It’s been a surreal 14 years since we all witnessed the beginning of what has turned out to be an elite Hall of Fame career authored by Kobe Bean Bryant. Four NBA titles, six deep playoff runs into the NBA Finals, and over 37,000 career minutes later, the Black Mamba’s hunger to collect more Larry O’Brien trophies undoubtedly burns as intensely as ever. After watching Kobe during the Blazers game though, I can’t help but deliberate whether or not he can physically grind through what is sure to be one of the more grueling playoff runs he’s been apart of in quite some time.
During the game against Portland, Jeff Van Gundy and Mark Jackson agreed that in order for the Lakers to repeat this year, Kobe will have to engineer another set of signature playoff performances where he blows it open with 40 and lets the competition know that he is still one of the most dangerous scorers the league has ever seen. I honestly couldn’t agree more because as we saw last year in Game 4 against Utah (see below), Game 2 against Houston, Game 3 against Denver, and Game 1 in the NBA Finals against Orlando, the Mamba will certainly have to set the tone at particular points in the chaotic race that is the NBA playoffs.
In last year’s post-season run to the title, Kobe averaged 30.2 ppg on 46% shooting from the field and the Lakers went 16-7. While he has obviously been enduring an immense amount of pain playing through an avulsion fracture in his index finger on his shooting hand for the majority of the season, it is a disturbing reality that the injury is still vigorously affecting the Mamba’s offensive game. The laundry list of nagging physical ailments that Bryant is presently battling with is not going to get shorter any time soon. Unless Gary Vitti manufactures revolutionary treatment that will fully heal our battered superstar in the next week, all we can do is believe, as we always have, that Kobe will somehow manage his body and impose his will upon the competition.
The morbid shooting that the Mamba has been displaying (5-23 against Jazz, 8-24 against Spurs, 8-23 against Blazers) as of late is simply not going to get it done. More so than the broken index finger, it’s the health of his legs that is just as concerning. During the Portland game, JVG also pointed out on one of Kobe’s aggressive takes to the cup in which he haplessly fluttered the ball at the bottom of the rim that, in years past, he would have easily come away with the bucket and a foul. However, the elevation is clearly just not as accessible at least right now.
There is no need to panic though because maintaining greatness in the NBA is predicated on the constant ability to evolve and adapt to changing conditions. Age and attrition are a nemesis that no human being can evade forever, but Kobe is one of the most intelligent athletes that professional sports has ever seen and I have nothing but pure confidence that he will figure “it” out. Whether this means living in the post more or even simply cleaning up his shot selection, I am no fool. I will never doubt Kobe Bryant.
Although Pau has shown a propensity to feature as a reliable offensive force in games that Kobe has missed, there have been just as many instances where he has succumb to the notion that he is no more than the league’s best “second-best” player (turning it over in the waning moments against the Nuggets last week). With Andrew Bynum’s tender Achilles making no guarantees about his status, I really believe that if we are going to repeat as champions, Kobe will have to be the one to shoulder the load and carry us back once again to the Promised Land. He obviously has already cemented himself as one of the greatest players of all time, but we all know that deep inside the Black Mamba burns the fire to match, if not surpass Michael Jordan’s count of six rings.
Like I said though, I’m no fool. There will be no expansion of Kobe’s basketball legacy or 16th parade in the City of Angels if the whole Lakers team does not begin to play consistent, disciplined defense.
Game 4 of 2009 Western Conference Quarterfinals, Lakers v. Jazz
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