Kobe Bryant's increased mobility a good sign in Lakers' 99-94 preseason loss to Utah Jazz
The Lakers almost came within striking distance in unseating the Utah Jazz in an exhibition game Sunday night at Staples Center, and the 15,690 spectators wanted Kobe Bryant to reenter the game so he could provide the typical theatrics.
The crowd didn't care that the result of the Staples Center Shootout meant very little, with it being a preseason game. The crowd didn't care that Bryant has spent the first five exhibition games mostly interested in how much strength he can build in his surgically repaired right knee than improving his shooting percentage, let alone winning a game. And the crowd also didn't care that Bryant sat on the Lakers' bench with ice on his knees with 3:27 remaining in the contest.
They wanted to see the Black Mamba put on a show after an electrifying third-quarter performance. Instead, the Lakers lost, 99-94, Sunday to the Utah Jazz, another preseason game that's brought more significance to Bryant's rehabilitation process than any results.
"I'm surprised they chanted," Bryant said after scoring 19 points on seven-of 12-shooting. "Come on it's the preseason. They'd much rather see me in June, but I still appreciate it."
In return, the crowd also appreciated what Bryant brought against the Jazz. After going zero of four in the first quarter and sitting out the entire second quarter, Bryant's 19 third-quarter points on seven-of-eight shooting significantly reflected the team's increased energy level, his improved shooting stroke and his progressing mobility and strength. The latter factor has always served as the appropriate variable in measuring Bryant's rehab process than his shooting numbers, which entailed a nine-of-41 clip (21.9%) entering the Sunday's game against the Jazz.
"Not much," Bryant said when I asked him what he draws from the third-quarter performance in terms of his progression. "We're playing well. We're moving the ball well. We just had a few stretches where we put them on the free-throw line too much. But other than that, I think we did a good job."
So even if Bryant's shooting percentage in the third quarter signified little in terms of his knee, the improved aggression and mobility helped get him to that point where it looks like he's on the right track. Even so, it still made for some entertaining moments, a performance Lakers forward Pau Gasol described as "hot."
He grabbed a rebound one-handed and converted an easy dunk. He successfully made a turn-around jumper on the far side, a sign that Bryant's post work looks strong. And he essentially made three consecutive three-pointers, though one of them was discounted because of traveling. To top it all off, Bryant scored his points mostly against long-time foe Raja Bell, who still received boos from the Staples Center crowd after deciding to join Utah this off-season over the Lakers.
"I'm glad I'm not covering him anymore when he gets hot," said Lakers guard Steve Blake, who joined the Lakers this off-season for a four-year, $16-million deal.
The right perspective on Bryant's performances this preseason never pointed to how he looked in the box score, but rather how he looked on the floor. Though Lakers Coach Phil Jackson credited Bryant's third-quarter resurgence in bringing the Lakers back into contention in the game, the more pressing question involves something that's currently unpredictable. "Sustaining the effort is the mystery now in how to do that," Jackson said.
But Bryant's at least comforted in the fact that he doesn't suspect the process to be as painful as the 2010 playoffs.
"Last year I was on one leg and we still managed enough," Bryant said. "This year, I don't think we have to be as managed."
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