Kobe's scoring outburst may be ominous sign for Lakers
Kobe Bryant's "new" gameplan was to call his own number repeatedly
The Celtics proved last year that tough D can limit Bryant's effectiveness
The Lakers will need more of a team approach to beat their main rivals
NEW YORK -- In setting a new Madison Square Garden scoring record with 61 points Monday night, Kobe Bryant may have led his Lakers to a 126-117 victory (Recap | Box), and he may have won over a crowd that repeatedly erupted into chants of M-V-P, but he also re-opened a dangerous chapter of Lakers history.
With news of Andrew Bynum's two-to-three-month absence (due to a torn ligament in his right knee) still ringing in the Lakers' ears, Bryant hatched a new gameplan that is all too familiar, calling his own number to the exclusion of his 11 teammates. Though breathtaking in his offensive dominance, Bryant offered a mere three assists while ignoring open teammates all evening long.
"I've had games where the assists total has been high; I've had games where the points total has been high," Bryant saod after the game. "It just depends on what rhythm you're in, and you try to feel that out to start the game and it kind of goes from there."
The plan worked Monday, courtesy of a Knicks team lacking any strong individual defenders, and Bryant's hot hand, as he connected on 19 of his 31 attempts. But we all know how this movie ends, don't we? Didn't the Celtics, whom the Lakers face Thursday in Boston, demonstrate in last June's Finals that with a healthy dose of defense Bryant can be rendered virtually invisible? And didn't LeBron James neutralize Bryant in L.A. two weeks ago, a game saved by the depth and size with which the Lakers have surrounded Bryant?
Until Monday, Bryant seemed to understand all of this. His 10-plus assists in four straight games last month not only generated a trust from his teammates -- evident in the "Kobe Nash" moniker they handed him -- but also expanded the options the Lakers could use to attack.
Phil Jackson and Kobe's teammates tried in their own subtle ways to remind Bryant of that Monday, Jackson telling Kobe to "get everybody the ball, which didn't happen" after the Lakers entered halftime with only an 11-point lead (Pau Gasol did chip in 31 points on 12-for-17 shooting).
Superstars as headstrong as Bryant don't do subtle, however. Not when a 20-foot jumpers are falling like water from a faucet, and you can win games with three-fifths of the starting lineup attempting a mere 13 shots combined. Not when you can beat a team without grabbing a single rebound or making a single steal. And not when you've shown time and again that the only teammate you've ever trusted is yourself.
That won't work against the type of teams by which the Lakers are measured. And though the loss of Bynum dilutes the personnel advantage over the likes of the Spurs and Hornets, it doesn't leave the Lakers' cupboard bare. Gasol. Lamar Odom. Trevor Ariza. Sasha Vujacic. Superstars they aren't, but all are capable of providing Bryant the victories for which he thirsts. There's a lesson to be found in the fact Bryant has scored about six fewer points in Lakers wins than in losses this season. After 12-plus seasons, we wonder if Bryant will learn it.