If the Lakers were going to win this game, George Karl probably advised his team, they would have to do it with someone other than Kobe Bryant leading the way.

Arron Afflalo, ready for the challenge, velcroed himself to Kobe all afternoon and, with help from other Nuggets, had Mamba constantly surrounded. It worked; he was 3-17 and had five turnovers.

A bad shooting night for Kobe usually translates into trouble for the Lakers.

If it came down to the last second against this new and improved Nuggets team, you have to wonder, would Kobe have been able to hit a game winner, and would it have omitted the 4-18 line in his box score? Probably, but today, instead of fighting through the stingy Denver defense with a ridiculous volume of shot attempts, Kobe helped close the game by taking a little detour from Scoring Street, to venture into Assist Avenue and Defense Drive.

Other than his 14 points, he also had 12 assists, five rebounds, three steals and two blocks. It’s a shame that only when he struggles offensively, do we get to appreciate the rest of his talents and skills.

No, Kobe was not his usual offensive juggernaut on Sunday. He was barely an offensive presence at all. Nevertheless, this early afternoon game is where the lessons from his five-game layoff seem to have materialized. His competitive spirit was, as always, pouring out of him, but it was not in the form of a jaw jutting out from his face looking fierce. It was in the form of a jaw that moved up and down, back and forth, calmly chewing gum as he handed out 12 assists.

His infamous drive and determination did not show up in him grabbing his hand or his ankle in pain and then playing through it. The drive was there in the three steals and two blocked shots that he fought for. Kobe’s confidence was not visible in thunderous dunks or heroic three-point game winners. His confidence permeated then emanated out of his teammates, who had played and fought so well while he was healing, and then stood their ground and won this most impressive game, not because HE scored 81 points, but because THEY didn’t give up.

Kobe did not play for two and a half weeks, getting round-the-clock treatment on his injured ankle/tendon, and surely giving his dislocated/fractured digits some time to rest. In those two and half weeks, Lakers followers felt both relief and anxiety in seeing Kobe finally giving his ailing body a chance to heal before the post-season, yet wondering if his time off the court will have made him more or less effective when it came time to rejoin his teammates.

Were two and a half weeks enough? Could he re-injure himself? How will he work himself back into the team’s obvious (and to many, surprising) success of late? All were valid concerns until Kobe showed up in uniform again.

There is something about Kobe that sets him apart from so many elite players in this ultra-competitive league — his calmness, even in the midst of a close game, and contentment with which he plays. And after missing just five games, Kobe looks happy to be playing again.

In his post-game interview after the Memphis win, John Ireland asked how much it pained him to have to sit out those five games, probably referring to the fact that he couldn’t put his stamp on any of the wins, and Kobe admitted so, but ended his reply with, “I missed the guys.”

Kobe experienced more than healing and recovery in those two and a half weeks that he was unable to play. He experienced the enjoyment of watching his teammates succeed without him. In a game against a title-contender like the Denver Nuggets, it would have been easy for the Lakers to fall prey to a team who, since they were eliminated in last season’s Western Conference Finals, believe they can bully and talk their way over anyone, anytime. It would not have been a surprise if, even despite the tough defense, the Lakers continued to make Kobe shoot them out of another loss, but Kobe knew the Nuggets were gunning for his ultimate failure. They expected him, wanted him to jack up contested shots. If only Denver understood that Kobe could rely on so much more than his own scoring to get this win.

On this Sunday afternoon, the Lakers captain relied on something more valuable than a box score of impressive stats. Kobe drew from the richest, most thirst-quenching well in the NBA — his teammates. Lamar Odom’s double-double, Ron Artest’s suffocating defense against Carmelo Anthony, Pau Gasol’s incredible NBA acumen, and bench contribution.

Like ‘Melo declared, or rather dared, in his halftime montage, Pick Your Poison. On Sunday, Denver picked on Kobe Bryant, yet the Lakers still won. Despite shooting 18% (WOW!), Kobe STILL managed a double-double.

J.R. Smith can Twitter all he wants; he can run his mouth off all he wants. Did HE turn his 3-12 shooting into a win for HIS team? Yeah, didn’t think so.

  • WifelovesLuke

    “but Kobe knew the Nuggets were gunning for his ultimate failure. They expected him, wanted him to jack up contested shots. If only Denver understood that Kobe could rely on so much more than his own scoring to get this win”
    Looked to me that Karl was taking a page out of the Boston Defense from 08′. The difference Sunday being that Kobe has “been there- done that” and found a way to get his guys going and the win. Looks like Karl will have to rethink his strategy.

