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A limited time

Lakers look older, Bryant less mobile . . . something's up, even if no one admits it

May 04, 2011|MARK HEISLER

It's getting very near the end for them too. . . .

Whether Kobe Bryant and the act you've known for all these years have another title run in them remains to be seen.

Happily for the Lakers, they're no longer looking at beating any great teams in the West.

Unhappily for the Lakers, they have yet to show they're better, or as good as, Dallas, Memphis or Oklahoma City now.

For the third time this spring, Lakerdom held its breath Tuesday morning, waiting to see if the sun came up after their favorites took one between the eyes.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday, May 05, 2011 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 4 News Desk 1 inches; 48 words Type of Material: Correction
Kobe Bryant: An article in the May 4 Sports section about Kobe Bryant's performance in the NBA playoffs said that Elliott Almond of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group had asked a question of Lakers Coach Phil Jackson related to Bryant's physical condition. The reporter's name is Elliott Teaford.


Even for known flakes, three times is a lot before winning a game in the second round.

Once more, the press asked the Lakers what's wrong, and the team leaders, who have talked about how scary their misadventures in 2009 and 2010 were and had just been telling themselves it's OK . . . even if it didn't feel like that . . . reassured everyone it's OK.

Of course, every spring brings a new reality, and this isn't 2009 or 2010.

This is May 2, 2011, before Monday's game against Dallas:

Late in Phil Jackson's pregame news conference, always a whimsical session seeing as the 1929 Wall Street crash wouldn't have dented his air of bemusement, he was asked about Bryant's sprained ankle.

The NBA Way, practiced by a master like Chuck Daly, would have been to say Kobe might miss the series and doctors were just hoping to save his leg.

"He was out on the court" at shoot-around, said Jackson, "without any, uh, assistance, or aids. . . ."

"No wheelchair?" suggested Elliott Almond of the Los Angeles Newspaper Group.

(With Jackson's professorial delivery and light tone, his sessions naturally lend themselves to wisecracks, many of which he delivers.)

"No ice packs or whatever," Jackson continued. "So that's a good sign.

"I think this will be a real good indicator for him tonight to get into game form.

"He hasn't shot [since the New Orleans series]. He hasn't done anything. Hopefully, he can get himself going right away and we can get him going every other day for the duration of this series."

How nice for the Lakers, going into the second round, hoping their superstar could "get himself going!"

With Bryant persevering at such a high level and refusing to acknowledge he's mortal in any way, the process is largely unnoticed, as if nothing is going on.

But something's going on.

Michael Jordan was injury-free in the Bulls' six title runs between 1991 and 1998, from ages 28-35, rarely missing practices.

Bryant has rarely practiced between injuries since last spring.

"This is something Kobe and I had to work out last year," Jackson said.

"It worked out fine for us after the Oklahoma City series or during it and we've kind of implemented it this year. . . .

"It's minutes, how many minutes are on those legs, more than age.

"Age has obviously something to do with it but I think it's how many miles there are on that car."

That's 48,213 minutes for Bryant, counting playoff games . . . 272 behind Jordan who retired for good at 40 with 48,485.

Jordan turned pro at 21 to Bryant's 18, and took off almost two seasons at 30 to play baseball.

Kobe, 32, was going deep into the playoffs as a teenager. He has played 393 games the last four seasons, and counting.

Bryant was brilliant Monday, from long range, taking only four of his 29 shots within 10 feet of the basket.

Tuesday, asked about missing at the end of recent games, Bryant shined it on ("I'm not clutch").

No one asked about his ankle, knowing he would spike the question and wouldn't be happy it came up.

(I asked after the game. He spiked it, of course.)

I did ask Jackson if there's any missing the fact Bryant is limited.

"No, I don't think so," said Jackson.

"For the most part, he was willing to shoot jump shots. I think that is a little bit different. He's a guy who goes to the basket a lot. But I don't think that had anything to do with his ankle.

"I think he saw their defense coming over and respected and decided to pull up and shoot jump shots."

Of course, at the end of Game 1 against Dallas, Bryant couldn't shake Jason Kidd, trying to beat him to the outside, going right.

Great defender or no, if Bryant can cut, he crosses over, goes the other way and leaves Kidd, or the entire All-Defense first team, wondering where he went.

But that's Kobe, our purple-and-gold enigma wrapped in a mystery, still unfolding game by game before our eyes.




Kobe for the win?

Key misses by Kobe Bryant near the end of a few recent playoff games:

2011, Game 1 vs. Dallas, second round: At the buzzer, Bryant misses a three-pointer that hits the back of the rim.

WINNER: Dallas, 96-94

2010, Game 5 vs. Phoenix, Western Conference finals: With score tied and 2.5 seconds left, Bryant air-balls a three-point try. A Ron Artest put-back at the buzzer saves the night.

WINNER: Lakers, 103-101

2010, Game 6 at Oklahoma City, first round: Down by one, Bryant misses a 13-foot jumper with 1.8 seconds left. Pau Gasol tips in miss with 0.5 left.

WINNER: Lakers, 95-94

2009, Game 2 vs. Orlando, NBA Finals: Bryant's short jumper is blocked by Hedo Turkoglu with 1.8 seconds left in regulation.

WINNER: Lakers, 101-96 (OT)

2009, Game 3 at Utah, first round: Bryant misses a 28-foot three-pointer as time expires.

WINNER: Utah, 88-86

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