Life for Lakers fans would have tasted as bad as a jersey if Kobe were hurt.
You may have felt a strong wind rushing through the Southland earlier this evening. It was actually a collective sigh, an entire city's worth of Lakers fans exhaling in relief after a brief scare.
Because Kobe Bryant was hobbling around stiff-legged upon getting his foot caught underneath Elton Brand, diving to recover his own turnover.
The sequence itself would have been otherwise cause for smiles. Ron Artest had stripped Brand in space, then missed a point-blank layup all by his lonesome before leisurely putting back the brick. Artest grinned sheepishly afterward, but Kobe, along with the Laker Nation, was grimacing as Gary Vitti approached him.
The team and Bryant have dealt with enough injuries as it is and another would have not only been problematic, but totally ironic, as Bryant recently spoke about the progress his back and fractured index finger have made. The Mamba at square "negative one" represents a true bummer.
Well, worry ye not.
Kobe quickly put to bed any concerns by drilling a 14-foot jumper, then getting to the line on the Lakers' next possession. From there, it only got better. His first half an unimpressive one for seven from the field with just a pair of points, Kobe rapidly made up for lost time, connecting on nine of 15 shots to tack on 22 second-half points.
He also busted out a sweet arsenal of moves for his hometown citizens. An "off-balance fade away along the baseline" here. A "catch-and-shoot turnaround jumper at the free-throw line" there. And as if to drive home the point of being fine, Kobe switched defensive assignments late in the third quarter to check Allen Iverson, who suddenly turned red hot enough to make you wonder if Wachovia's newest feature is a time machine marked "early decade." While the "circa-2001" vibe, back-to-back three-pointers and circus shots off the top of the backboard were obviously entertaining, there's nonetheless a limit to how wild you wanted the future Hall of Famer running. AI's production eventually slowed under the shadow of 24, who even managed to block two of The Answer's shots.
After a 1-2 start to the road trip and bad losses to Cleveland and Toronto, the Lakers had finally knuckled down, winning in back-to-back games in Washington and Indiana, the latter by a gaudy margin of 22. Sure, those teams, along with Philly, represent the road trip's soft underbelly, but you can only play who's on the schedule and more importantly, these are the contests designed for building steam before Sunday's and Monday's legitimate challenges in Boston and Memphis, respectively. Safe to say, any sense of momentum might have been lost with Kobe suddenly shelved.
But the fright was short-lived- ESPNLosAngeles.com's Dave McMenamin reported after the game Kobe's relief it was just a sore ankle and not a knee issue- and the Lakers remain "all systems go."
We actually got an earlier glimpse of life without Bryant after two early fouls sent him to the pine, setting the stage for a first half fueled by Artest (ten points on four-for-six shooting, three rebounds), Lamar Odom (eight points and three boards off the bench) and especially Pau Gasol, the passing conduit during a clinic for creating baskets through off-ball movement.
Difficult as it is to picture, the man now 48 points from passing Jerry West as the franchise's all-time leading scorer and Magic Johnson's biggest challenger for G.L.O.A.T. was largely an afterthought.
All things being equal, we're probably still better off with that Kobe fella around.