Full-Court Press: 34 reasons Kobe's a star
On Thursday, Kobe Bryant became the first-ever player to log at least 47 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four blocks and three steals in a game. He did so while playing all 48 minutes of the Lakers' 113-106 win over Portland.
On Friday, the 34-year-old Bryant had played every second of the first 44:54 of the Lakers' next game -- an occurrence that was becoming the status quo -- when he fell to the ground, felt a pop in his left foot and writhed in pain. Pop or no pop, he hit the two free throws he was due and exited the game.
Kobe Bryant, three minutes away from the end of the 78th game he'd played this year, three minutes plus two games away from the end of his regular season, tore his Achilles tendon. Ninety-nine minutes of game before this all could have been finis, and Bryant was done -- for the season, and perhaps for even longer.
You've read the eulogies, the tributes, the pensive reflections on one of the game's greats and whether this might be the end of his greatness. You've heard the criticism, the notion that Bryant pushed himself to do too much, that Mike D'Antoni didn't do enough to stop him. In the aftermath of the injury, former Lakers coach Phil Jackson tweeted that "Kobe wasn't going to let the Lakers miss the playoffs," and that about sums it up. He was going to exert his will, have his way, and that snapped Achilles was in some twisted way the product of that determination.
In all the critique of his minutes mixed with the lauding of his play, it's easy to miss another wrinkle to Kobe Bryant in 2012-13. No matter if he should or shouldn't have been shouldering the minutes he was, Bryant did, and in doing so and contributing like he contributed, he cemented yet another layer of his legacy: leading a team in an almost superhuman way at an advanced -- for professional basketball -- age.
Before his injury this season, Bryant's 27.9 possessions per game accounted for just 24.9 percent of all Lakers possessions, yet he scored 26.0 percent of the team's total points. On his way to accomplishing that rather remarkable feat, Bryant logged 3,018 minutes on the court, good for the most minutes per game he's posted since 2009-10. At the time of his injury, he'd logged 472 more minutes than any other player aged 32 or older in the league, and he was on pace to finish the year having logged roughly 3,100 minutes.
With the stats he put up over those minutes, this would qualify for one of the greatest seasons ever for a player of Bryant's age. Sure, Wilt Chamberlain logged more time most seasons when he was in his mid-30s, as did Bill Russell -- but not that much more. Chamberlain at 34 was good for 3,630 minutes, Russell for 3,291. Those are two of the all-time greats, and really, they're the only comparison for what Bryant did at his age and in so many minutes this season.
Not the worst comparisons in the world.
There are so many arguments against what Bryant and the Lakers did this year. There's the fact that it's been nine seasons since a player who logged more than 3,000 regular-season minutes won a title. There's the notion that Bryant was doing what he was doing mostly because no one else was picking up the slack. There's the perceived lack of oversight -- or any ability to control -- on the part of D'Antoni.
Oh, and there's that snapped Achilles.
After Friday's game, Bryant waited at his locker and spoke to the media, an almost unheard-of occurrence in such a situation. He said plenty, but one thought stuck out: "I'm just tired, man. . . . This is a long mountain to overcome."
It'll be easy to let the injury ruin this season and what it meant for Bryant. It might ruin his career, after all.
It'll be easy to remember the social media rants, the photos pre- and post-surgery, the unusually early end to the Lakers' season that seems bound to transpire, but we should try not to forget what came before. However damaging, however doomed, however career-altering that one game was, what Kobe Bryant did -- what Kobe Bryant willed, for that matter -- should amount to something.
No matter the fatigue that was bound to come. No matter the ego-centrism. No matter the risk at which it put his aging body. No matter the circus that surrounded it all. In this utterly disappointing Lakers season, Kobe Bryant made the shortcomings easy to forget.
The Nuggets, who have won six of seven -- and three of four since Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL on April 4. It's not so much that Denver is reaching some new level here at the end of the season, but rather that it's playing as if it isn't missing one of its biggest pieces. That in and of itself is a feat, but who knows how long it might last.
