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D’Angelo Russell returned to the Lakers’ starting lineup four games ago. Since that return he has averaged 17 points, 3.5 rebounds, and 5.3 assists in 31.5 minutes a night. Beyond the numbers, though, he’s looked steady, confident, and in control of the team’s offense and his own individual game.

No where is this more clear than in how Russell is attacking the basket in both the half court and in transition. When working in the P&R, Russell is finding ways to get to the rim more often and in the open court he’s being more aggressive in looking to finish which is opening up more passing angles when the defense decides they are going to try and cut him off.

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The Lakers are back on the road today, starting a three game road trip which begins in Chicago. As it will be for the rest of the season, every game on the road will be Kobe’s last trip to that city so expect there to be some sort of acknowledgement from that franchise of Kobe’s looming retirement.

Some of these games will mean more than others, though, and that will especially be true tonight versus the Bulls. This isn’t just because that is the franchise Michael Jordan played for and Kobe’s long quest to try and replicate Michael Jordan’s success, but rather because it will be the last time Kobe faces off against longtime teammate and partner in success Pau Gasol. The two shared good moments just a few weeks ago when the Bulls visited STAPLES Center and again last weekend when both were in Toronto for the All-Star game. But this time is really the finale and that will bring some strong emotions.

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Since he made the announcement, it’s been a gradual sinking in that this will be Kobe’s last year. A tribute video here, a road crowd chanting his name there, and a whole lot of post game pressers with introspective questions and candid answers have followed and the realization that this is it becomes realer daily. This will be Kobe’s last season.

Today will be his last All-Star game. What a run it has been.

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The last couple of seasons it’s seemed like every time Kobe dunked he ended up on the injured list. Last year his season famously ended after a seemingly harmless two handed dunk turned into a torn rotator cuff. This season he missed more games after another throw down.

Honestly, while some might find ways to make jokes, it’s actually not that surprising to me Kobe might hurt himself dunking. I mean, over the course of his career, Kobe has been one of the more violent dunkers the league has seen. Dunking the way that he has puts wear and tear on the body and, after the sheer number of times he’s assaulted the rim a shoulder or wrist injury shouldn’t surprise.

I was reminded of this earlier today when Max Frishberg, aka @MaxaMillion711, posted a clip he put together of Kobe’s top 100 dunks of all-time. The video has all his greatest hits and, honestly, I’m surprised he hasn’t torn his shoulder right out of its socket at least a dozen times. See for yourself:

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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.

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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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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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