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MARK HEISLER / ON THE NBA

Kobe Bryant' s knee may be hurting, but his head is just fine

Bryant gives a textbook demonstration of cerebral basketball, turning Oklahoma City linchpin Russell Westbrook into a non-factor with his defense and dominating far more than his 13 points and seven assists suggest as Lakers roll to 111-87 victory in a crucial Game 5.

April 27, 2010|Mark Heisler

So, it wasn't the end of Lakerdom as we know it, after all?

In the good news for the Lakers, there will be a tomorrow, or at least a Sunday, that won't be in Oklahoma City.

Loath to even think about going back there for Friday's Game 6 trailing 3-2, without their old assurance that Kobe Bryant could save the day, the Lakers made a ferocious defensive stand, turning the poised young Thunder players into toddlers up past their bedtime in a 111-87 rout.

With his sore knee improved enough that he asked to guard Russell Westbrook, Bryant put on a clinic in cerebral basketball, scoring 13 points with seven assists.

Westbrook had 15 on four-for-13 shooting when Bryant left after three quarters.

A normal player with a bad knee would look for a place to rest on defense.

Of course, the way Bryant looks at it, chasing Westbrook is therapy.

Then there's the part about how he was actually able to do it.

"Just being a savvy old dog," said Bryant.

Bryant asked Coach Phil Jackson on Monday to let him guard Westbrook. Not that it was a no-brainer for Jackson, at this late date, after a season in which Bryant wore himself down, playing hurt for so many games.

Did it, at least, suggest Bryant's knee felt better?

"It told me what his determination was, whether his knee was better or not," Jackson said. "It spoke about his competitiveness."

The game was so one-sided, Bryant was able to get away with playing 29 minutes, another plus for an ailing player, watching the fourth quarter from the bench.

That was preferable to Game 4, which Bryant left after three quarters with the Thunder mopping up the Lakers, and went to the dressing room to start getting treatment on his knee.

Happily for the Lakers, they had two days off before Game 5, and Bryant spent much of the time getting treatment, getting a day off with his teammates Sunday, and sitting out Monday's practice.

In recent days, it had become clear it was Bryant's sore right knee, which has swollen over and over despite two one-week rests this season, that has slowed him to a walk.

After averaging 39 minutes in March and 40 in February, Bryant left the lineup after an April 4 game because of the knee.

He returned for the April 11 loss to Portland at Staples Center, when he bricked two free throws with the game on the line at the end.

Afterward, he said he'd play the last two regular-season games to get sharp.

That night, he texted Jackson, saying he had changed his mind about playing.

The announced reason was to rest his fractured finger.

The real reason reportedly was the knee, which had swollen up again, with Bryant beginning round-the-clock treatment.

He seemed to regain his form in Game 2, scoring 39 points in a vintage take-over-at-the-end performance, but Kevin Durant then shocked everyone by shutting him down at the end of Game 3, and, as far as being Kobe Bryant, Kobe Bryant effectively no-showed in Game 4.

By then, round-the-clock treatment reportedly meant starting it at 4:30 a.m.

At Monday's practice, Bryant, who has remained steadfastly silent on his injuries, said the knee was better but acknowledged, "It's been tough. Some nights have been tougher than others."

Of course, you know what happens when the going gets tough.

"You're killing me, man," Durant said at the suggestion Bryant is less than he has been.

"Kobe Bryant is the best player in the league, one of the best players in the world. It's not like he played a phenomenal game [which was] something he doesn't do.

"He's Kobe Bryant."

Still. One way or another.

mark.heisler@latimes.com

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