    • http://thelakersnation.com/blog/category/original-articles/benchmob-beat/ Anna Gonda

      And then after he figures how to keep Kobe down, maybe they can try to figure out wha to do with Lamar =)

  • TheLakerGenera11

    The coolest thing about that game aside from
    seeing everyone contribute was from a pure basketball standpoint was Artest working that last call all night err day rather…anyone which I assume is all of us who truely watch the intrinsic aspects of BBall kno Artest was working that 1 bogus call, should it have happen that late in a game No, especially on a critical allstar of course not does it happen?? All the damn time. So hats off to you Ron Ron bc to see that call happen at the very end was me mentally saying: wow man this guy was working that all day. Def Cool stuff n something a avg fan wnt pick up on.

  • 242LakerFan

    This is the difference between the Lakers of a few years ago…maybe even two years ago…and now. That little stretch without Kobe showed everybody something critical.
    It showed the other players that they can, when the need to, rise up and play to a higher level.
    But more importantly, it showed Kobe that when he isn’t all there, which is more often these days, let’s face it, the rest of the team can get it done. He doesn’t need to push so hard and be the hero. That tendency to push is what they were counting on. Kobe didn’t oblige, but instead became the set-up guy.
    This is the formula that will, if properly applied, put yet another Larry O’Brien in Jeanie Buss’ office at Staples this summer.

  • http://www.myspace.com/guszo gus26

    i love kobe.. think he is one of the greatest.. and hate how people are always hating on him… BUT… next time you watch a game… count how many defensive plays he takes off… yesterday’s game had me yelling at the TV for phil to take him off… he took more than half of the defensive posestions off… what i mean by “taking them off”.. doesn’t close out on the shooter… does not rotate… doesn’t help the helper… a lot of little things that everyone needs to see… kobe is wearing down and HURTS me to say it.. :(

    • http://thelakersnation.com/blog/category/original-articles/benchmob-beat/ Anna Gonda

      Kobe doesn’t respect a lot of the guys he has to defend. It’s nothing new. I’ve felt the same way, wondering why he can’t just stay on his man. Maybe it’s wearing him out,and he wants to save his energy…which doesn’t make it better, huh? Hopefully this is temporary. Missing 5 games after not missing almost 300 is probably harder to come back from than a lot of us think. No worries, dude. Kobe will figure out how to be more efficient.

    • ruxpin810

      i agree. he’s definitely not the lockdown one-on-one defender that he once was. but that job has also been designated to someone else on the team the last couple years. ariza last year and artest this year. i think kobe is more a rover defender now so he just floats around, that’s how he gets most of his steals now. but if you want at the end of the game, he can still be in a efficient one-on-one defender. he did a great job on billups at the end, that’s why the thuggets didn’t score in the last 3:38 of the game. he knows he’s not the same defender now but he’s smart enough to know when to turn it on on defense and he did that late in the game. 14 years will do that to your body, but he’s still one of the smartest players in the league so i still believe he can anchor this team to more championships.


        I hear what you 2 are saying ( Anna and ruxpin ), but I have to give my nod to my man gus… at least the part about him “taking them off”.

        I’m a huge Kobe fan, but I do call them as I see them. There’s been plenty of times when Kobe doesn’t close out on shooters or “goes for the steal” and then his man blows by him. Kobe can complain about the help from his center or power forward all he wants, but they have defensive assignments too and it bums me out to see him YELL at his teammates for “not being there” when they’ve been drawn out of coverage by their guys.

        It’s true that the Lakers defensive scheme allows for the perimeter players to funnel their guys into Pau or Bynum, but if their assignments can hit a mid range J, then they have to respect that and stay close to their guys. It’s not fair for Kobe to DEMAND that those guys be there for him to help out when he gets burned.

        He needs to stay pat and play solid D on his own guy instead of taking chances. The “lock down D” guys in the league all stay with their men and not take unnecessary risks going for a steal. Battier, Bowen, Artest, Ariza, etc… they stay IN FRONT of their men instead of putting added pressure on their teammates!

        Kobe needs to close out more too and not be so lazy if he expects his teammates to do the same. One leads by example and not words. If he’s supposedly not giving up on every play, then we’d see him close out and rotate and fight through the picks more than what he has been.

        I will disagree with gus in this regard though… Kobe is not “wearing down”. He is getting a little older and it’s inevitable for him to slow a bit, but he’s not at the point of breaking down. He may even have to take a play or 2 off, but he’s got such a talented team around him that if he needs to take a “few plays” off, then he should take them off on the offensive side a little bit more instead of only the defensive side.

