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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Don't Make Kobe Angry...You Won't Like Him When He's Angry

It has been a rough few days for Kobe Bryant. He is the only NBA player to receive two separate suspensions this season (several participants in the New York-Denver fight received more total games, of course) and the NBA recently reclassified his errant elbow that struck Kyle Korver in a March 9 game as a flagrant foul. The heightened attention on Bryant's elbows led Lakers Coach Phil Jackson to declare that the NBA is conducting a "witch hunt" against Bryant. Not surprisingly, the NBA responded by fining Jackson and the Lakers $50,000 each. Then on Thursday the Lakers got starters Lamar Odom and Luke Walton back and actually looked like a legitimate playoff team for the first time in a while--at least for a half. The Lakers built a 47-36 lead versus Denver but ran out of gas and got blown out, 113-86. Bryant had 25 points and nine assists, including several gorgeous feeds worthy of Steve Nash or any other great playmaker. Lakers not named Kobe Bryant shot 25-64 from the field (.391) and provided no resistance at the defensive end during the second half as L.A. lost for the seventh straight time, a personal career worst for Jackson.

Clearly, passing is an overrated--or at least fruitless--skill when the recipients of the ball can't shoot. So Bryant took a different approach during Friday's game against Portland, putting on an amazing offensive display, including a shot launched (and made) from well beyond half court. That one did not count--Bryant had been fouled just before he shot the ball--but he connected on 23 of his 39 attempts, including 8-12 from three point range. Bryant also made 11 of his 12 free throws. Add that all up and you get 65 points, an NBA season-high and the second best total of Bryant's career--and a 116-111 overtime win for the Lakers. Bryant poured in 24 points in the fourth quarter, including the three pointer that sent the game to overtime. Bryant scored the Lakers' last 15 points--nine of them on three pointers in the final 1:41--and assisted on the basket prior to his personal run, directly accounting for all of the Lakers' scoring in the closing 4:52 of regulation. Then Bryant scored the Lakers' first four points in overtime, contributing nine of his team's 18 points in the extra session.

If the MVP is supposed to be the best player on the best team, then Kobe Bryant will not get it this year. I think that the MVP should be awarded to the best player, period. Who is the player whose game is most complete, who cannot be guarded on offense and is an excellent defender as well? Is there another player in the NBA who can score 65 points in a game the way that Bryant did on Friday, with that shooting percentage, with that many fourth quarter and overtime points? Is there another player who can have such a game and NOT have it be the best game by far that he will ever play? Don't forget that Bryant scored 81 points in a game last season and had 62 points in three quarters last year versus the Mavericks, who later represented the Western Conference in the NBA Finals.

I love Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash. Both players are fun to watch and either one will be a worthy MVP winner this season--but no one will ever convince me that Nash or Nowitzki is either "better" or "more valuable" than Bryant. Nowitzki and Nash are each surrounded by several players who are good or great. Bryant has no All-Star level teammates and his squad has been devastated by injuries. Yet, he remains completely unguardable and on any night that his team is even halfway healthy they can compete with anyone in the NBA; the Lakers own two wins over the Spurs this season (and a two point loss) and one versus Dallas--one of those teams will more than likely win the championship this year. What would Bryant do if he had some more talented teammates? We don't have to speculate about that because we already know--he won three championships when paired with Shaquille O'Neal and made a fourth Finals appearance. Exactly how many titles do Nash and Nowitzki have so far? None--and they actually played together for several seasons.

In the pilot episode of the TV series The Incredible Hulk, investigative reporter Jack McGee got a little too close to finding out that Dr. David Banner's alter ego is the Incredible Hulk and Banner--played by the late Bill Bixby--uttered this classic line: "Mr. McGee, don't make me angry. You wouldn't like me when I'm angry." Was Friday's performance just a one game outburst--or has the Incredible Hulk been unleashed in full fury? Until Odom and Walton reach full strength, the Lakers will need superhero-level performances from Bryant to maintain their position in the standings--and Bryant is quite capable of delivering those kind of performances.

***Fun Facts About Kobe Bryant's Scoring***

1) The Lakers are now 11-4 during Bryant's career when he scores at least 50 points.

2) This was Bryant's third 60 point game. The only other players to have at least three 60 point games are Wilt Chamberlain (32), Michael Jordan (4) and Elgin Baylor (3). The complete list of players who have scored 60 points in an NBA game can be found here.

3) According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Bryant has scored 62 overtime points this season, more than anyone else in the NBA. Portland's Zach Randolph, who had six on Friday, is second with 49.

4) Kobe Bryant is now averaging 29.7 ppg for the season. Despite being slowed at the start of the season as he recovered from offseason knee surgery, he has now moved into a virtual tie with Carmelo Anthony in the race for the scoring title. Last week I wrote that Bryant is just one 71 point game away from passing Anthony. The funny thing about that is that Bryant is the one NBA player who you can write a sentence like that about and actually reasonably expect that he will have something approaching a 71 point game (I also noted that a couple 50 point games would do the trick, provided of course that Anthony does not respond in kind).

posted by David Friedman @ 2:56 AM



At Saturday, March 17, 2007 3:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

that 3 pointer in OT falling away was probably the greatest shot in a while that I've seen.
Its a testament to the sad state of the 'free-throw NBA' that it seemed great that there were only 11 FT points in that 65. With D.Wade, you know if he scores 40, 15-20 are off FT's.
Brilliant performance anyway. But I have a feeling the knee surgery has slowed him down a bit; he's not going to the hoop as much.

At Sunday, March 18, 2007 2:31:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice piece. Well said. Love him or despise him, Kobe is the man.

At Sunday, March 18, 2007 2:33:00 AM, Blogger David Friedman said...

What I liked about that three pointer is that it was a fundamental move but one that was performed with incredible athleticism and degree of difficulty. Kobe used his footwork and dribbling to pivot and get open and then executed a perfect jump shot: that play was the ultimate marriage of fundamentals with athletic greatness.

Early this season, Phil Jackson said something to the effect that the knee surgery had taken something away from Kobe and that the days of him having 50 point games were over. Of course, that may have been some reverse psychology. In any case, Kobe has four 50 point games this year and Friday's 65 is his second best total ever, so I don't think that he has lost much, if anything. I think that all athletes' most explosive years physically are somewhere between 21-26/27, so Kobe is on the far end of that scale but whatever tenth of a percent that he may have lost physically is more than made up for by his fundamentals and knowledge of the game.

I've seen him explode to the hoop and dunk this year, so I don't think that he is completely unable to do that.

The 11 FTs do seem low for a 65 point game, but Kobe did shoot a lot of threes and jumpers.


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