On Thursday night the undefeated Los Angeles Lakers traveled to Denver, a 4-4 team still trying to find their own identity. The struggling Nuggets have had a ton of issues this off-season, most notably the trade rumors surrounding Carmello Anthony and the health/well being of Coach George Karl. They are currently a .500 team, but anytime the Lakers visit Denver, one can expect an intense battle. Between the fighting in the stands, bad blood on the court, and fierce competitiveness of each coaching staff, the hype surrounding the game was well worth it.
Kobes had a high level of intensity to start. Bryant jumped the passing lane, led the fast break and dished to Pau for the lay up. Plays like this were what kept the Lakers in the game, as he found himself chasing all night. Denver runs a complex offense, which entails a lot of movement from its guards, Kobes stamina was not an issue and he actually seemed up to the challenge. Recently he has been limited in practice because coach Phil Jackson does not want to wear his legs down or bother the rehabilitation process of the knee. Although, Kobe did play a season high 41 minutes and looked as fresh in the last two minutes of the game as he did at any other point.
After knocking down his first shot, a floater from the free throw line, splitting two defenders in the process, he never looked back. The consistent pressure he puts on the defense really opens up shots for Fisher and Gasol. Kobe aggressively penetrated and found the open shot. He looked to be the only player getting to the basket early as the rest of the team settled for jump shots. Going into a timeout in the first half Kobe found himself coaching Ron Artest on the specific movements and different options within the triangle. Bryant’s leadership is second to none, as he is a true professional but more importantly a players who hates to loose.
Kobe found himself playing with the second unit in the middle of the 2nd quarter and after a dynamic dribble drive kick to Blake, who knocked down open three, the unit became energized. His will and determination seemed to rub off as the Lakers started to pull away right before the half. Kobe really understands defensive principals, and when on offense, defender looks like a puppet. He knows when the defense will reach, if they will bite on the pump fake, and how the team is playing him as a whole. For instance right before the half Kobe held the ball for the final shot, instead of forcing penetration to the basket, he quickly realized the double and found Fisher for an open three. The play before that he caught Billups on a switch made a step through drive to the basket for a faradic dunk over Harrington with his off foot. Kobe is great at recognizing where the weakness is, or where it will soon be.
Bryant opened up the 3rd quarter hitting back-to-back shots becoming the youngest player ever to score 26,000 points (32 years 80 days old), beating Wilt Chamberlains record (32 years 114 days old) by 34 days. This is an amazing feat that only a handful of players have or will ever come close too. Kobe didn’t get caught up in the moment as he kept business as usual trying to take down the struggling Nuggets while he had the chance. The Lakers were up 14 in the third and looked to be on cruise control, but then got complacent. A couple of misses here and a few makes buy the nuggets and it was a tied game mid way through the 4th.
Kobe tried to carry the Lakers on his back with an array of spinning fadways and off balance shots, and aggressive moves to the basket, but the Nuggets scoring runs were too much. They had two different 12-0 runs which were not answered, they were outscored by 14 in the final quarter of play and between Carmello Anthony’s tough shots and the timely bench play of second year guard Ty Lawson, Denver handed the Lakers their first loss of the season. The Lakers look to turn it around Sunday night as they play host to the Phoenix Suns (4-4). Kobe finished with 34 points and 5 assists and Pau Gasol with 17 points and 20 rebounds, great stats, but in a loosing effort.