Kobe Bryant scored his 30,000th career point against the New Orleans during… (Stacy Revere / Getty Images )
OKLAHOMA CITY — Kobe Bryant is all too familiar with these Oklahoma City guys. They remind him a lot of himself. They can shrug off almost everything and keep on going, he said.
"Not too many players have had that," according to Bryant. "Michael [Jordan] had it. I have it. Durant has it. Westbrook has it. They just don't care about pressure situations or criticism or whatever. It's rare."
Bryant even knew where Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook learned to cop an attitude.
"For sure. They watched me growing up," he said. "They saw how I dealt with criticism and all this other stuff and just put my head down and kept playing. ... They're cut from the same cloth."
Funny thing, the NBA.
Last season, after the Lakers were crushed in Oklahoma City in a regular-season game (a recurring theme), Bryant said Durant and former Thunder player James Harden couldn't "sit at my lunch table" because they hadn't won anything that started with "cham" and ended with "ship."
Harden is now out of the picture, traded to the Houston Rockets in a stunning deal right before this season started, but Durant and Westbrook drew only accolades from Bryant as the Lakers approached their game Friday at Oklahoma City.
"Yeah, for sure. It's the test. I mean, these guys are the Western Conference champions and they knocked us out in the playoffs last year," he said. "This is the benchmark for everybody in the West."
The Lakers haven't been competitive with Oklahoma City since the kids (Durant and Westbrook are both 24) started coming of age.
The Lakers dropped the regular-season series, 2-1, and then were beaten in five playoff games, losing Game 1 by 29 points and Game 5 by 16.
But then the Thunder went and did the unexpected a few months later. For financial reasons, they traded Harden for veteran shooter Kevin Martin. Harden immediately signed a five-year, $80-million extension with Houston, underscoring why the Lakers and Thunder shouldn't really be on the same playing field.
The Lakers have a $100-million payroll. Oklahoma City has a $70-million payroll. Of course, the Lakers are 9-10 this season, Oklahoma City is 15-4.
The Lakers can barely get out of their own way right now.
Dwight Howard was irritated when Bryant didn't rotate to help him defensively on two first-quarter possessions Wednesday against New Orleans. Hornets center Robin Lopez scored twice on the mix-ups.
The game ended well for the Lakers, 103-87 victors, and Bryant, who became the youngest player ever (34 years 104 days) to crack the 30,000-point barrier, but Howard and Bryant had some explaining to do afterward.
Howard said his relationship with Bryant would "continue to get better."
"We're still learning each other's game. I have no problem saying anything to anybody and it should be that way," Howard said. "We have to be able to talk to each other. We're a team, we're a family, and the more chemistry we develop, the better we will be as a team."
Bryant didn't apologize, either, seemingly fine with the two of them having a few words on the court and on the bench during a timeout.
"It's just how I lead," he said. "I've been that way when I was 18 and I'm the same way now. That's how I've found to be successful, at least for me and my style of leadership and winning championships. That's just how it's going to be."
Howard, in the end, complimented Bryant's ability to pass 30,000 points five weeks into his 17th season.
"He plays hard night in and night out. That's a lot of points for anybody. It's well deserved," Howard said. "He got his milestone and now it's time to get something else."
Not too chatty
Bryant's respect for Westbrook and Durant goes only so far.
There wasn't much dialogue between them on the U.S. Olympic gold-medal team last summer.
"I feel like they already know enough," Bryant said. "I really enjoy both of them tremendously and [Harden] too on the Olympic team, being around them in practice and watching their work ethic. They're throwbacks, man, and that's rare to see nowadays."
Times staff writer Ben Bolch contributed to this report.