kobePasadena Star News: Kobe Bryant’s scoring average is down again this season.

He’s playing better than ever.

Cause and effect?

“Kobe’s playing as well as he did last year,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said after the team practiced Monday afternoon at Southern Nazarene University.

“Most of that is simply because he’s a better leader. He’s more determined in that aspect.”

Bryant averaged a league- leading 35.4 points in 2005-06, but the Lakers lost to the Phoenix Suns in the first round of the playoffs. He averaged 31.6 points in 2006-07, leading the league again, but the Lakers lost to the Suns again in the opening round. His averaged dipped again last season to 28.3 points, but he won the league’s MVP award for the first time in his career and helped the Lakers reach the NBA Finals for the first time in four years.

This season, Bryant is averaging 27.6 points and the Lakers have the league’s best record at 46-10 going into tonight’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

The Lakers’ loss to the Boston Celtics in the Finals last June has stoked Bryant’s competitive fire, Jackson said. “I think mostly it’s the drive,” Jackson said. “Every game he comes out and there’s a purpose these guys have to play for, there’s a reason to go out there and win. There’s a motivation he provides by always pressing the team forward.

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