With the season on the line, Kobe Bryant rose to the occasion in the Rose Garden, soaring past the Portland Trail Blazers in a 113-107 victory. By dropping 47 points on 51.8% shooting, Kobe drove the Lakers to the finish line, keeping the team in the driverâ€™s seat in the playoff race.
As the Trail Blazers came out scorching, Damian Lillard shot his stock into the stratosphere, going head-to-head with Kobe for most of the gameâ€¦until Kobe created separation like Michael Jordan on fade-away. In short, Kobe completely dominated the game both ends on the floor with smothering defense and red-hot shooting. The final stat line for the Black Mamba? 47 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks, and 3 stealsâ€”and ohâ€”he did in 48 minutes of play. Now, thatâ€™s doing work.
With Kobe keeping the team above water, Pau Gasol decided to play like the Black Swan, making a splash with 23 points, 9 rebounds, and 7 assists. With added support down low, D-Howard was able to play above the rim, dropping 20 and 10 on 9-11 shooting. Collectively, the big three combined for 90 of the teamâ€™s 113 points. So much for the claim that balanced scoring is a good thing.
With three games remaining, the Lakers remain in control of their own destinyâ€”and the gameâ€™s most dangerous player continues to polish his golden legacy.
Wilt Chamberlain towered over opposing centers, casting a menacing shadow over the NBA landscape. After eclipsing Chamberlain as the leagueâ€™s fourth leading scorer in history, Kobe Bryant shot his legacy into a higher celestial order, emerging as one of the few NBA superstars who shines brighter than the Big Dipper.
The top nine scorers in NBA history are centers or power forwardsâ€”with the exception of two playersâ€”Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant. What separates Jordan and Bryant from the rest of the pack? To capture it in a phrase, itâ€™s the degree of difficulty. As shooting guards, Jordan and Bryant used better footwork, greater range, and better agility to accumulate their unworldly numbers. In other words, they had to be better than the legendary big men to whom everyone one should still pay tribute.
In fact, no superstar in historyâ€”Jordan includedâ€”consistently took shot more difficult shots than Bryant. There are many who talk about shooting percentageâ€”and for good reason. Itâ€™s a valid criterion (when taken with the proper perspective).Â Remember, itâ€™s generally easier to score with greater efficiency when one shoots closer to the basket. That likely explains why DeAndre Jordan and Kosta Koufos shoot with the highest degree of efficiency in the NBA today at 64.4% and 59.8%, respectively. But, are they among the NBA elite?
By looking at the big picture, itâ€™s easier to see why Bryant and MJ stand alone as the two best all around players in history. Throughout his career, Bryant was doubled and triple-teamed, particularly in his best years. In the 2005-06, for example, Bryant averaged 35.4 while playing alongside Smush Parker, Luke Walton, Kwame Brownâ€”and they were starters. Think about that for a moment. There was no point guard to give him the ball in easy places. There was no scoring threat to create good spacing.Â Perhaps, it was even more remarkable that he averaged 4.5 assists on the team with the three worst position players in the league. After all, itâ€™s hard to rack up assists when the players to whom youâ€™re dropping the dime lack the ability to put the ball in the basket. But, Kobe has no problem putting the ball in the basketâ€”whether from bail out shots with clock running down or through a triple teamsâ€”no one ever made more difficult shots.
As a prolific shooter, Kobe now has Michael Jordan in his â€”whom heâ€™ll pass easily next year. Despite the recent talk about retirement, thereâ€™s a good possibility that Kobe might stick around for a while. By averaging 26 points a game over the next four years in 79 games, he would accumulate 39,650 points, placing him firmly ahead of the pack as the gameâ€™s greatest scorer. Then, thereâ€™s the opportunity to become the first player to score 40,000 points, which might make it too tantalizing from which to talk away. From King James to the Black Mamba, todayâ€™s NBA players are making smart moves about developing strong personal brandsâ€”and with 40,000 points beaming on the horizon, itâ€™s possible that Kobe Bryant might want to cast his own shadow permanently over the NBA landscape.
In a season in which Dwight Howard played more like Clark Kent than Superman, the Lakerâ€™s big man broke out the cape and pushed the Chicago Bulls around in a 90-81 victory. With 21 rebounds, D-Howard did more than anchor the defenseâ€”he cleaned up the boards like a man cleaning up the neighborhood. Thatâ€™s right. The Lakers actually played good defense throughout the entire gameâ€”and in the processâ€”gave new meaning to “the running of the bulls.”
While the Lakers relied on Kobe Bryantâ€™s heroics during the teamâ€™s recent surge (Bryant averaged 35.6 points per game to go along with 6.7 assists on 56% shooting over the last eight games going into the match-up against the Bulls), it was the man in the middle who made the biggest impact on today’s game. From game-altering shots to strong picks, D-Howard hustled, rebounded, and bent the will of the Chicago Bulls.
With the win over the Bulls, the Lakers are now the eighth seed of the playoff raceâ€”and are in control of their own destiny. With the final stretch in sight, look for the Lakers to blast past the Houston Rockets for the seventh spotâ€”and make a strong push to soar past the Golden State Warriors and swoop into the sixth spot. While Kobe Bryant played with super-human ability all season long, he is now joined with a super-human side-kickâ€”and when the your side-kick is the man-of-steelâ€”beware of a Laker team that’s ready to flex its muscle and stand strong in the postseason.
The Lakers family and entire basketball community is saddened to hear of the passing of Lakers owner Jerry Buss today. RIP Dr. Buss.
Derek Fisher’s statement:
Today the world lost a visionary and one of the most successful sports figures of all time. But today I lost a friend and mentor. He forever changed my life. May he rest in peace and my prayers are with his family that he loved so much.
Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s statement:
When someone as celebrated and charismatic as Jerry Buss dies, we are reminded of two things. First, just how much one person with vision and strength of will can accomplish. Second, how fragile each of us is, regardless of how powerful we were. Those two things combine to inspire us to reach for the stars, but also to remain with our feet firmly on the ground among our loved ones. Dr. Buss embodied that compassionate entrepreneurial spirit. He strove to reach greater heights without forgetting his community roots. During his stewardship, the Lakers exemplified his personal standards of excellence and became one of the dominant teams in the NBA and a force of good within the community. The man may be gone, but he has made us all better people for knowing him.
In a game where LeBron James tried to be the closer, Kobe Bryant closed the door on the man who sits on a fictitious throne. When the game was on the line, the Black Mamba cast a shadow over LeBron’s desire to rise to the occasion. Yes, it was All-Star game. But, when was the last time anyone was witness to smothering defense that held LeBron James to a single point fourth quarter (to help the West win the game). Kobe didn’t just shut him down, he embarrassedÂ him. Perhaps, Michael Jordan was looking at the bigger picture when he said he would take Kobe over LeBron. With the biggest stars in one place, one player shut down the ESPN’s chosen one. For more, check this article from NBC.