Kobe was cold.
No, he was frozen.
Each shot Kobe took rattled off the rim and bounced away. He hadn't scored yet and he was having an 0-for-15 shooting day.
He couldn't buy a bucket.
The lowlight of the day came when Bryant threw an ugly airball on a fadeaway from the far corner. It was just ugly, to put it nicely.
In fact, Stu Lantz, the Los Angeles Lakers color analyst, took a shot at Kobe saying if he ever makes a shot, they should stop the game, have a standing ovation for him and present him with the game ball.
Nothing was working for the Black Mamba, who had turned into the Frozen Mamba.
Then the fourth quarter came and everything changed. Kobe finally made a shot and it seemed to be the catalyst for the rest of the team. Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol woke up from a brief nap and they stepped up their game defensively.
Then down by two with 20 seconds left, the Frozen Mamba cracked and shattered the icy shell enveloping him, striking again with the game-winning three pointer.
Remind you of anyone?
Non-existent in the first three quarters followed by heroics in the fourth?
Kobe pulled a Tebow today, folks.
However, the reasoning behind it is completely different. While Tim Tebow lacks the mechanics to be a great quarterback, we all know Bryant is one of the greatest to ever play the game of basketball.
That being said, he's gassed out.
In his post-game interview with FSN West, Kobe said fatigue is probably a reason behind his poor shooting performances recently.
And why wouldn't it be?
He's averaging over 38 minutes per game this year, almost five more minutes than his average last season.
Let's not forget that this year, the schedule is condensed and there's less time to recover between games, especially for a banged-up, 33-year old body.
When the season first started, Kobe was well-rested and healthy for the first time in a long while. He even had a stretch where he scored over 40 points in four consecutive games. Since then, he hasn't hit the 40-point mark.
The following table shows Kobe's shooting output ever since his four game 40-point scoring steak.
|Kobe's Declining Shooting||FG%||PPG|
|First 14 Games||46%||32|
In the first 14 games, Kobe also averaged just under 38 minutes. Since then, he's averaging close to two minutes more per game.
From this, one can see Bryant's fatigue is definitely a reason in his shooting decline. We've seen Bryant fall into shooting slumps more often recently.
Playing that many minutes in a condensed schedule with a 33-year old body is simply too difficult. This is why we're seeing Kobe fall into so many slumps. In fact, there was a back-to-back situation recently in Memphis and New Orleans, where Kobe played over 100 minutes in both games combined.
The Lakers know they're going to make the playoffs. They know all they need to do is get in and they'll be fine. They should publicly announce they're going to take it easy on Kobe for the rest of the season.
After all, their schedule becomes a bit more friendly in April, especially in the next week or so. They play Golden State, New Jersey, Houston, Phoenix, New Orleans, another game against Golden State and Sacramento.
The Lakers can afford to play Kobe around 27-30 minutes in those games and still win because of their length down low.
Then, come playoff time, Bryant will be fresh and ready to strike at all times, not just in the fourth quarter like he did tonight.
The Lakers need a healthy Kobe that can be effective throughout the whole game in the playoffs. This was exemplified in their beat down from the Oklahoma City Thunder this past Thursday. While they have the length to dominate the paint, they need more versatility on the wings and the perimeter in order to constantly throw the kitchen sink at opponents.
A rested Kobe can be more successful in doing that.
In fact, if he's doing well, it'll bring out the best of his teammates, too, just like it did today.