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A new Kobe? Don't get carried away

DENVER -- Wait, what happened?

Kobe Bryant has attempted 21 shots over the past two games while racking up 18 assists. That's not him. That's not the player who leads the league in field-goal attempts (22 per game) and attempted 37 of them in a game earlier this season.

So has he changed?

Has the 36-year-old Los Angeles Lakers star given way to Father Time, realizing that here, in his 19th season, after toiling with way too many minutes and heavy fatigue that forced him to sit for three straight games recently -- has he realized that he must facilitate instead of looking to score?

Easy there, padre.

It might seem easy to draw such conclusions, especially after Bryant's triple-double (23 points, 11 rebounds, 11 assists) in 32 minutes in Tuesday's 111-103 victory against the Denver Nuggets at the Pepsi Center.

But let's get real. Kobe is Kobe: an aggressive scorer, through and through. It's in his bones, his soul. And it's not as if he's about to change the very essence of who and what he is, even if an intriguing two-game sample size makes it look as though Bryant finally woke up and realized that he's, you know, old (in the NBA, at least).

"He's just playing and taking what everybody is giving him," Lakers coach Byron Scott said. "I don't think he's out there trying to save anything, I don't think he's pacing himself whatsoever. That's not his style."

Exactly. Bryant said that his facilitating against the Nuggets came because they double-teamed him from the start and his teammates made shots, sinking nine of their first 10 field-goal attempts and ultimately making a season-high 14 3-pointers.

"[When] they're open, they make shots, it's easy, I sit back," Bryant said of his teammates. "When they don't, when we're down 15 or something points and I try to get it going, sometimes I make [shots], sometimes I don't. When I don't [make them], you [reporters] think it's because I'm not passing them the ball. It's really that simple."

It's also a familiar line that Bryant has delivered after several games in which his high-volume shooting was questioned -- or when his passing led to a balanced box score and, more often than not, a victory.

Is a facilitator-heavy role more conducive to sustaining Bryant through the course of the season? Yes.

"It takes a lot of energy to score the ball," he said. "It takes a lot out of my legs."

Does that role help the Lakers as a team? Yes.

"It's contagious," reserve point guard Jeremy Lin said. "When the ball moves, it flows through everyone's hands. That's how it should be."

But, as always with Bryant, it boils down to opposing defenses. If they double-team him early, he'll look to pass. If they single-cover him, he'll look to score. As he said, it's as simple as that.

Bryant did admit that, after some reflection, his game is "evolving," to some degree, but don't mistake that to mean that he's shedding his identity.

"I'm a natural scorer, but it doesn't mean I can't evolve," he said. "I've played more the point guard role in our first three championships, so I've been taught very well how to do that. It's not something that's unfamiliar to me."

Many scorers have evolved in the winter of their career. Most notably, Michael Jordan -- the player to whom Bryant has long been compared -- became more of a jump shooter rather than attacking the rim, which for so long came so easy.

Bryant is in a similar stage, and said that the recent time off was good not only to recharge his worn-down body but also to break down his game. He said he'd like to focus more on being a shooting guard/point guard, which he said will take less effort and energy.

"You see now I'm very, very efficient," Bryant said. "I know exactly where I want to go. I get to my spots. I don't try to beat guys with quickness. I back them down, I get to my areas and I elevate over them. It's just old-school Oscar Robertson style."

Bryant added, "It's not something that's easy to do. It's like a golfer changing his swing. But it's something that I'm taking the challenge of. I'll figure it out just like I figure everything else out."

He said he sat back and watched film of himself and of players that came before to understand how they operated at this point, though he declined to name names.

It was mentioned that he's the third-oldest player to record a triple-double behind San Antonio Spurs forward Tim Duncan, who notched one at 38, and Karl Malone, who had one when he was 40. Bryant said he appreciated that distinction because of the longevity required to earn it.

"It's very difficult to break habits," Bryant said. "It really is. When you're used to playing a certain way, your body is used to doing certain things, you know mentally what to do but your body is so used to doing it one way and it's very, very difficult to do. But nonetheless, that's the challenge and I take pride in it."

Scott was pleased. Bryant played within his minutes limit and looked fresh, helping seal the win after the Lakers' 23-point lead had been whittled to five in the final five minutes.

"So far the experiment, for the first two games, it looks like it's working pretty well," Scott said.

Later, Scott added, "If I can keep those minutes where they are the last couple of games, I think he'll be as fresh as we want him to be when the game is on the line."

Coaches have tried to manage Bryant's minutes in the past, either because of injuries or to save him for a postseason run, but this, obviously, is different.

"I was a lot younger then and I could play those minutes," Bryant said. "I could handle those minutes. Now I can't. There's no use in fighting it. You accept it, you play around it and you figure it out."

After this season, Bryant has one season left on his contract.

These last couple of games haven't changed his future outlook, either.

"Is it very difficult right now to play? Yeah," Bryant said. "Am I looking forward to playing next year? Yes. But if you asked me if I want to play beyond that, right now the answer is no."

It appears that Bryant has made steps toward accepting reality in the past two games, but it's still far too early to say that he has reinvented himself, that he has evolved into something new.

Kobe is still Kobe.

He is still looking to score.