Kobe Bryant continues to prove dominance
Kobe Bryant wants you to say he can't do it anymore.
He's too old. He's played too many minutes. He's too hurt. He shoots too much.
After scoring an NBA season-high 48 points on 18 of 31 shooting in the Lakers' 99-83 victory Tuesday over the Phoenix Suns, Bryant asked a reporter to tell him to his face he can't consistently replicate such an effort through the rest of the Lakers' (7-4) 55-game season. Even if he strung three 30-point plus games in the last four all on a torn ligament in his right wrist. He asks so then he can prove otherwise.
"Not bad for the seventh best player in the league," Bryant said in a shot at the ranking a panel of ESPN writers gave him this offseason.
Even after seeing Bryant throw a baseline dunk past Grant Hill or catch Matt Barnes' lob for a reverse slam, it's fair to wonder how long he can keep this up. It may be fun to watch. It may even lead Bryant to "Tebow" to cap off his 108th career 40-point game. But averaging a league-high 23 attempts hardly seems logical when wear and tear can further hurt his wrist. His six of 28 performance last week against Denver showed that approach can sometimes backfire, particularly when the Lakers have other options. But Bryant refuses to think in those terms. He's simply enjoying this while his body allows him.
"Just making adjustments. You have to figure out a way to get it done," Bryant said. "There's no time to make excuses. If I play bad or have one bad game like I did in Denver, everybody cries for a change or cries for the fact I'm too old when it's just a bad game with a bad wrist. Nobody wants to hear that. So I make adjustments and go from there."
That wasn't the issue. It was that he didn't adjust in the middle of that game. But Bryant's made adjustments afterward. Instead of shooting less, Bryant's shot more and in different locations more conducive to making them. He wishes his wrist would fully heal so he could improve his 20% mark from three-point range. But earning Western Conference player of the week honors and remaining second in the league in scoring (27.6) behind LeBron James will do.
"Not everybody is built the same way," Bryant said. "That [wrist] hurts. But after the injections, you don't feel anything. It just goes numb."
And then he goes to work. Bryant scores 17 of the Lakers' 25 first-quarter points on eight of 11 shooting (72.72%) after his teammates go four of 23 (17.3%) in an effort Brown described as "discombobulated." When everyone from Pau Gasol, Andrew Bynum and yes, even Luke Walton thrive in the second half, Bryant complements them too. While the Lakers limited the Suns to zero field goals and one free throw in the final six minutes, Bryant provides the scoring. He banks a shot. He throws down the aforementioned dunks. He makes a fadeaway.
We've seen this happen plenty of times before, but even his strong supporters wonder how it's possible. Lakers Coach Mike Brown has deferred to Bryant in every way about his injuries. He simply lets the trainers perform their diagnosis. If Bryant says he's healthy, he can play. But he always says that even when the wrist has often ballooned in size.
"If you open him up," Brown said, "he might be a machine."
Whether it's a machine or a body, Bryant's always tinkering with it.
He receives pre-game injections every single day. Afterwards, he either wears a black oven mitt or kinesiology tape to control the movement. It's similar to how Bryant refused to accept that his surgically repaired right knee and twisted left ankle last season were irreparable. Suddenly those parts look great after receiving innovative procedures on them this offseason in Germany.
Bryant does all this simply so he can win. So he can beat up on Phoenix, a team he still hates after it eliminated the Lakers in the first round of 2006 and 2007 playoffs. So he can "generate energy for our ballclub" as Bryant puts it. So he can satisfy his insatiable love for basketball at his most dominant.
But he also does this so he can provide another rebuttal regarding his age, his health and longevity.
He still remains Kobe Bryant. And being Bryant, he believes he's far from finished.
"I'm ready for the next one," he said.
We will soon see whether Bryant continues to conquer the odds or if he will crash and burn while trying. There will be many who believe the latter will happen. And, for better or worse, Bryant will try to prove you otherwise.
-- Mark Medina
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Photo: Kobe Bryant dunks during the Lakers' 99-83 victory over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday. Credit: Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times