Updated: April 10, 2013, 3:12 AM ET

1. Kobe Does Major Restoration Work

By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- It was exhilarating, a star delivering when his team and an antsy fan base needs it the most.

It was also sad, because it felt like hiring Michelangelo to paint a child's bedroom, and because these types of performances are beginning to feel finite instead of unlimited.

Bryant
AP Photo/Reed SaxonKobe Bryant scored 23 of his 30 points in the fourth quarter of a win over the Hornets.

With the game and the Los Angeles Lakers' postseason lives very much in doubt, Kobe Bryant scored 23 points (including his team's first 14) in the fourth quarter to push the Lakers to a 104-96 victory. Against the New Orleans Hornets. The 27-51 Hornets. Thus allowing the Lakers (41-37) to grab a tenuous hold on the eighth and final spot in the Western Conference playoffs, .007 of a percentage point ahead the Utah Jazz (41-38). That's why it felt like a bit of a waste. This is supposed to be on display in June, not April.

It was Kobe as we've seen him so many times before. And Kobe as we won't see him much longer. I hadn't bought into the retirement talk that he freely dispenses these days, that he's only going to play through the final year of his contract next season, because he's still playing above so much of the league that I can't imagine him giving it up to go be average at something else. But something he said in a pregame interview on "NBA Coast to Coast" resonated with me throughout this night: "I've been playing for a long, long time. It's a matter, really, if I want to continue to do this, continue to sacrifice as much as I've been sacrificing to play at this level."

Why go through the offseason conditioning or the late-night ice tub treatments if the only reward is a victory against the Hornets? There's no glory in that, and Bryant is in it for the glory. Oh, there's still individual glory to be had. And it's difficult to comprehend him scaling so high on the all-time scoring list (aka Mount Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) only to turn around and return to the base camp without planting his flag at the peak. But he has learned the respect comes from winning (after all, Michael Jordan gives Bryant the nod over LeBron James by virtue of the ring tally) and if this season leaves Bryant as far from a championship as he's ever been, the thought of committing for the long would seem even more daunting.

He was exhausted after this game -- "too tired to tweet," he replied when asked what he'd have to say about it on social media. And the only prize was a flight to Portland for a game against the Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

With the season, the one that began with the promise of Dwight Howard and Steve Nash restoring the Lakers to parade status, on the verge of becoming one of the grandest failures in sports history, Bryant reverted to what worked. He made it about him and Pau Gasol, the combination that made Bryant a champion again after the split with Shaquille O'Neal.

It didn't matter that Nash was out with a hamstring injury, and Howard was limited by foul trouble; Kobe probably wouldn't have involved them anyway. Like a mischievous schoolkid enticing his friends to ditch class, Kobe convinced Gasol to abandon Mike D'Antoni's offense and head down to the low block. That's where he kept going to Gasol -- three straight times down the floor during one third-quarter stretch.

Gasol responded with a 22-point, 11-rebound, four-assist game.

Bryant called it "2010 Pau."

Oh, but this was very much the 2013 Bryant.

There were no Forum flashback moments, such as his soaring, game-clinching dunk against Atlanta's Josh Smith. This was all angles and up-fakes. It was Kobe calling on his 17 seasons in the league to win on savvy, not athleticism. Get the ball, square up, jab, ball fake, fallaway jumper over Xavier Henry. Steal the ball from Eric Gordon, run alongside him like a hockey player shielding the puck on his way down the ice, then make a layup.

He went from scoring seven points through three quarters to 30 for the game.

"I was just trying to pace myself," Bryant said. "I know fatigue comes in when you play so many minutes. I really just tried to lay back and manage the game and turn it on at the right time."

This had to be more enjoyable to watch than for him to endure. If you appreciate the adaptations Bryant has made to remain competitive in a league that grows younger by the day, this game was outstanding. He created shots for Steve Blake and Jodie Meeks, but they missed a combined nine of 10 3-pointers. He tried to get the ball to Dwight Howard, but that seemed to result in the bulk of Bryant's five turnovers. Bryant clearly felt most comfortable going to Gasol.

All season long, the most efficient combination of the four biggest Lakers stars has been Bryant and Gasol -- without Nash and Howard. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Bryant-Gasol duo is plus 18.8 points per 48 minutes, almost double the second-best combo of Bryant, Howard and Nash.

"Obviously, we have a lot of weapons and we have different players that can also do very good things for us," Gasol said. "But I think [Kobe and I] know each other so well, we've played through so much together that we understand each other."

They also understand the stakes. They're uncorking the best wine and bringing out the good silverware … even if the NBA schedule says this should be the time for an afternoon snack.

Dimes past: March 22-23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27 | 28 | 29-30 | 31 | April 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5-6 | 7

J.A. Adande | email

ESPN Senior Writer

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