It was his 1000th career NBA game and his first game out with the new body. Well, maybe not so new but at least well-rested and 80 percent healed after he missed five games over an 18 day stretch.
Two-and-a-half weeks without playing a game must have felt like an eternity to Kobe Bryant. But for the Memphis Grizzlies, it wasn’t long enough. No doubt they wish Bryant, who scored a game-high 32 points, had taken one more night off.
The Grizzlies, who had gotten off to a great start this year but have suddenly gone into a tailspin, watched as Bryant’s three-pointer with just four seconds remaining beat them 99-98 for their ninth loss in their last 12 games.
For the Lakers, Bryant’s final second heroics helped them keep pace with the Cleveland Cavaliers who snapped a three game skid with a 105-95 win over the Rockets, who were without former Laker Trevor Ariza.
The Grizzlies, on the other hand, have dropped down to the No. 11 seed with a 28-28 record, a half game behind the Houston Rockets.
But it was by no means a stellar game for the Lakers, who had played a very tight team defense over the last five games without Bryant.
Tonight it was a different story as the Lakers defense broke down in the second quarter, giving up 32 points. Then their offense contributed to a porous defense with nine turnovers in the third quarter that helped the Grizzlies score 33 points.
It wasn’t a stellar game for Pau Gasol either despite his 22 points and 13 rebounds. Gasol, who doesn’t especially enjoy playing against his younger brother, Marc, was strong on at least four easy shots around the basket and had a few clumsy turnovers as well.
The fact that Gasol’s parents and youngest brother were in the stands no doubt made it difficult for the Lakers’ power forward to relax.
When asked about Gasol’s performance, Phil Jackson said, “He played well enough for us to win.”
What did Jackson think of another game-winning shot by Kobe Bryant? “He’s lucky," Jackson joked, “Very, very lucky.”
The Lakers will need all the luck they can get tomorrow night as they fly down to Dallas to play a revamped Mavericks team on the second night of a back-to-back.
It’s a crucial week for the Lakers as they head back to Staples Center after their game in Dallas to play the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
As things stand at the moment, the Nuggets are the No. 2 seed in the West behind the Lakers, and the Mavericks are right behind them in the No. 3 seed. So, it is more than likely that the Lakers will face at least one of them in the playoffs.
It was a sure sign that the rivalry is heating up as the Nuggets’ J. R. Smith challenged Bryant today on Twitter.com. Trying to get into the Mamba’s head, Smith tweeted, “Don’t get me wrong Kobe is great but not when he play me.”
We shall see.