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T.J. SIMERS

Kobe Bryant doesn't respond to Rolling Stone challenge

The Lakers' Kobe Bryant has an off game after Rolling Stone magazine piece suggests that Oklahoma City's Kevin Durant is better.

March 26, 2010|T.J. Simers

From Oklahoma City — The megalomaniac I know would have gone off for 60 when told the guy he was playing against was now deemed better.

He would have dunked off the jump ball, taking it as a personal challenge to set the record straight.

He would never let such a thought take seed, slapping the upstart aside with an ESPN highlight show, forcing the SportsCenter announcers to proclaim his greatness again.

So what happened to Kobe Bryant, and for that matter, his slapstick supporting cast Friday night?

The Lakers played like St. Mary's, trailing by 33 after three quarters, the megalomaniac as he was called in a Rolling Stones' story brought to his attention earlier in the day, scoring two more points than his nine turnovers.

There were ESPN highlights, all right, every one of them dominated by the Thunder and for the most part, Kevin Durant, who scored 26 and shot free throws with everyone in the place chanting, "MVP, MVP.''

The megalomaniac I know would never have allowed such a thing, a young superstar like Durant strutting his stuff at his expense and all Durant's teammates thinking what's so tough about playing the Lakers — if we get them in the playoffs.

So aren't you, Kobe Bryant, the guy who usually takes on such a challenge?

"That's a silly question,'' he said with a dirty look, a silly answer as well, for that matter a non-answer and not surprising on a night when he really didn't seem to have any.

The last time he took on Michael Jordan, he put 55 on him. He goes to Madison Square Garden and scores 61; he can do whatever he wants, whenever he wants, or so he has.

But maybe he's more mature now, failing to take the bait from Rolling Stone, where he was referred to as a "demented three-faced narcissist'' and where it says he thinks writers from The Times are too tough on him.

I have no idea where Rolling Stone gets the idea he's three-faced. I always get the same face when I ask a question.

Matt Taibbi, writing for Rolling Stone, though, was trying to build a case at Bryant's expense that Durant has jumped ahead of Bryant, placing Durant right behind LeBron James.

It's ludicrous, of course, Bryant winning championships, playing top-of-the-line defense and doing so much more, while Durant has yet to compete in a playoff game.

Durant is a scorer, a delight to watch, and that was on a night when he didn't shoot well from long range.

They say he's modest and unaffected by stardom, so he does have that on the megalomaniac, but he has a zillion minutes of basketball to play to match Bryant's accomplishments.

Taibbi went on to write, though, "the moment is coming when Kobe is going to throw everything he has at Durant, and this wide-eyed, lanky, respectful kid — nothing personal, Mr. Bryant — is going to kick his …anyway. That'll be a delicious moment, and it might even happen this year.''

You had to figure Taibbi had no idea what he was writing, making the ridiculous suggestion someone would kick Bryant's behind what with the Lakers being so rich in talent.

Now he might end up with his own NBA cable show: Taibbi the Prophet.

"Our communication as a team was bad,'' said Lamar Odom by way of explanation, no one on the Thunder apparently hearing the Lakers yell, "we surrender.''

This was a major league whupping, our bubbly and positive-jabbering John Ireland telling a TV audience back home, it was the worst game the team has played in two years, "and they didn't play hard.''

When Ireland gets tough on the Lakers, either the Lakers really did stink up the joint, or he already knows everyone has turned to the NCAA tournament, or more likely — both.

"It shouldn't happen like this — not with the players we got out there,'' said Odom. "We need some togetherness, maybe some dinners together.''

More than 70 games into the season, and the Lakers need some togetherness? Yikes.

The Thunder was up by a dozen at the end of the first quarter, Bryant ending it with a long air ball. The Thunder was up by 19 at the half, Bryant slipping to the floor and turning the ball over to end it. Oklahoma City was ahead by 33 after three with Bryant already on the bench for the rest of the game.

"Kobe wasn't really himself tonight,'' said Phil Jackson, and Bryant certainly had a lot of company.

Jackson said it had nothing to do with Bryant getting caught up with Durant, but no one seemed to have a better explanation.

"I'm disappointed we didn't respond to the challenge,'' Bryant said. "That being said, when the playoffs start, it's a different situation."

Maybe, and isn't that a question to be answered in a few weeks, this game long forgotten or a tipoff that more inexplicable performances are to follow.

Jackson dismissed it as one of those things that happen when you haven't seen a team in four months, but the way the Lakers played on offense, it appeared as if they were just meeting their own teammates for the first time.

If they were running an offense, a final total of seven assists suggests it probably doesn't involve a lot of teamwork.

When asked whether he knew what he's got in this Lakers team, Bryant replied, "yeah,'' and then pressed for further explanation, said, "I will when the playoffs come along.''

I don't think he's alone in that thinking.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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