Kobe Bryant: The Man Who Would Be King

Dom MitchellContributor IMay 21, 2009

LOS ANGELES, CA - MAY 19:  Kobe Bryant #24 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts after defeating the Denver Nuggets in Game One of the Western Conference Finals during the 2009 NBA Playoffs at Staples Center on May 19, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. The Lakers defeated the Nuggets 105-103. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

Game one of the Western Conference Finals was summed up perfectly in its final moments. Following J.R. Smith's intentionally missed free throw, Kobe Bryant got a hold of the ball and launched it into the air, allowing the final couple of seconds to run off the clock. The game was so close at the end that the only conceivable action for the NBA's most clutch player was to get rid of the ball, not risking any fluke plays.

This Lakers team unquestionably belongs to Bryant. He came through on Tuesday. He took over down the stretch with clutch free throws, defense, and scoring to bail his team out on a night when his teammates had been of very little assistance to him. Not long after Mr. Laker, Jerry West, the man who brought Bryant to the Lakers said that LeBron James had surpassed Kobe as the NBA's best player.

Bryant's response spoke for itself, but after the game he summed it up even more succinctly, saying he would rather be a Champion than just the best player. With many more nights like that from No.24 the Nuggets won't stand a chance. Carmelo Anthony had his best game against the Lakers all season, but was out dueled by Bryant. The rest of the Nuggets team also played well, highlighted by Kenyon Martin, Nene, and Chauncey Billups. As well as good play from Smith and Chris Anderson off the bench. It would be hard to say the same about Kobe's supporting cast. The Lakers however, clearly performed under par. Meaning that there should not be too many more games where the rest of the Purple and Gold fail to produce. The series is not over of course, but it is looking far more like a forgone conclusion than it did for three and a half quarters of game one.

If the Lakers make it to the NBA Finals, as they seem likely to do, you can bet Kobe is praying to meet the Cavaliers there. The NBA is probably thinking along similar lines. It would be the greatest finals duel since Magic-Bird in the 1980s. The Cavaliers, while having won eight straight games to begin the playoffs, do not have the depth to match the Lakers. Kobe, with help from Trevor Ariza, would relish the chance to stop LeBron in a seven game series. Furthermore, they may be the only defensive duo in the league that could accomplish that feat.

Other than James, Mo Williams is the only other real threat to the Lakers, who struggle to defend high scoring point guards. However, Williams alone cannot beat the Lakers. It is because of this that the Lakers should be favored against the Cavaliers if both teams reach the finals. The Magic poses a far greater threat to the Lakers than the Cavs. One of the best defensive and offensive teams in the league, Orlando has three things, which the Lakers could consider their greatest weaknesses: Great three point shooting, a fast penetrating point guard, and a dominating post defender. The Lakers fell to the Magic twice in the regular season and it wasn’t close in either.

For this reason, it is fortunate for Kobe that it appears that the Cavs will defeat the Magic and reach the finals. This isn't his last chance to win a title without Shaq, but it may be his best. He can slow LeBron down enough to win, but with a little more development from LeBron to go along with better outside shooting, and a post game, LeBron would be unstoppable. If the Lakers were to defeat the Cavs in the finals, Kobe would justifiably be able to claim the mantle of greatest player in the NBA, at least for one more season. This may be his last chance to claim the King's crown. One thing is certain; King’s do not relinquish the thrown without a fight.