Kobe Bryant pounds his chest after hitting a three-pointer to beat the buzzer… (Katie Falkenberg / Los Angeles…)
Steve Nash has played against Kobe Bryant for so many years and in all those playoff series, conference rivals practically since the day they were drafted two spots apart from each other in 1996.
But the Bryant over the last two weeks is something new. Even to Nash.
"He's obviously turned it up," Nash said Monday after Lakers practice. "I know he was in a shooting funk for a while there and some poor souls recently caught the end of that. He looks as good as he's ever looked."
Bryant recently broke a one-for-36 skid from three-point range, replacing it with ridiculous five-game efficiency of 34.8 points on 56.9% shooting. He's also averaging 7.2 rebounds and 5.8 assists over the same span, though his turnovers have spiked to 4.4 a game.
The Lakers can use that extra efficiency Tuesday at Oklahoma City, where they have lost five games in a row, including an 0-3 mark in last season's playoffs. The Lakers are 10-19 on the road, as big a reason as any for their struggles this season.
Bryant's misfiring last month bothered him, even though he didn't always show it. There was a nine-for-24 game against Brooklyn. A five-for-15 against Boston. And that unforgettable one-for-eight night against Phoenix that led to only four points, his lowest total since 1998.
It affected him, especially in the locker room.
"He would say sometimes after games he was shooting bricks," Nash said, adding, "He's allowed to have a few cold spells."
Bryant, 34, brushed off his latest run, talking instead about the big picture, about those 1,441 games rolled into 17 NBA seasons.
"There's a certain commitment, a lot of sacrifice, a lot of attention to detail that goes into trying to play at a high level for a long, long time," he said. "After so many years, it becomes easy to lose focus. Some guys lose focus from game to game. I take it as a challenge to try to be focused for many, many years."
His biggest sacrifice had to do with giving up sugar cookies, he said.
"I think diet is always the hardest thing. We all want to eat whenever you want to eat," he said. "Changing that is in essence changing your lifestyle. It's probably been the most difficult.
"It's something that I really started paying attention to, becoming obsessive about it. Working out in the summer, I felt like I was in pretty good shape, but I still felt a little lethargic."
He didn't look sluggish Sunday against Atlanta, his dunk over 6-foot-9 shot-blocker Josh Smith still resonating a day later.
"Seventeen years in the league, you're not supposed to be doing stuff like that," Bryant said.
Bryant saw Serge Ibaka punch Clippers forward Blake Griffin below the belt Sunday on TV.
He didn't like it. In fact, Bryant didn't hide what he would have done if the Oklahoma City forward hit him the same way.
"I probably would have smacked him in the mouth," he said.
But what about the, uh, initial sting? Griffin stayed down on the court for a while.
"I would have dealt with the pain afterward," Bryant said.
Griffin's pain could be the Lakers' gain. Ibaka might be suspended by the NBA for Oklahoma City's game Tuesday against the Lakers.
Ibaka is second in the league with 2.94 blocked shots a game. He is averaging 13.6 points and 7.8 rebounds.
One of the keys for the Thunder's success is going 26-4 at home this season.
"They probably have the best crowd in the league," Bryant said.
How do you stop Kevin Durant (28.6 points a game) and Russell Westbrook (23.4 points, 7.9 assists)?
"Try to take away the easy ones as much as possible," Bryant said, although that could be tough for a Lakers team giving up a league-high 16.5 fastbreak points a game.
The Lakers (30-30) haven't been above .500 since November.