LOS ANGELES -- For most of this season, the MVP chants at Staples Center sounded weary and contrived, remnants of a bygone era kept on display for nostalgia's sake. The chants would start after every trip to the free-throw line but quickly wane and die, as if the locals were repeating those three letters out of habit and not because they really believed what they were saying. Sure,
The dynamic has changed, as it always seems to do with Bryant, going from hero to villain and hero again in record time. With
After Game 4 of the first round in Oklahoma City, Bryant appeared old and injury-prone, the Lakers on the verge of an ignominious upset. Since then, the Lakers have not lost and Bryant has scored 30 points per game, for the second year in a row changing the MVP conversation after the ballots have been counted. Asked for the secret ingredient to his latest metamorphosis, Bryant said with a facetious grin: "Old age."
Bryant was taking a well-deserved dig at those who dismissed him just a few weeks ago, but age is indeed a part of this. Bryant, who is famous for practicing as hard as he plays, took the past week off to rest his injured finger and knee. For someone who rarely acknowledges his own mortality, and insisted on remaining in the lineup this season despite various ailments, it was important to admit that he needed a little rest.
With the Lakers clinging to a seven-point lead at halftime in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals against the Phoenix Suns, Bryant recognized that his break was over. He scored 21 points in the third quarter, en route to 40 for the game, and the Lakers throttled the Suns 128-107 on Monday. This was not Bryant jacking jumpers or parading to the free-throw line with generous calls, either. He needed only 35 minutes and 23 shots to account for his 40 points, perhaps the most efficient performance in his playoff career.
"The shots he was making tonight," said Suns coach
Gentry lamented his team's porous post defense and allowance of dribble penetration, but he had no criticism for
Since that touchstone moment, which would come to define both Bryant and the only organization he has known, the Lakers' roster has changed dramatically.
The Suns enjoy one obvious edge on the Lakers in this series and it's their bench. The Suns have
If Odom can ever sustain this effort, the Lakers will be able to live with center
That's often been Bryant philosophy, swinging at everything until he connects. Learning how to pick his spots is just one more happy side effect of old age.