Derek Fisher (left) said Tuesday that Kobe Bryant is the toughest player he's ever played with.
No one, he said, has shown to be as cohesive as teammate Kobe Bryant.
Bryant, a 15-year veteran, has played through an array of injuries in recent weeks, most notably a concussion and nasal fracture he suffered on a hard foul by Miami’s Dwyane Wade in the recent All-Star Game. All the 33-year-old superstar has done since playing with a protective mask for the past seven games is emerge as the league’s top scorer with 28.8 points per games, edging out Oklahoma City’s Kevin Durant, who averages 27.9 points.
The Lakers (25-16) play at the Memphis Grizzlies (24-16) Tuesday night.
Bryant, who walked out onto the FedExForum court Tuesday morning wearing a gray Nike jogging suit and dark shades, participated in the Lakers’ hour-long shootaround, but returned to the team bus without speaking with reporters. That the banged-up shooting guard is playing with such poise during a pivotal stage in the season for a Laker team that is currently third in the Western Conference playoff race comes as no surprise to Fisher, who has played on two separate occasions for the Lakers for a combined 12 seasons with the 14-time All-Star.
“He just continues to do, at least for me, what I’ve been accustomed to seeing him do what he’s doing,” Fisher said of Bryant.
So efficient Bryant has been of late that the Lakers, winners of two straight and five of seven since the All-Star break, now trail second-place San Antonio by just a single game and the first-place Thunder by five-and-a-half games with 24 regular season contests remaining. Bryant’s recent stellar play, to his credit, has prompted various media pundits to debate not only whether the Lakers are serious title contenders, but whether he is the front-runner for NBA Most Valuable Player, an accolade Bryant hasn’t won since 2008.
“He’s deserves to be in the conversation,” Fisher said of Bryant. “When you consider everything he’s done for our team and this league, he’s certainly a candidate.”
Grizzlies guard O. J. Mayo who, along with teammate Tony Allen, will face the lofty task of having to guard Bryant, also weighed in on the Bryant-for-MVP discussion after Memphis’ morning shootaround Tuesday.
“For me, I’ve got to say that after the All-Star break, he’s going to always take it up a notch,” Mayo said of Bryant. “He’s a little different. He’s doing a good job of staying fit and in shape. I don’t follow who’s up for MVP. But you’ve got to mention him along with Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose.”
Andre Johnson is a 2000 graduate of the University of Memphis School of Journalism and a frequent contributor for the Memphis Commercial Appeal newspaper and Memphis Sport Magazine. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@AJ_Journalist.