Lakers 121, Grizzlies 119, Kobe 60

It would have been interesting to talk to Jerry West after Thursdays game about the run that Kobe Bryant is on. Its unthinkable to watch a player average 58.3 points on 54 percent shooting while scoring more than half his teams points in three games.

Bryant has single-handedly restored the Lakers momentum. Just consider the history they were making on that seven-game losing streak, which included the worst home loss since the Lakers moved to Los Angeles 47 years ago.

(On a personal note, Im not even through three seasons on the Lakers beat and Ive covered 81-, 65-, 62- and 60-point games out of Bryant and a 60-point game from Gilbert Arenas earlier this season. Thereve been only 60 such games in NBA history.)

The Grizzlies came into Thursdays game as the NBAs second-worst scoring and worst field-goal percentage defensive team. They played a soft zone much of the first quarter, then let Tarence Kinsey, Dahntay Jones and Rudy Gay each take a turn on Bryant.

Bryant scored every way imaginable, which led to a good quote from Memphis coach Tony Barone. He cut backdoor for an alley-oop dunk, buried deep 3-pointers, got to the foul and hit a jumper in the face of two defenders to end the third quarter.

“Hes not bad, is he? Barone said. “What he does is play with an intensity level that doesnt . . . the intensity level rises. Some guys drop, but his starts off at a level and gets better and better from there. He proves you have to score more than one way.

“He got to the basket and he got fouled. I thought there were about five baskets that we gave him. But for the most part, I thought we challenged him pretty well. We wanted to double him at the beginning but he got rid of the ball so quickly that we couldnt.

“He can score inside, he can score outside, and he can score at the foul line. So youve got a problem guarding him. If he can only score inside or only shooting jump shots, then hes easy to guard. He just goes out and plays.

“I hope our young guys were watching because he really put on a clinic.

Well ignore the fact that the Lakers have now given up 100 points or more in eight straight games – - they have one of the NBAs feeblest offensive teams Friday in New Orleans – - in favor of Bryants brilliance.

“If hes hot, were going to keep riding him, Luke Walton said. “One thing about Kobe Ive noticed playing with him for four years is he doesnt get tired. Hes an amazing athlete, has an amazing mental ability to not let himself get tired.

“Were going to try to keep getting better as a team, but we need to win right now, too, so were going to try to find a nice balance of both.

Bryant said he hasnt kept much in the way of memorabilia from his run of 50-point games. The Lakers saved the ball from his 65-point game Friday; maybe it can go on display at his house with the jersey he wore in his 81-point game.

Another record that didnt make it into the game story: Bryants 60 points were a franchise record against the Grizzlies. He had 56 in three quarters against Memphis back in January 2002.

* * *

Youre not going to see a lot of games where the losing team shoots 55 percent. Kwame Brown was overmatched against Pau Gasol (35 points) and the Lakers were slow to rotate to Mike Miller, who hit four 3-pointers and scored 17 of his 33 points in the third quarter.

Two of the Lakers showed their defensive frustration in the second quarter. Sasha Vuajcic gave up a three-point play to Miller and then threw the ball against the basket standard to draw a technical foul. Vujacic got an earful from coach Phil Jackson.

Brown complained to referee Courtney Kirkland after a Gasol basket and received a technical as well. Of course, Kirkland later called the Grizzlies for a second delay of game warning in the fourth quarter, a questionable technical in a four-point game.

Vujacic found redemption when he sneaked in to rebound a missed free throw by Shammond Williams and then connected on a key 3-pointer in the fourth quarter. Talk about plays that dont show up in the box score when Bryant has 60.

I also liked the way the Lakers played in the first quarter, when they picked apart the Memphis zone and scored 22 of their 34 points in the paint. Memphis actually outscored the Lakers inside 50-48 for the game.

* * *

Jackson was nearly on the mark last season when he picked UCLA to win the NCAA Tournament before it began. Hes seen less college basketball this season but likes USC to at least cover the spread Friday against North Carolina. [ep

“USC, I think is going to be a surprise team, Jackson said. “I think theyve got a chance to upset North Carolina, even more than the point spread. I know Pinky Floyd (Tim Floyd), hes got a real good defensive mindset and he can screw up some games against them.

