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The will to win

Kobe's 50-point run more important because of wins

Posted: Saturday March 24, 2007 1:05AM; Updated: Saturday March 24, 2007 1:05AM
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Kobe Bryant put on a show Friday, hitting all 16 free throws and going 16-for-29 from the field.
Kobe Bryant put on a show Friday, hitting all 16 free throws and going 16-for-29 from the field.
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NEW ORLEANS -- The most impressive aspect from this most impressive week of Kobe Bryant's reborn career is that his team is winning. Remember the days not so long ago when he was deemed selfish, when he clashed with Shaq and when coach Phil Jackson wrote best-selling anecdotes of how Bryant stubbornly put his own interests first?

Those complaints are no more.

This historic blitz began after the Lakers had lost for the seventh time in a row, culminating in a 113-86 humiliation at Denver last week in which Bryant managed 25 points.

Now Bryant has scored at least 50 points in each of the last four games, and the Lakers (37-32) have won all four. The latest success was a 111-105 road win Friday against the Hornets, who doubled Bryant as much as possible and watched him go for 50 on a relatively scant 29 field-goal attempts (from which he converted 16 to go with a 16-for-16 night from the free-throw line).

Instead of plummeting below .500, they're now talking about doubling their current win streak during a five-game homestand that begins Sunday against the defenseless Warriors. Having scored 65, 50, 60 and 50 over the last eight days, will Bryant feel sad when his streak comes to an end? "Not one bit,'' he said. "As long as we win. That's the truth, that's the truth.''

Wilt Chamberlain is the only other player to ever score 50 in at least four successive games. He did so most recently with a five-game streak in February and March of 1962, which included his 100-point game. Neither Jackson nor Bryant believes that Kobe can score 100, because the NBA game is played at a much slower tempo with fewer possessions.

The record for most 50-point games in a row is seven, set by Chamberlain in December 1961, which contributed to his record 50.4 scoring average of that season.

Bryant is currently averaging a league-leading 30.8 points, and Jackson had wondered if he might slow down Friday after scoring 60 in 45 minutes at Memphis the night before. "He put in a hell of a game tonight,'' Jackson said. "I thought there was a chance after a back-to-back and having the roll like he's been on that he might have a dead spot.''

But Bryant said he wasn't tired despite putting in 47 minutes against the Hornets. As Hornets coach Byron Scott later pointed out, players usually don't show fatigue when they're going for 50. They might get tired on a 4-for-21 night, but not when the game is flowing.

"I just feel like I'm getting good looks at the basket,'' Bryant said. "The key is to take your time.''

He played smoothly and in command of the game. The Hornets ran double-teams and occasionally forced Bryant to drive through a forest of three defenders, forcing him to give up the ball. But other times he made difficult shots look implausibly easy, such as when he appeared trapped in the corner after taking an inbounds pass in the third quarter. He turned and launched a fallaway three over the perfect defense of Devin Brown that arced flatly and swished cleanly.

"His shooting has been remarkable, just raising up over people and knocking it down,'' said Jackson, though he wasn't quite prepared to relate Bryant's performances to those of Michael Jordan. "It's hard to compare 10-years-ago Michael to present-day Kobe at this point. It's phenomenal, it's incredible; it's shooting more than Michael was. Michael was probably more post-up, more penetration, more at-the-basket kind of stuff. But Kobe's doing a whole range of things.''

"His will is like no other,'' said teammate Lamar Odom. "He has got to be one of the top athletes of all time as far as competing and determination and will is concerned, right up there with the great ones.''

Bryant had 13 in the first quarter and 27 by halftime, when the Lakers led 57-56. They ran out to an 87-75 lead entering the final quarter as Bryant struck for 17 in the third period. He said he wasn't keeping track of his scoring. "I heard the crowd kind of chant a little bit on that last jumper I hit,'' he said, referring to a sidestep 20-footer over Rasual Butler with 5:13 remaining. "My teammates came over and started giving me high-fives, and I asked (assistant coach) Brian Shaw, 'Did I get 50 already?' He said, 'Yeah, you did.'''

Bryant remembers having met Chamberlain several times before his death in 1999.

"When I was 7 or 8-years-old I knew completely who he was,'' Bryant said. "But when I was 6, I just knew him as Bombaata (from the 1984 feature Conan The Destroyer). Then when I got older, I got to understand who he was all about as a basketball player.''

Now he's taken that experience to a higher level. Though he's 7 inches shorter, Bryant knows better than any player how it feels to dominate offensively for an extended time as Chamberlain once did. And the best part is that no one is complaining about any of it.