Reporting from Sacramento
Maybe Kobe Bryant was right. Phil Jackson might owe him an apology.
They had been ensconced in a mild debate since Bryant recently declared himself 100% recovered from off-season knee surgery, a decree Jackson answered with a roll of the eyes.
Then came Wednesday, Bryant had a huge night statistically against the Sacramento Kings, and the gavel could finally be pounded.
The debate was over.
Bryant had 30 points, 12 assists and 10 rebounds in the Lakers' 112-100 victory over Sacramento at Arco Arena.
It was his 17th career triple-double, and it wasn't the end of his stat line. He was nine of 10 from the free-throw line and committed only one turnover. The one minor critique would have been his accuracy — nine-for-22 shooting — but it was almost nitpicking compared to the rest of his work.
Bryant also set a franchise record two minutes into the game, passing Kareem Abdul-Jabbar for career minutes. Bryant has now logged 37,527 minutes, all with the Lakers, of course.
Jackson said Bryant could still be moving better defensively, but he conceded he "had a terrific night."
"His shot's on, he's got leg strength," Jackson said. "I still want to see him run freely. But he played a great game."
Bryant didn't seem to mind if his coach considered him fully sound.
"I don't [care] whether he says it or not," he said. "I'm 100%. It is what it is."
The Kings (3-2) have been dying to resume their rivalry with the Lakers (5-0), and it might happen one of these seasons, but one overriding sense came out of Wednesday's game:
Not … quite … there.
The Kings have a nice blend of youth and talent, but second-year guard Tyreke Evans (21 points) couldn't show much of it after getting in foul trouble, and rookie center DeMarcus Cousins had a bland 11 points and six rebounds.
The Lakers have now won 10 of their last 11 against Sacramento, hardly the stuff of their intense battles almost a decade ago.
Unlike the first few games this season, the Lakers' reserves didn't add much of anything, leaving the starters to do it on their own.
Pau Gasol answered with 22 points, Lamar Odom had 18 and Ron Artest had 17. Derek Fisher (11 points) came alive late in the game after the Kings moved within seven, burying a three-pointer and then completing a three-point play on the next possession for a 105-92 lead with 3:14 to play.
Above all else, there was Bryant.
He had 10 points, six assists and four rebounds in the first quarter, setting the pace for the Lakers' night.
He added a four-point play in the second quarter, leading to a chorus of "M-V-P" from the ever-present Lakers fans, followed predictably by a round of boos from disgusted Kings fans.
On another play, he executed a give-and-go with Odom that started near the three-point line and ended with Odom dunking off Bryant's lob.
Then it was Bryant's turn to convert an alley-oop dunk, circling behind the Kings' defense and scoring off Matt Barnes' pass.
In the third quarter, he led
the break on one play, feeding Odom for a dunk with a pass that
would have made Magic Johnson smile.
And in the fourth quarter, he completed a three-point play after getting fouled hard but continuing through successfully on a 19-footer, giving the Lakers a 108-94 lead with 2:35 left.
Jackson said Bryant was ahead of schedule as far as making an impact this season.
"I think he's playing better than I thought he could possibly play this time of the year," Jackson said.