“I think Tims got a team thats willing to listen and work hard. I dont know if they have enough talent to do it or not but theyre pretty good.

Floyd was the hand-picked choice of Jerry Krause to succeed Jackson as coach of the Chicago Bulls.

* * *

Jackson expects forward Vladimir Radmanovic to resume practicing in about two weeks. Radmanovic suffered a separated right shoulder in a world-famous snowboarding accident over All-Star weekend.

Although the strength of his game is his 3-point shooting, Radmanovic likely will have to find other ways to contribute once he returns.

“Hes probably not going to be hoisting up 30-foot jump shots with a lot of ease because of that shoulder, Jackson said. “Thats going to be a little bit different for him.

Jackson added that he expects Radmanovic to build on his injury-plagued first season in the triangle offense. Radmanovic was the Lakers top free-agent signing last summer but has yet to pay dividends on the five-year, $30.2 million deal he received.

“Now we say youd better pay the damn rent, Jackson said. “When youve got a guy thats making that kind of money, you want him to be successful.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn.–Who would have guessed when Kobe Bryant made the jump to the NBA out of Lower Merion (Pa.) High back in 1996 that he would redefine March Madness all these years later?

The comparisons for Bryants scoring binge might have run out after the Lakers 121-119 victory Thursday night over the Memphis Grizzlies, when the superstar guard could only joke about the man he calls “the human video game.

That would be Wilt Chamberlain, in whose company Bryant once again finds himself keeping. His 60-point game at FedEx Forum was his third straight of 50 or more and his three-game total of 175 points is the most by any player except Chamberlain.

That he reached 60 against a Memphis team with the NBAs worst record (17-52) and flimsiest defense made Bryants milestone no less spectacular. He scored 36 points in the second half as the Lakers extended their winning streak to three games.

“For him to reach these feats, if you know him its not surprising because hes really focused and his will to win is incredible, Lakers forward Lamar Odom said. “So when anybody has the will to win like that, anythings possible.

Bryant made 20 of 37 shots, played the entire second half and hit his first 16 free throws in going 17 of 18 at the foul line. He joined Michael Jordan, Elgin Baylor and Chamberlain as the only players ever to score 50 or more in three straight games.

Jordan was the only player in a generation to do so before Bryant, scoring 53, 50 and 61 points in April 1987, leaving Lakers coach Phil Jackson to joke that “I think I was in high school at that time.

Somewhere Jerry West, the man responsible for bringing Bryant to the Lakers and now the Grizzlies president of basketball operations, had to be watching in amazement.

It was Bryants highest scoring road game ever and marked the fourth 60-point game of his career. Chamberlain holds the record with 32 career 60-point games; Bryant and Jordan now share second place with four each.

“Im doing my part and other guys are stepping up and doing theirs as well, Bryant said. “I just feel like guys are finding me. Its not like Im taking difficult shots outside of a couple of them, but Im already in rhythm by the time I take those, so I feel pretty good.

“But to get in rhythm, I have to get great picks, great looks, great passes. You cant do that without the help of your teammates, particularly because theyre sending double- and triple-teams.

The records hardly ended there. Chamberlain held the first 16 spots on the list of the greatest three-game point totals in NBA history before Thursday. Bryants 175 tied for 11th; Chamberlains record of 226 includes his immortal 100-point game.

“Hes in a zone right now, Lakers forward Luke Walton said. “Most people get in zones for one game. Hes been in a zone for about a week straight now. Its been a pretty amazing display that hes put on.

After Bryants 65- and 50-point games against Portland and Minnesota, the Grizzlies had to know what awaited them Thursday. Yet the Grizzlies were powerless to stop Bryant, who is shooting 54 percent these last three games.

Bryant missed his first three shots but got in rhythm with a revere dunk and scored 13 points in the first quarter. He reached halftime with 24 points after burying a 29-foot 3-pointer over rookie Tarence Kinsey from somewhere on Beale Street.

