Kobe Bryant could play five more years, 10 more years, 55 more years, and the topic of "81" would always come up whenever the Toronto Raptors came to town.
Bryant scored 81 points against Toronto in January 2006, making 28 of 46 shots on the way to the second-highest point total in NBA history, trailing only Wilt Chamberlain's 100-point effort in 1962.
It's impossible to imagine it happening this season with such a deep Lakers team, and Coach Phil Jackson suggested it would be better if "81: The Sequel" never took place, going back to last season's NBA Finals to prove a point.
"We know that Boston literally said, 'We've got to take Kobe out, we just have to throw our defense at them,' " Jackson said. "We have to have more guys fit into our offense if we're going to be a team that can compete with those clubs."
Jackson was then asked whether Bryant was happy with his role this season, which has included fewer minutes and lower stats across the board. Jackson began to answer with something akin to "Well, it's a long season," before ribbing a reporter for a brief note in a story touching on the fact that Bryant needed 38 points against Toronto to become the youngest player ever to reach 22,000 points.
"That was like a carrot in front of a donkey, whoever did that," Jackson said with sarcasm. "It was stupid. That could really mess up the game for tonight."
Bryant scored 23 points Sunday against the Raptors, failing to beat Chamberlain to 22,000. Bryant was 30 years and 99 days old Sunday. Chamberlain was 30 years and 100 days when he hit 22,000 in 1966.
At any rate, Jackson said he hoped Bryant would continue to buy into a team-first principle.
"Kobe does have agendas at times that will come out," Jackson said. "A couple years ago, when things didn't go well, he went on that tear. He could get into that [again]. You hope that he stays focused on what the overall plan is."
Bryant is averaging 24.4 points, 5.1 rebounds and 4.2 assists in 33.5 minutes a game this season. He averaged 28.3 points, 6.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 38.9 minutes a game last season on the way to winning his first most-valuable-player award.
Faster, quicker East?
Eastern Conference teams hold a surprising 48-32 record over West teams, though the Lakers won't see any of the East's top offerings in an upcoming trip to Indiana (6-10), Philadelphia (7-10) and Washington (2-12).
The East still has powerful, pound-it-out teams such as Boston, but several squads have turned to up-tempo offenses.
In fact, four of the league's six highest-scoring teams were from the East going into Sunday.
Jackson gave a brief scouting report of the Lakers' next three opponents.
"I think Indiana's playing pretty good basketball right now. They're running up and down," he said. "Philadelphia has struggled, but they're a capable team with a lot of really good athletes. Small, small team.
"Washington's just had a devastating start with all the injuries they've had, but they're starting to play better as we go."
Rookie Sun Yue sustained a sprained left foot and will undergo medical tests today. Sun was not sure how he injured the foot and he might not accompany the team on its upcoming trip.