Kobe embraces role as defensive stopper
by David Leon Moore, USA TODAY Sports
LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant, defensive stopper.
As if Bryant didn’t have enough on his plate, trying to fulfill expectations as a scorer, trying to lead a disappointing team back to competitiveness, trying to shoot down rumors of a rift between him and first-year Lakers center Dwight Howard, trying to hold it together physically while averaging nearly 39 minutes a game at age 34 …
Now he’s agreed to take on the role of trying to shut down the opponents’ top perimeter offensive threats, many of them a decade or so younger.
The Lakers broke a six-game losing streak Sunday with Bryant hounding explosive second-year Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving. That worked great, as Irving, averaging 23 points a game, finished with 15 points in the 113-93 Lakers win. Bryant was super-efficient on the offensive end, hitting nine of 14 shots for 23 points.
Los Angeles won again Tuesday, with Bryant once again setting the defensive tone.
Bryant’s assignment was Milwaukee fourth-year point guard Brandon Jennings, and it worked again, as Bryant hounded Jennings, averaging 18.5 points a game, into irrelevancy for much of the game.
Jennings had just two points in the first half and finished with 12 as the Lakers won 104-88.
And again, Bryant was a model of efficiency on the offensive end, hitting 12 of 19 shots and finishing with 31 points and six assists in 37 minutes.
How long can Bryant keep this up?
“He wants to do it,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said, “because our defense wasn’t very good. We’ll see how it goes.”
Howard, meanwhile, looked livelier than he has most of the season, finishing with 31 points and 16 rebounds.
The defending champion Miami Heat are next, coming to Staples Center on Thursday night, but who knows? Maybe these upstart, defensive-minded Lakers, winners of two in a row and now 17-21, can still claw their way into the playoffs.