Kobe Bryant says this season is “the best I’ve played in a while”

Kobe Bryant doesn’t need many New Year’s resolutions.

He enters the Lakers’ (15-15) game against the Philadelphia 76ers (14-17) tonight at Staples Center averaging a league-leading 30.1 points per game, his highest output since the 2006-07 season. Bryant’s shooting percentage (47.8 percent) marks a career-high assuming he can sustain it.. And he said he’s “extremely healthy” after losing 16 pounds this summer.

“I’m sure if he wanted,” forward Metta World Peace said of Bryant, “he could go out there and get 50 some nights or maybe even 60 or maybe more.”

“This is probably the best I’ve played in a while,” Bryant said. “I’ve had years the last few years where I’ve felt pretty good but we kept my minutes down so the numbers didn’t look the same, but this year I feel pretty good.”

Bryant averaged 33.79 points, 5.56 rebounds and 4.64 assists in December, numbers he never maintained at the same time for a month. He dropped at least 30 points in 10 consecutive games before scoring 27 in only three quarters in the Lakers’ double-digit win Friday over Portland.

“I’m sure if he wanted,” Lakers forward Metta World Peace said of Bryant, “he could go out there and get 50 some nights or maybe even 60 or maybe more.”

And to think, Bryant’s numbers could flourish even more because of Steve Nash’s return. Bryant increased his output to 33.8 points per game while Nash has run the point and freed up Bryant’s ball handling duties in the past four games. Added Bryant: “You get so many easy backdoor cuts and things like that.”

So easy that Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said in jest that Nash’s presence could extend Bryant’s career “another five or six years.” Would that convince the 34-year-old veteran to stay beyond “the two or three years” he believes he has left?

“Not really,” Bryant said, smiling.

The Lakers hope to reduce Bryant’s 38.7 minutes per game average, but D’Antoni says that will only happen in blowouts.

“I would like to get it down by not playing him in the fourth quarter,” D’Antoni said. “That’s how we need to get it down. Where we have games where he can rest and then take days off and stuff like that. Because, in big games and stuff like that, he’s the best player in the world. I have a hard time taking him out.”

Bryant said he’s excelled for three reasons. He credits D’Antoni’s offense. Bryant’s a year removed from procedures he had in Germany on his right knee and left ankle. And he avoids junk food.

“I’ve been honest with myself and have cut down on a lot of things and eat very healthy,” Bryant said. “It sucks, but it’s worth it.”

Bryant didn’t always have that concern.

He boasts that he ate pepperoni pizza and drank grape soda before netting a career-high 81 points Jan. 2006 against the Toronto Raptors. Bryant admits having a previous addiction to sugar cookies. Trips to the movie theater often consisted of consuming Sour Patch Kids, popcorn and soda.

Before the 2012 London Olympics, Bryant changed his approach. Bryant limited his food intake at movies to a light bag of popcorn and a bottle of water. His daily diet also consists of lean meats, fish and vegetables.

“Sports medicine is a big one,” D”Antoni said in explaining the longevity to Bryant and Nash. “How they do nutrition and how they take care of their bodies and you know, everybody loves to play but you don’t like it when you’re hurt all the time and they take care of their bodies in a way that the game is fun for them so they can play a long time.”

Only two years ago, it seemed Bryant couldn’t play much longer.

Bryant averaged 25.4 points on 33.9 minutes per game in the 2010-11 campaign, as Phil Jackson spent his last season curtailing Bryant’s minutes after having arthroscopic knee surgery the previous offseason.

“I played OK considering I was on one leg,” Bryant said. “But the minutes were also down too so the numbers were down. That was one of the things that frustrated me. They said I was on the decline, but in my reality, my minutes were just fewer. That’s something I took to heart and came back this season and improve it.”

Now that Bryant has done that, D’Antoni and others can’t help but admire how the Lakers star has maintained such dominance despite the obstacles thrown his way.

“He’s played awful good, so it’s a high level we’re talking about but he’s playing phenomenal,” D’Antoni said. “You watch him from Phoenix and New York, you get one opinion which is good, but then you coach him and you start to appreciate what he goes through and how he gets himself ready every game. You got to really respect what he’s doing.”


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