Coming off a strong performance against LeBron James, Kobe Bryant gets one final crack at another NBA superstar while his former coach looks on.
With Phil Jackson in attendance, Bryant tries to help prevent Carmelo Anthony and the visiting New York Knicks from sweeping a second consecutive season series from his Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night.
In one of the more memorable moments to his final season, Bryant scored 26 points and shot a season-best 11 of 16 in Thursday's 120-108 loss to Cleveland. Though Los Angeles (14-52) failed to match a season-high three-game winning streak, Bryant slightly got the best of James (24 points, 9-of-18 shooting) while scoring his most points in 10 contests.
"It was fun to watch," Lakers coach Byron Scott said. "It seemed like Kobe had a flashback for himself."
The attention now turns to New York (27-40), which looks to bounce back from Friday's 101-94 loss to the Clippers in the same building.
"Bumping Carmelo," said Bryant, who last took the court in back-to-back contests while playing 10 straight Jan. 31-Feb. 24. "He's a bear, man. I'm going to look forward to matching up with him. It's going to be fun."
It's likely also the final chance Jackson, the Knicks president, gets to watch the guy he coached to five NBA titles.
"Obviously I know what they are going to be running," Bryant joked in reference to the Knicks' triangle offense used by interim coach Kurt Rambis, who played for and coached the Lakers.
"I'll probably help Carmelo out and tell him where to go in certain spots on the floor."
Averaging 26.9 points against the Knicks, Bryant missed four straight matchups before scoring 18 and going 2 of 10 from 3-point range in a 99-95 loss at Madison Square Garden on Nov. 8. Anthony scored 24 to help New York to a third consecutive victory in the series.
After that contest, the two friends and Olympic teammates shared a lengthy embrace.
''I told him, I said it's not going to feel the same with him being gone,'' said Anthony, who more frequently dueled with Bryant while playing his first seven-plus seasons in Denver.
''Him helping me kind of throughout my career, being that guy I can talk to, it's not going to be the same.''
Though Jackson and Bryant have had their issues, the two seem to be in a better place. Jackson applauds the way an ailing Bryant has handled playing his final season for a team that won't make the playoffs.
"He's done it gracefully," Jackson said. "I think he's been appreciated by the fans. ... It will be interesting and fun to be here."
With Jackson in Los Angeles, conflicting reports about him possibly returning to the Lakers in some capacity were naturally revisited. Jackson's fiancee Jeanie Buss is part-owner and president of the Lakers.
"The energy I have is directed toward turning (the Knicks) around," said Jackson, whose club is 4-9 since Rambis replaced the fired Derek Fisher.
While Bryant versus Anthony will be the focus of the fans, Jackson and Rambis should be eager to see if rookie Kristaps Porzingis can build on Friday's 23-point effort. The 7-foot-3 Latvian, who averaged 10.8 points in his previous five games, was just 6 of 17 from the field but showed improvement after going 5 for 21 in the previous two contests.
He had 12 points and 10 rebounds against the Lakers.
Taken two picks ahead of Porzingis at No. 2 overall, Lakers rookie D'Angelo Russell had six points at New York but has averaged 23.3 in the last eight games.