Kobe Bryant Tops 40 Points for the Third Straight GameOn Friday night, Kobe Bryant led the L.A. Lakers to a 97-92 victory over the Cleveland Cavaliers by scoring 42 points on 15-31 field goal shooting. In the seven games since Bryant had his worst shooting game in nearly two years--and thus renewed the endless fascination many members of the media have with his shot selection--Bryant has averaged 37.2 ppg while shooting 98-196 (.500) from the field. The Lakers won six of those seven games and they have won five games in a row, with Bryant topping the 40 point barrier in each of the past three games. Bryant's 48 point game versus Phoenix on January 10 is not only the highest scoring game by any player in the young 2012 season but it is also the highest scoring output ever for a player who has participated in at least 16 NBA seasons.
Bryant has played at least 36 minutes in each of the past seven games and he played more than 40 minutes in three of those games. As I recently noted, Bryant's per minute productivity was very high in 2010-11 but Coach Phil Jackson limited Bryant's minutes to preserve Bryant's legs and try to keep Bryant healthy for the playoffs (a good plan that nevertheless went awry after Bryant sprained his ankle in the first round, an ailment that reduced him from an All-NBA First Team caliber performer to "merely" an All-Star level player as the Lakers were swept by the Dallas Mavericks in the second round). Bryant's wheels are spinning better than they have in years but Bryant's heavy minutes and sensational scoring totals underscore the fact that the Lakers simply are not a very good team; the Lakers need this kind of durability and productivity from Bryant just to beat the likes of Cleveland, Utah and Phoenix, none of which are currently seeded higher than seventh in their respective conferences.
Bryant has averaged 34.8 ppg so far in January 2012, with eight games completed and nine more left to go. This is not even close to being the highest scoring month of his career; Bryant averaged 43.4 ppg in January 2006 (including his 81 point outburst against Toronto), he averaged 41.6 ppg in April 2006 (that month consisted of just eight games at the end of the season; Bryant's other 40 ppg months each included at least 13 games and my understanding is that for these kinds of records the Elias Sports Bureau counts any month that includes at least five games), he averaged 40.6 ppg in February 2003 and he averaged 40.4 ppg in March 2007; Wilt Chamberlain is the only other player in NBA history to average more than 40 ppg in a month on multiple occasions (Chamberlain accomplished this astounding feat 11 times).
This is the seventh time that Bryant has had a streak of at least three games of 40-plus points but the first time he has done so since March 2007. His best such streak lasted nine games (February 2003, when Bryant singlehandedly kept the Lakers afloat while Shaquille O'Neal slowly got back into shape after delaying his toe surgery) and four of his streaks took place in the infamous Kwame Brown-Smush Parker era when the Lakers needed Bryant to score 30-40 points just to have a chance to win.
The current version of the Lakers is not as talent-depleted as the Brown-Parker Lakers but the Lakers are who I thought they were when I declared that they would need for Kobe Bryant to play like he did back in 2006 and 2007 in order to make the playoffs--but perhaps I was wrong when I wrote, "the Kobe Bryant who worked miracles in 2006-07 and who carried a good team to great heights in 2008-10 will only be appearing at the Staples Center in highlights played on the video screen above the court." Is it really possible that a 33 year old, 16 year veteran with 48,000-plus regular season and playoff minutes on his legs (and a torn ligament in the wrist of his shooting hand) will lead the league in scoring and pile up enough 40 point games to carry the Lakers into the playoffs? The fact that Bryant can still play at such a high level is all the more reason for Mitch Kupchak to do whatever he can to acquire Dwight Howard; a Bryant-Howard tandem would be an improved version of the Hakeem Olajuwon-Clyde Drexler tandem that won a championship in 1995, even if the Lakers have to give up Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol: the Rockets won it all without a true power forward and the Lakers could do likewise with Bryant dominating the perimeter, Howard locking down the paint and Coach Mike Brown's defensive schemes covering up some of the weaknesses at other positions.
Kobe Bryant's 40 Point Game Streaks
9: February 2003 (7-2 record)
5: March 2007 (5-0 record)
5: December 2005-January 2006 (3-2 record)
4: March-April 2006 (2-2 record)
4: March 2006 (3-1 record)
3: January 2012 (3-0; streak is still active)
3: December 2004-January 2005 (2-1 record)
Total: 25-8 record
posted by David Friedman @ 5:22 AM