Archives For Kobe

The Lakers lost their 6th straight game and second in two nights on Saturday, falling to the Blazers 121-103 in Portland. While there were couple of good individual performances on offense, the team, as a whole, played poorly on both sides of the floor. This isn’t new for a team which ranked 29th and 30th (last) in the league in offensive and defensive efficiency, respectively, heading into the contest.

What was new, however, was that Kobe Bryant took a break from the feel-good vibes of his retirement farewell tour to reportedly voice his displeasure about the loss and the team’s poor defense to his teammates during and after the game. Mark Medina of the LA Daily News has the report:

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Following Kobe Bryant’s final season has been a bit surreal. After he announced this season would be his last, he has been showered with cheers, treated to tribute videos from NBA legends, and been as well received as he ever has been. Considering this is a guy who has received “MVP” chants in opposing stadiums over the course of his career, this is saying something.

But time is getting shorter. We are now past the halfway point, the Lakers playing their 44th game on Wednesday and their 45th tonight against the Spurs. There will only be 38 more of these regular season contests (starting tonight) and a few other moments to celebrate it all before it’s over. The finality of that hasn’t yet fully sunk in, but it will. This week, for me at least, that process took another step forward.

It started with the final tally of votes for the All-Star game being released. Kobe maintained his lead as the top vote-getter, outpacing reigning league MVP Steph Curry and the always present LeBron James. Kobe has been named an all-star every season the game has occurred (curse you 1999 lockout!) since 1998. Injuries have kept him out of several contests, but this year I don’t think anything could keep him from stepping on that court one last time.

Second, though, has been the build up to today, January 22nd. Ten years ago today Kobe scored 81 points against the Raptors. It is, for many, his greatest individual performance and the feat by which he will most be remembered. That was the night where it all sort of came together — him being incredibly hot, the Lakers playing poorly enough where his scoring exploits were a needed component for the team to compete, and the Raptors being just bad enough defensively to give him the room to establish his rhythm. It all culminated with him getting to 81.

In the lead-up to today, we have gotten the best glimpse into that night to this point. First was this fantastic oral history of the game put together by ESPN’s Arash Markazi. Arash spoke to many people — broadcasters, front office members, players, and more — who were all there that night and/or involved in some way. There were so many great anecdotes revealed, but one of my favorites was the exchange between Kobe and Brian Shaw from the night Kobe outscored the Mavs 62-61 through three quarters:

A month before playing Toronto, Bryant outscored the Dallas Mavericks by himself through three quarters 62-61 (the Lakers’ lead was 95-61). Bryant played only 33 minutes that night and sat out the entire fourth quarter of the Lakers’ blowout win over the eventual Western Conference champions. When he was asked after the game how many points he would have finished with had he played the fourth quarter, Bryant shrugged his shoulders. “Probably 80,” he said. “I was in a really, really good groove.”

Brian Shaw: After the third quarter, the players were on the bench and the coaches went out and huddled on the court. Phil asked me to go ask Kobe if he wanted to stay in the game and try to get 70 and then come out. So I went up to Kobe and said, “Hey, Coach wants to know if you want to stay in for the first few minutes of the fourth quarter, get 70 and then come out.” He looked up at the scoreboard, and he said, “Nah, I’ll get it another time.” I looked at him and I kind of got mad. I said: “What?! You have a chance to get 70 points. How many people can say they scored 70 points? Just stay in the first few minutes and get another eight points, get 70 and then come out of the game.” He said: “I’ll do it when we really need it. I’ll get it when it really matters.”

Kobe Bryant: Brian was mad. He was like: “Man, are you crazy? You know what you could score tonight?” I just said, “I’ll do it when we really need it.” Brian was like, “What?!” It was something that just rolled off my tongue because I trained extremely hard and the physical tools were there. I just felt like I could have a game like that again.

The concept of “I’ll do it when we really need it” is so outlandish to me, yet, when you listen to Kobe talk about his preparation heading into that season, totally believable and understandable at the same time. Friend of the site @basquiatball recorded a bunch of games from that season and let me borrow the DVD’s (I’ll return them some day, J.D.!) and I have randomly watched multiple games from that season. Kobe really was on a level that is hard to describe. He was simply beyond what defenses what prepared for.

