-game winning streak, their fight to stay on top in the Western Conference standings and their quest to match Cleveland for the league’s best record. But his standing among the NBA’s all-time leading scorers still remains impressed. The next items on Bryant’s to-do list include surpassing John Havlicek and Dominique Wilkins (26,668).
Feb. 24: 101-96 loss Dallas Mavericks
In his first game after missing the previous eight contests because of a sprained left ankle, Bryant returned to full form with a well-rounded 32 points on 13 of 19 shooting, seven rebounds, six assists, three steals and two blocks. Oh, yeah, and he scored the game winner on Feb. 23 against the Memphis Grizzlies.
The previous night would not be as mesmerizing, though he surpassed Reggie Miller (25,279) for 13th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list with his first field goal. Bryant scored only six points on three of 11 shooting in the first half before rebounding in the second half and finishing with 20 points on nine of 23 shooting along with five rebounds, two assists and two steals.
The Lakers displayed inconsistency across the board.
Lakers forwards Lamar Odom and Ron Artest each finished with 11 first-half points while center Andrew Bynum had eight points and seven rebounds in the first quarter. But Artest and Bynum went noticeably absent in the second half, scoring only two points each. And while you may expect 31 points from Dallas forward Dirk Nowitzki, you certainly wouldn't expect 30 points from backup guard Jason Terry.
Feb. 1: 95-93 loss to Memphis Grizzlies
The simple pass led to a simple, yet, record-breaking dunk.
Lakers guard Jordan Farmar and Bryant were on an uncontested break in the third quarter, with Farmar dishing to Bryant for what would be his 25,193rd career point, surpassing former Lakers great and general manager Jerry West as the Lakers' all-time leading scorer. Bryant's record-breaking score provided little theatrics at the 4:37 mark, likely because he didn't want to further hurt his seven-week-long avulsion fracture to his right index finger. The dunk also appeared simple in true form with an easy uncontested basket. Fitting perhaps since Bryant scored many of his points with the same fluidity against tight defenses.
If only the rest of the game were that easy for the Lakers. Instead, they concluded an eight-game trip with a 95-93 loss to the Memphis Grizzlies. And though Bryant’s 44 points came on 16 of 28 shooting, a debate ensued among Lakers fans on whether his scoring mentality disrupted the team’s chemistry.
The big picture, however, also focused on how many points Bryant would ultimately have at the end of his career. Bryant said earlier this season that he doesn't know if he'd be able to surpass Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's league-leading 38,387 points simply because the 13-year vet doesn't "know how long I'll play." But many, including West, expect Bryant to score at least 30,000 career points, meaning he would join Abdul-Jabbar (38,387), Karl Malone (36,928), Michael Jordan (32,292) and Wilt Chamberlain (31,419) as the only players to score at least 30,000 points
“It wouldn’t surprise me to see him score in the 30,000s,” West said to me days before Bryant broke the record. “But health is an issue. There’s one opponent you can’t defeat and that’s age. (Pause). He will try that, by the way.”
Jan. 5: 88-79 victory over Houston Rockets
Chalk up the Lakers barely beating Houston to a bad shooting night. They shot only 36 of 79 from the field, led only 59-55 after three quarters and didn’t put the Rockets away for good until the final minute.
Chalk up Bryant’s nine of 23 performance to his fractured right index finger getting aggravated. It would prove to be just the beginning of a frustrating month for him, ending January shooting only 41.2% from the field.
Bryant scored 22 points and moved past Patrick Ewing (24,815) for 15th on the NBA’s all-time scoring list, but that received little attention. With Pau Gasol sidelined because of a strained left hamstring, Bynum (24) thrived in the paint and Odom complemented Bynum with 17 points, 19 rebounds and nine assists despite battling intestinal flu-like symptoms.
Nov. 19: 108-93 victory over Chicago Bulls
Even though Bryant surpassed Abdul-Jabbar (24,176) for second place on the Lakers’ all-time franchise scoring list, his milestone was far from the story of the night. Gasol made his season debut after missing the first 11 games because of a strained right hamstring. And he provided an immediate reminder of what the Lakers were missing. Gasol’s presence (24 points and 13 rebounds) meant the onus wasn’t placed as much on Bryant, who had been averaging almost 10 points in first quarters this season. Against Chicago, he had only two before finishing with 21 points, nine rebounds and a season-high eight assists.
Bryant passed Abdul Jabbar’s mark when he hit a free throw with 6:07 left in the third quarter, but that’s not what left him excited in the locker room afterward. That was reserved for Gasol’s return.
“He’s a great passer and he’s great at reading the defense,” Bryant told reporters. “You have another player that puts the defense in jeopardy.”
Nov. 6: 114-98 victory over Memphis Grizzlies
The Lakers missed Bynum (strained right elbow) and Gasol (strained right hamstring) and their presence inside, but what does it matter when you have Bryant? His 41 points, including 15 in the third quarter, marked the third time in the last week he scored that much in a game.
With the performance, Bryant became the youngest player in NBA history to reach 25,000 points when he made a jumper over O.J. Mayo in the second quarter. Bryant also moved past Allen Iverson for 16th on the league’s all-time scoring list. And an interesting twist, Iverson scored eight points in that contest in what was only one of three games he actually played with the Memphis Grizzlies.
Bryant didn’t struggle for answers when asked what led to such a resurgence at the beginning of the season, with this game featuring several moves in the post that resulted in direct hits.
“It just comes easier because I’m well-rested,” Bryant told reporters, alluding to his lack of off-season obligations for the first time after three consecutive summers with Team USA work. “I just have the energy to be able to carry us for long periods of time. I’m just fresher.”
-- Mark Medina
Photo: Lakers' Kobe Bryant, center, celebrates with teammates Ron Artest, left, and Pau Gasol late in the fourth quarter during the Lakers' 92-83 victory over San Antonio on Wednesday. Credit: Eric Gay / Associated Press