Kobe Bryant playing with more spark this season
Very few things about Kobe Bryant surprise Derek Fisher.
Playing through injuries, making game-winning shots, still finding ways to maximize the longevity of an already storied 15-year career. Fisher, as his longtime teammate since they entered the league as rookies in 1996, remains nonplussed by it all. So much so that he hardly thought twice about predicting the torn ligament in Bryant's right wrist would keep him out of the game, much less severely hurt his play. But there was one exception.
The two Laker co-captains appeared in an exhibition game in the Philippines this summer, shortly after Bryant received an innovative procedure on his surgically repaired right knee in Germany. He boasted to Fisher that his "knee was the best it's been in a long time," but even Bryant's longtime teammate had doubts.
"I didn't believe it," Fisher said. "But when I saw him in Manila; I believe it now."
That's because Fisher received an early glimpse of what Bryant's offering so far in four games. His 27.8-points-per-game average may be similar to last year's efforts (25.3), but his 48.1% mark from the field is his highest shooting percentage entering his 16th year. Obviously, a four-game stretch hardly proves enough of a sample size. But it's impressive enough to show how he's played with more of a spark after feeling saddled in recent seasons with injuries.
"It's as close to 100% as it's going to get," Bryant said regarding his knee before scoring 28 points on 10-of-17 shooting in the Lakers' 99-82 victory Thursday over the New York Knicks. He's so far shown that by exploding to the rim and making 75% of those attempts as well as 54.5% from shots within 3-9 feet, Bryant's highest totals since the 2007-08 season.
That includes the arthritis in his right index finger.
"That's just kind of become bone on bone and kind of healed itself and off we go," Bryant said. He then proved that in various sequences against the Knicks . On one play, Bryant drove into the lane and faded back for a baseline jumper over a defenseless Amare Stoudemire. On another, Bryant eyed forward Josh McRoberts cutting to the basket and fed him a crisp bounce pass. On another, Bryant converted off a catch-and-shoot play from Devin Ebanks and sank a three-pointer. On another, Bryant performed a cross-over on Carmelo Anthony as he drove right, cut back and hoisted a Dirk Nowitzki-type one-legged fade away. And on another, Bryant banked in a long three-pointer while drawing a foul on Renaldo Balkman for the four-point play.
And yes, it also includes that wrist that appeared significantly swollen earlier this week.
"It feels a lot better today than it did before the last game," Bryant said. OK, so he has 4.5 turnovers through four games. But consider his reaction upon losing the ball after driving through the lane. He chased Stoudemire crosscourt and immediately swiped the ball back. It's no surprise injuries weren't going to hinder his competitiveness. But it still remains jaw-dropping how he's still managed to overcome so much. Lakers Coach Mike Brown and teammates alike surely notice.
"It's hard to put into words how tough the guy is," Brown said. "You saw his hand. It's for real. It hurts. But he has not said one word about it."
Instead, Bryant's letting his play speak for itself, a sight that amazes everyone even if they've already seen this happen many times already.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Lakers guard Kobe Bryant blocks the shot of Knicks forward Bill Walker during Thursday night's game at Staples Center. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times / December 29, 2011