The second tribute I really enjoyed was the five short videos the NBA released about that night:

Looking back at that night combined with this week’s news of Kobe being named a starter in the ASG really has reminded me that we are getting close to the end. Ultimately, this makes me sad, but also gives me pause to remember to appreciate what Kobe has done in his career. The first to approach Wilt’s 100 and closing down his last season, the memories of what he’s accomplished really will live on forever.

When I went about previewing the 2015-16 Lakers, I wrote mostly about the difficult balancing act the team was trying to accomplish with the roster which was constructed. Here is a sampling:

On a roster with a mix of young prospects who need development and capable veterans who play the same positions, how do they balance playing time? When trying to win as many games as possible, but also needing for young players to be able to play through mistakes to learn — sometimes at the expense of wins — how do they balance the different priorties? On a team with at least seven rotation players who do their best work with the ball in their hands, how do they balance touches?

As the season has transpired, however, a new variable has been thrown into the mix: Kobe Bryant announced he would retire. While it was pretty much assumed this would be Kobe’s last year, him putting it on the record in the manner he did shifted the discussion and caused a recalibration of what this year would be about.

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Twelve games ago Byron Scott decided he wanted to shake up his starting lineup. The move was a controversial one as he demoted Julius Randle and D’Angelo Russell — the two players most considered cornerstones of the team’s rebuild and future — from the ranks of the starters to reserves. The young players have said all the right things, but when pressed have expressed a desire to start (at least Russell has – Randle has taken the “control what you can control” approach with the media).

With the change now 12 games deep and exactly three weeks old, now is as good a time as any to take stock and look at some of the numbers and trends which have emerged since the switch. Please note that while Randle has been a reserve for all 12 games, he has missed a contest with a sore ankle and that Russell did start two of the 12 contests while Jordan Clarkson sat out with his own ankle issue.

With that, let’s dig into some numbers:

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I’ve written it before, but I’ve not been the biggest fan of the Lakers playing on Christmas. This is mostly for selfish reasons — I’d much prefer to just relax with family and not have to be the guy who shuns everyone while totally investing in another Lakers’ game. I do that 81 other times a year, one day off — on Christmas no less — isn’t too much to ask for.

This year, though, I don’t have that same feeling. And, again, it’s for selfish reasons. This will be Kobe Bryant’s final game on Christmas and I want to see him perform. If his recent level of play holds up, it should be a good final game too. But even if it doesn’t, I still want to watch him do his thing.

Kobe’s the NBA’s all-time leading scorer on Christmas day with 383 points on his resumé. His filled highlight reels with some amazing moments that are engrained in my memory. You know, ones like these:

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Kobe Bryant has had a recent resurgence. After starting the season as one of the lesser performing players in the entire league, he has strung together two weeks of plus-play, improving his efficiency in every aspect of his game and looking more the part of Kobe Bryant. This was summed up well by a tweet from ESPN’s Tom Haberstroh before Wednesday’s loss to the Thunder:

The depths of his early season play put into question whether a stretch like this was even possible, much less if it would actually come. As the saying goes, sometimes the light at the end of the tunnel is a train and it looked very much like #24 was on the verge of being flattened by a locomotive powered by father time.

This recovery, then, has been a great site to see. And based on what has gone into getting his body to the point where he could play at the level he has been recently, it’s also apropos to use the term recovery.

As detailed in Baxter Holmes’ most recent piece for ESPN, Kobe has enlisted a small army of physical therapists — both under his own employment and from the Lakers’ staff — to work on every part of his body to ensure he is ready to play each day. The entire article is great and well worth your time, but below are a few passages which stood out to me.

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With this being Kobe Bryant’s 20th and final season with the Lakers, the organization has been running a pretty cool feature all season called “This Day in Kobe History” (#TDIKH) where they chronicle great games or key events throughout Kobe’s career. Today, December 20th, just so happens to be one of my favorite Kobe games ever:

This game is often overshadowed by Kobe’s 81 point performance against the Raptors which came a month later (January 22, 2006). But, for my money, Kobe’s outburst 10 years ago was actually more impressive.

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Earlier in the week we talked about recent improved play from Kobe and him embracing the type of player he did not envision he would hold on to become late in his career. The last couple of games, however, Kobe has even exceeded that level of play.

It may be too early to say that this is the new norm, but we’re approaching the point where those who buried him as being “done” might do well to re-evaluate those firm statements and call them premature. Again, the sample needs to get bigger, but the fact that there’s a sample at all is encouraging.

The latest evidence of a revival came on Thursday night, where Kobe seemed intent to give us a game version of the #throwbackthursday hashtag:

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