James, the Miami Heat star, couldn't care less that the Lakers star recently had a run of 39 assists in three games and 56 over five. He’s doesn’t buy that Bryant all of a sudden has become a facilitator.
“Do I buy that? No,’’ James said. “He told you all before, he’s a scorer. He said it every day, ‘I’m a scorer and this is what I do.’ So I don’t buy it. No. You guys (the media) buy it, though. I see how you all go, '(48) assists in four games,' whatever. You guys are going crazy about that. I don’t buy that. He’s a scorer.’’
So James won’t be expecting the Lakers shooting guard to be dishing off too much when he runs into him Sunday at AmericanAirlines Arena. Indeed, Bryant’s passing has fallen off in the past week after his five-game streak of averaging 11.2 a game ended Feb. 1. Since then, Bryant has averaged 4.3 assists in four games.
Nevertheless, the Lakers (24-27) have been winning as they try to dig themselves out of a huge hole and make the playoffs. They arrived in Miami having won seven of their past nine and four of five.
Even though the Lakers recently lost forward Pau Gasol for at least six weeks due to a foot injury, they still have Bryant, who is averaging 27.4 points and 5.3 assists, Dwight Howard and Steve Nash.
“Any time you have great players, you can be dangerous,’’ James said. “They haven’t been dangerous every night, but they can be dangerous . . . They lost Pau. That hurts. But Earl Clark has been playing some great ball. He will be on our scouting report come Sunday. Guys are stepping up . . . We understand they’re going to come in and try to finish off their road trip on a high note, and we want to keep our momentum going.’’
The Lakers are 4-2 as they prepare to end a seven-game trip. Having a good record on the voyage was imperative to save their season.
The trip hardly has been without controversy. Bryant challenged Howard to play in pain after a shoulder injury had sidelined him for three games. Howard has played in the past two games but hasn’t been too impressive with averages of 10.5 points and 10.0 rebounds.
But the center hasn’t been himself all season. Coming off back surgery, he’s averaging 16.2 points and 11.8 rebounds, down from the 20.6 and 14.5 he averaged last season with Orlando before being granted his wish to be traded.
“He hasn’t been 100 percent all year long,’’ said Heat forward Rashard Lewis, Howard’s teammate on the Magic from 2007 until Lewis was traded in December 2010. “I know playing with him in Orlando, he’s a dominant force . . . Once he’s 100 percent healthy, I think the Lakers definitely have one of the best big men in the NBA.’’
Lewis still keeps in touch with Howard. Although he said they haven’t discussed the subject specifically, he believes Howard will re-sign with the Lakers when he becomes a free agent this summer.
“My gut feeling is I think he will,’’ said Lewis, who teamed with Howard to lead the Magic to the 2009 NBA Finals. “I think he will be in LA (next season) . . . He most definitely likes the city, likes the organization. It’s one of the first-class organizations. The Lakers have a history of winning championships, and that’s what he wants to do is win a championship. So we’ll see what happens at the end of the season, but my gut feeling is I think he’ll stay there.’’
For now, the Lakers are worried about this season. Every game is important as they try to come back from a 3.5-game deficit to catch Houston (28-24) for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
So in their latest fight for survival, will Bryant come out shooting or passing? James is figuring on shooting.