LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant has been playing a lot of minutes for a 34-year-old NBA veteran in the last six games — five of them Lakers wins. As they fight for their playoff lives, their heart, soul and conscience has been getting in an average of 45 minutes per game — including 48 in Wednesday night’s victory over Portland — the Lakers’ biggest win of the season.
He poured in a career high 47 points as the Lakers took a full game lead over Utah for the last Western Conference playoff spot. It even over-shadowed the return of Metta World Peace to game action, just 12 days after arthroscopic surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee — an incredible feat in itself. But Bryant has now been doing the superlative for 17 years.
Remarkable only begins to describe Bryant’s recent efforts, considering his basketball age is much older than his 34 chronological years.
With all the playoff games Bryant’s played in during his 17 seasons, the All Star games, the Olympics and its qualifying tournament games — not to mention the dozens of serious injuries he’s endured or played through — his basketball age is probably closer to 40. So for him to go out, play every minute without rest, then score nearly a point-per-minute, well, it defies sane calculations.
“Well, you’ve all known for a while that I’m a little crazy,” said Bryant, laughing, after a recent practice. “Right now this is what our team needs from me and I’m going to give it to them.
“Sure, I get a little tired out there, but I can rest for a minute, get a second wind going, get back out there keep playing.
“It’s what I have to do for our team to win right now.”
More importantly, it’s what has always driven the kid from Lower Merion High school in Philadelphia to levels of greatness reached by very few professional athletes.
Bryant’s mental toughness and focus are definitely legendary, and are the only reason the Lakers have a chance to sneak their way into the postseason after a year that has seen them respond badly to the expectations. Once the Lakers added Dwight Howard and Steve Nash via trades, and scoring machine Antawn Jamison as a free agent, the Lakers — with Bryant and Pau Gasol already on board — were proclaimed to be the new “Super Team” ready to challenge defending champion Miami for NBA supremacy.
Swing and a miss.
Howard, Nash and Gasol have been hurt throughout the season — Nash has missed the last five games with hip and leg problems — and without Bryant’s superstar efforts throughout, the last three games would be playing out the string and they’d be picking out vacation spots. Instead, they’ll host Golden State at Staples Center with a chance to tighten their grip on possible redemption in the playoffs.
Will they need another 48-minute, 47-point effort from Kobe to pull it off? Logic says no, that someone will step up and provide a helping hand. It might even be Nash, who is day to day but may be able to suit up Friday night vs. Golden State.
However, when you watch or listen to the game, then look through the box score afterwards, don’t be surprised to learn that Bryant registered another mid-boggling line.