        GO KOBE!!!!!!!!
        GO LAKERS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

        • ruxpin810

          i can’t say i disagree but i honestly didn’t see any of that in yesterday’s game. maybe i just missed it, but the only one that had a good shooting game was nene and i know kobe wasn’t guarding him. i guess it could’ve been in the 1st half, cuz that’s when the thuggets were dominating them, but i honestly didn’t see kobe take a play off in the 2nd half. but like i said, i can’t disagree because i have seen him take plenty of plays off on defense and i’ve found myself yelling at the tv and kobe. but again, like anna said, it’s because he doesn’t respect the guy he’s guarding, which doesn’t make it okay, but that’s why it looks like he takes plays off. as far as him yelling at his teammates, they grown men, if kobe yells at them and blames them for something that was kobe’s fault, they need to learn to stand up for themselves and yell right back at kobe so i have no problem with kobe yelling at his teammates.

        • Ruin818

          Man how I wish I got paid millions of $$’s and have the people who pay my salary say its ok for me to take some of the little bit of time off during work hours becuase the people around me who make less $$ can make up for my slack… THAT IS THE LIFE!!!

          • ruxpin810

            hey man, no one’s stopping you. learn how to play ball like kobe and you can take plays off =)

  • berkyberks

    JR is wearing kobe shoes.

    • ruxpin810

      oh wow! good call berks! jr smith is a kobe fan but is afraid to admit it =)

      • berkyberks

        but I wish I could buy the shoes, but it’s pretty expensive for a family man like me, But when they got the ring this year, I will probably buy a pair. I am hoping the red all star edition will be available here in canada come summer..

  • TheLakerGenera11

    Kobe’s kicks are probably the most worn in the leauge…

  • lakerbunny


  • berkyberks

    now that they won it agains a tough teams, can they make it to a 15-0 mark this month?

    Tue02 vs indiana
    Thu 04 @ Miami
    Fri 05 @ Charlotte
    Sun 07 @ Orlando
    Tue 09 vs Toronto
    Fri 12 @ Phoenix
    Mon 15 @ Golden State
    Tue 16 @ Sacramento
    Fri 19 vs Minnesota
    Sun 21 vs Washington
    Wed 24 @ San Antonio
    Fri 26 @ Oklahoma City
    Sat 27 @ Houston
    Mon 29 @ New Orleans
    Wed 31 @ Atlanta

    I got the feeling of it! anyone here does?

    • 242LakerFan

      I don’t care if they lose two or three, if Cleveland loses four or five.

    • stucktrader

      @ Miami: Wade still has some games where he just outscores the other team..

      @Orlando: the one team in CLE’s way to the Finals
      @ San Antonio: (still can be tough
      @ OK: they are future contenders
      @ Atl: just a step below ORL & CLE.

      not easy games at all…

      The point is to stay healthy for the playoffs.

    • Kobe8/24

      If Odom starts we will not lose any games this month.

  • http://youtube.com/mrterrific100 Mr Terrific

    ~JR tell me how my ass tastes!~

    • berkyberks

      I thought jr only wore the zkv agains lakers only to intimidate kobe, but he still wore it in todays loss to phoenix! wannabe like kobe?

  • Robert

    OK – on Kobe’s defense. Maybe not everyone appreciates this, but playing hard defense all game long is a liability to a player’s own offense. Defense requires ‘much more’ energy than offense. So, if Kobe were to expend all his energy on defense, he would not only not have enough energy for good offense, but when a player is guarding someone else very strongly, if a turnover leads to a fast break, it takes a few seconds more to set up offense position.
    Kobe has just come back from ‘otherwise big’ injuries, not mention 3 almost straight years of playing, including Olympics trials and games, and 2 NBA Finals.
    He is still a top 5 scorer, and has been ALL D for the last decade.
    This ‘down time’ for Kobe is not a sign of age. Rather, it is a sign of ‘long hours of work over a period of time’. And, I dare say it is a ‘pause’ in between big phases of his career. He will get a 2nd wind, and play out the last few years with as much intensity as the first. MJ had a 2 year break playing baseball (c’mon – hanging out in the outfield? Casual jog to catch a fly?). Kobe had 0.
    Anyway, on D – I play pickup 3-5 times a week at John Wooden Center at UCLA, and if I have to guard a good player with intense D, it costs a little in offense. Playing strong D is much more tiring that trotting down the court, and spot up shooting. That’s a fact for anyone. Kobe plays ‘roaming D’ (as mentioned above), and that’s good enough for me. Ron-Ron is here to play ‘lockdown D’ – so that Kobe can roam! This works, and will work in the playoffs.
    But, when Kobe gets all his mojo back, he will definitely be locking down LeBrick in the Finals.

    • Kobe8/24

      Agreed. People think you can lock down a player for 35+ mins a game AND score 26+ points on offense? Not gonna happen, especially in the NBA.