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T.J. SIMERS

Kobe Bryant's 1-on-5 strategy falls short against the Heat

Lakers All-Star guard returns to the court after the game to work on his shot after making only eight of 21 in the 94-88 loss to Miami.

March 11, 2011|T.J. Simers
  • Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who made only eight of 21 shots, tries to drive past Heat center Erick Dampier in the third quarter Thursday night in Miami.
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant, who made only eight of 21 shots, tries to drive… (Hans Deryk / Reuters )

From Miami

More than an hour after the Lakers' team bus had left the AmericanAirlines Arena, Kobe Bryant was still on the court firing up shots.

He was still there minutes before midnight Miami time.

Now I know what you're thinking, but no, they hadn't left him behind on purpose after he had turned the ball over twice late and missed his final five shots against the Heat.

The Heat won, something considered impossible in recent weeks and they found the closer they seemed to lack. Who knew it would be Kobe Bryant?

As he does, and it's worked and resulted in championships for the Lakers, he tried to take over Thursday night's game. But he turned it in favor of the Heat.

Funny, too, because before the game Phil Jackson was talking about the style of basketball played by the Spurs and Celtics and how much he enjoys it. He said he does not like the brand of basketball played by Miami.

"I like to see everybody involved in the game," Jackson said. "I've tried to preach as a basketball coach, even though we have a guy that dominates the ball in Kobe, basketball is not a one on one game — it's a team game."

So here we go into the fourth quarter of a game with almost 20 lead changes. It's tied, and Bryant is about to go one-on-one with the Heat. Can't wait to read Jackson's next book.

Bryant drove to the basket, but Dwyane Wade flicked the ball away from Bryant, passing it ahead to LeBron James and the Heat had the lead.

A short time later the Lakers had the ball out of bounds and a fresh 24-second clock. The ball came into Bryant who immediately went up shooting a three-pointer.

He appeared to be jumping off one toe, a leg in the first row of seats and his body contorted.

Asked if he was surprised by the shot, Jackson said, "yes." Then he turned and went into the locker room.

Later Jackson was asked for a more detailed explanation. He said he thought he saw something open on the other side of the court, but he said the shot Kobe took was part of the designed play.

"It was a good shot," Bryant said, and we disagreed, surprisingly not the first time.

Bryant had both feet planted in ice water while being grilled after the game about the off-balance shot.

"The one I got fouled on?" he said. "Look at the replay."

But why take it so early in the 24-second sequence? Why not work for a better shot, and I'm guessing, Jackson was thinking the same thing.

"I was going to make it," Kobe said.

"But you were off balance," I reminded him.

"I don't care," said Kobe, but good-naturedly for a welcome change in his postgame remarks. "I was going to make it but I got fouled. They missed it. It's as simple as that."

He gets hit, and often he still makes the shot, but it didn't appear as if he got hit, and certainly not as hard as he said.

"Wade had my whole arm," Bryant said.

"That's good defense," I suggested.

"It is when it's not called," he admitted.

Since his feet were planted in ice water and he wasn't going anywhere soon, it was a good chance to pry into the mentality of a closer. Maybe Wade or James could learn something.

"I wasn't as off balance as you think; take a look at the replay," he said. "I told Ron [Artest] to put it right there in that spot in the corner so I could raise up and shoot. I didn't think Wade would expect that.

"The clock doesn't make a difference; if you can knock it down you take it. We had the rebounding position underneath. My guys knew I was going to take it. It just didn't go."

Bryant's three never made it to the rim, ending in the hands of Artest, who couldn't make the layup.

The Heat went the other way to score, and that was pretty much it for the Lakers' winning streak.

I asked him if he was writing a column off this game, what would he write? He had a quick answer, but then amended it to say, "Don't write that; I don't want to get fined."

It can be a strange job at times protecting millionaires from themselves.

He said the Lakers had their chances, but they were guilty of doing a poor job in allowing the Heat to remain alive on the offensive boards. He also blamed himself for his late mistakes, and if he hadn't, it was pretty well understood who would.

"I don't care what you write," he said, and yet he was the only one still on the court shooting when Heat management said it was time to turn out the lights.

Before leaving, I reminded him that he likes to increase the degree of difficulty on shots at times.

"Yeah," he agreed. "But this was not one of them. That was a good shot. I'll live with it. I take it hard when it doesn't go well, but I also try to learn from it."

That's when he thawed out his feet, took a shower and returned to the court to work up another sweat.

"It's my job to go out and work on things," he explained, recalling he did the same thing something like seven years ago after a playoff game.

It was hard to resist, though, as we parted ways.

"You didn't think you got enough shots in the game?" I cracked, and he got a good laugh out of that knowing just what I was suggesting:

He could be a ball hog all he wanted with no one else on the court.

Then they began turning out the lights, Bryant heading off to the weight room and yet another shower.

t.j.simers@latimes.com

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