The Bucks, who have lost four straight, including games against utterly beatable Orlando and Charlotte. In the process, Milwaukee sewed up the eight seed in the East, guaranteeing itself a first-round matchup against the Heat, which would be anyone's grimmest nightmare.
Best of the week
Team: The Heat, because in this last regular-season column it only seems fitting. Plus, their six-game winning streak is the longest of any team in the NBA right now.
Player: New York's Carmelo Anthony, who on Thursday became the first player in Knicks history to score 35 or more points in six straight games. Since then, he's broken that scoring streak, logging a measly (by comparison) 31 points on Friday and 25 on Sunday, and when those numbers look like a dropoff, you know you're doing something right.
Worst of the week
Team: Portland, yet again, after they failed to win a game for the third straight week. The Trail Blazers haven't logged a W since March 22, and they've been starting a rookie-heavy, experience-lacking roster of late. To add insult to injury, with their final two games of the season against the Clippers and Warriors, there's a good chance Portland goes into the offseason on a 13-game losing streak.
Player: Milwaukee's J.J. Redick, who in four games this week went just 14-of-40 (28.0 percent) from the field. Known for his 3-point shooting, the shooting guard was even worse from long range, making just seven shots for a 23.3 percent mark. Oh, and the Bucks lost all four games they played.
40 games: That's the total number in the Heat's (27) and Knicks' (13) winning streaks this spring, both of which ended against the Bulls in Chicago. The latest streak was busted on Thursday in a 118-111 Bulls win over the Knicks, when Chicago became just the second team in league history (along with the 1990-91 Suns) to snap two 13-plus game winning streaks in the same season.
17 points, 25 rebounds, 7 blocked shots: Milwaukee's John Henson logged that stat line in Wednesday's loss to the Magic. The last player to accrue those numbers in each of those categories in a single game was Shaq in 2004.
84 percent: The Heat, with two games remaining, have guaranteed that they will win at least 87.8 percent of their second-half games. That makes them just the sixth team in NBA history to win at least 84 percent of its second-half games; three of the previous five such teams won titles.
What we heard
"Well, you know, I'm just too sexy for my cat. I'm too sexy for my cat. My cat. I'm just too sexy for my cat. If I wasn't as sexy for my cat, I probably wouldn't have came back. I'm so sexy, I came back. Too sexy for my cat, too sexy to wear a sleeve or a bracelet [on my knee], so I had to come back. I felt sexy, I felt like my team was working, I felt like we wanted it. We just wanted to come together collectively. Play hard, do it together. . . . I'm definitely too sexy for my cat, definitely, we know that. I'm also too tough to let a meniscus surgery keep me out for six weeks. I'm too sexy for the cat."
— Lakers forward Metta World Peace on Tuesday, when he returned to the court just 12 days after undergoing knee surgery. The initial prognosis was for a 4-6 week recovery.
"I've always said there is one winner and 29 other teams tied for last."
— Mavericks owner Mark Cuban to ESPNDallas' Tim MacMahon on Thursday morning, just hours after the Mavericks were eliminated from the 2013 playoffs, ending a 12-year streak.
"Obviously, we want to play Miami. We do. We just would not like to play them early. I mean, we would love to avoid Miami in the first round and then play them; that would mean we're doing very well. So, we clearly want to play Miami. We just want to delay it a little bit if we can."
— Boston coach Doc Rivers after his team's Wednesday loss to Brooklyn.
"Can't move for 2weeks so I'm laid up. Will watch game on tv and give adjustments if needed by phone at halftime #countontheteam"
— Kobe Bryant (@kobebryant) on Twitter before the Lakers' Sunday game against the Spurs.
Utah at Memphis, 8 p.m. ET Wednesday: Just six games remain between two playoff teams (or maybe playoff teams, in the case of Utah), and among them, this figures to be the best. It could very well be a must-win game for the Jazz, and the Grizzlies probably won't be resting players; more than likely, Memphis will continue to jockey for playoff positioning until the end.
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