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Lonnie White's Xs and O's

Postseason is the post season for Bryant

May 18, 2008|Lonnie White | Times Staff Writer

After 12 NBA seasons, the Lakers' Kobe Bryant is recognized as basketball's most difficult player to defend.

Just ask Utah Coach Jerry Sloan, who watched Bryant torch the Jazz in leading the Lakers into the Western Conference finals.

Sloan tried an assortment of defenders and schemes in an attempt to slow Bryant, but even with a sore back, the NBA's most valuable player was pretty much unstoppable, especially when he received the ball in the post.

Normally working from the left side of the key, Bryant gave Ronnie Brewer, Andrei Kirilenko, Deron Williams and Matt Harpring fits through a variety of fundamentally sound moves.

My favorite was a twisting turnaround bank shot that Bryant executed more than once in the six-game series.

With his left shoulder planted firmly against his defender's chest, Bryant opens the move as if he'll reverse spin and drive to the basket. But after establishing ground and space with his right foot, Bryant fades away for a shot off the backboard.

And usually through the rim for two points.

Last summer at Team USA's mini-camp in Las Vegas, Bryant often practiced this move following a team workout. While other teammates -- such as Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony -- attempted multiple three-pointers, Bryant kept his practice moves closer to the basket.

It got to the stage that with each shot, Bryant seemed to get more and more into the rhythm of the move.

In the playoffs, defenders have paid a price for Bryant's diligent off-season work. In 10 postseason games, Bryant has averaged 33.3 points while shooting nearly 50%.

The key for Bryant is getting his preferred position on the floor, and he mainly gets that done through the Lakers' half-court triangle sets.

Bryant's favorite setup has been to start off on the right side of the court with center Pau Gasol and then cut to the left side of the post.

Thanks to disciplined perimeter spacing, this turns into a two-on-two matchup underneath the basket that favors the Lakers because of the attention Bryant attracts.

If a team opts to slide a defender to help against Bryant, Gasol is usually left alone for an easy basket, and if a team leaves a single defender -- Utah's main approach -- Bryant is in control.

Everything starts with Bryant's ability to drive into the lane, where he's an automatic scoring machine. Featuring his strong hand, Bryant always makes it looks easy, whether he's shooting a fadeaway or a sweeping right-hand scoop layup.

But what makes Bryant so difficult to defend is his ability to switch up and dribble to the basket with his left hand. Bryant does this move as well as anyone who has ever played the game and he burned Deron Williams with it in the Lakers' victory over the Jazz in Game 5.

Summary: During the regular season, teams such as Portland and Golden State had some success double-teaming Bryant every time he touched the ball in the Lakers' half-court offense. But when Bryant is on top of his game, there really isn't a defense that can stop him.

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lonnie.white@latimes.com

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