The third quarter saw Bryant mix it up twice with Dahntay Jones, drawing a double foul and later a double technical. It took Bryant scoring 19 points in the third for the Lakers to withstand the Grizzlies run-and-gun 37-point quarter.

The Lakers finally made their push at the start of the fourth as Sasha Vujacic hit a 3-pointer and Ronny Turiaf drained a jumper. Bryant scored his 50th point with 8:09 left as he popped out for a jumper and drew a foul from rookie Rudy Gay.

“Hes in a league all to himself, Jackson said. “What you admire in Kobe is that hes going to attack, hes going to be in that mode and hes going to continue to go at a team until either you take him out of ballgame or else they stop him.

The Grizzlies closed to 111-109 with 4:29 left but Shammond Williams hit a 3-pointer set up by Bryant. The rest of the fourth quarter belonged to Bryant, who finally missed a free throw with three minutes to play.

“Its special because its coming off of three straight wins, Bryant said. “This is a stretch where we really need to make up some ground and get some rhythm back.

The only blemish came with 10.3 seconds left when Bryant caught Jones with an elbow to the face as he went for an inbounds pass. Bryant twice has been suspended and assessed a retroactive flagrant foul by the league for striking players in the face.

Bryant was called for an offensive foul by wasnt concerned afterward, saying of Jones, “He flopped. He knows he flopped. If he says he didnt flop, hes a liar.

Jackson said beforehand that he hoped the Lakers would be able to get back up to speed in about a week with Odom and Walton still playing their way back from injury. Until then, Bryant will follow his coachs instructions to shoot early and set the tone.

He asked to stay in the game the entire second half and Jackson obliged, with Maurice Evans sitting out with a sore knee. Even Odom, who finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds, could only marvel afterward.

“Its a blessing to be on the court when hes feeling it like that, Odom said. “To be a part of history.

* * *

By Ross Siler
Staff Writer

MEMPHIS, Tenn.–Even with Kobe Bryant looking to extend his streak of 50-point games to three, Thursday nights game hardly was the featured attraction in town with Memphis playing Texas A&M in the NCAA Tournament on television.

The two games intersected midway through the third quarter, leaving Lakers coach Phil Jackson exasperated as the tournament game was shown on the video board at FedEx Forum with Lamar Odom shooting free throws.

Odom appeared rattled as the crowd erupted in cheers as Memphis Tigers guard Antonio Anderson made two last-second free throws. Odom missed three of four free throws, spanning a timeout in the NCAA game, as the locals celebrated.

Jackson walked down the scorers table to complain to the Grizzlies operations staff. He later fumed to referee Bob Delaney, who ordered the tournament game turned off, much to the displeasure of the crowd.

“That was awful, Jackson said. “I went to the scorers table, I said, `Thats not right. You know thats not right. This is the game thats happening here. I know these fans are into it, but they came to this game and we have to play this game.

It was a momentary distraction for Odom, who had his strongest game since returning from a torn labrum. He got inside for dunks early against the Grizzlies zone defense and finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds.

Playoff picture: The Lakers moved a game in front of Denver in the race for sixth place in the Western Conference. The Nuggets lost 109-108 to Chicago on Thursday.

Evans hurting: Maurice Evans sat on the ledge of his locker with his right leg propped up on a chair before Thursdays game, an electric stimulation machine sending currents into his sore knee.

Unable to shake the swelling in his knee even after having it drained for a second time, Evans opted for a different course of action Thursday: He sat out the Lakers game against Memphis with an eye toward the bigger picture of the season.

“Ive been playing like this for three weeks now, Evans said. “Ive been trying to treat it every way except this. I know if we go into the playoffs this isnt going to work. Im looking ahead to the real thing, to what really matters.

The swelling has been a problem for Evans, who had the knee drained a second time March 11 and also received a cortisone shot. Evans said he has been playing at about 30 percent, unable to change directions or get lift on his shot.

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