Kobe Bryant appears sharp in Lakers' 114-95 loss to Clippers
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan had just swatted away his dunk attempt, and there Bryant sat on the ground, clutching his right wrist after landing awkwardly on it. But before the gasps among 18,643 at Staples Center could fully settle in, Bryant got to his feet, walked it off and validated his postgame claim that his wrist "feels good" by knocking down a pull-up jumper.
Yes, there's justifiable hand-wringing over the Lakers' 114-95 preseason loss Monday to the Clippers. Worries about their defensive effort. Concerns about how the Lakers will run Mike Brown's offense. Head-scratching over whether Metta World Peace's changed name and changed role to the bench really did anything to offset his horrific zero-of-eight effort.
But the silver lining, and most important thing about this game, is Bryant's health. His 22 points on five of 10 shooting and a 12-of-15 clip from the free-throw line means nothing as far as preseason performances ago. Yet, it means everything as far as what it reveals about his body.
"I feel a lot stronger and a lot quicker and being able to get to the basket and free throw line," Bryant said. "It'll be a huge plus for us."
It sure will.
For an offense that remained lost and unsure how to actually use its inside game consistently, Bryant appeared incredibly comfortable finding shots in his sweet spots. He worked off pick-and-rolls. He penetrated from the weak-side for catch-and-shoot opportunities. And in a sign that really shows how much his innovative procedure this summer in Germany did for his surgically repaired right knee, Bryant attacked the basket relentlessly.
It may be premature to gauge Bryant's explosiveness and aggressiveness based on one game. But his activity reflects what Brown has seen during training camp.
"He’s pretty good physically," Brown said. "He’s done some things in practice that have kind of wowed you as far as taking the ball to the basket strong and finishing with dunks in traffic."
As far as his effort on defense goes, well that's another story. Bryant reflected the team's inconsistency in closing out on shooters, getting back in transition defense and communicating on rotations. In fact, Bryant's failure to close out on Chauncey Billups' successful three-point attempt that gave the Clippers a 68-60 lead with 8:40 left in the third quarter prompted Brown to call timeout. Bryant also committed seven of the team's 21 turnovers.
"Defensively, Kobe was just as guilty as everybody else of not contesting shots," Brown said. "So he as well as the rest of the guys have to make sure they focus in on that area."
Bryant can easily correct those defensive lapses. He can't always easily correct his injuries. He opened the 2011-12 preseason, however, showing otherwise.
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, left, battles with Clippers guard Chauncey Billups for position under the net during Monday's exhibition contest at Staples Center. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times