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Kobe Bryant discusses why his play has dramatically improved

EL SEGUNDO, CALIF -- Earlier this season, Kobe Bryant was missing shots at a staggering rate. The Los Angeles Lakers star shot 3-of-15 in a loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Nov. 1, 6-of-22 in a loss to the Portland Trail Blazers on Nov. 22, 1-of-14 in a loss at the Golden State Warriors two days later, 4-of-20 in a loss to the Indiana Pacers five days after that and 7-of-26 in a loss to the previously winless Philadelphia 76ers on Dec. 1.

Following a 2-for-15 performance in a Dec. 6 loss against the Detroit Pistons, Bryant was shooting a career-worst 29.6 percent from the field, which put him on pace to potentially become the first player in the shot-clock era to shoot less than 30 percent from the field while taking 15 shots per game.

Bryant wasn't just misfiring; the 37-year old was often having trouble even hitting the rim, as so many of his shots were air balls, over the rim or simply short. It seemed clear that his body -- now its 20th season and, recently, having faced three consecutive season-ending injuries -- was finally telling Bryant that it had nothing left to offer to the game.

Then, something changed.

In his last five games, Bryant is shooting 47.2 percent from the field and is averaging 18.2 points per game. He is now playing less than 30 minutes per game (28.2 over this recent five-game stretch), whereas he was routinely playing well above that figure before. He's deferring to his promising young teammates more often, too.

But during that abysmal shooting stretch, Bryant, who said he plans to retire at the end of this season, said he wasn't deterred.

"I knew that I was going to keep pushing and pushing, either I was going to get through it or I wasn't," he said after practice Wednesday. "But I wasn't going to capitulate to it and not try. I was going to continue to work."

If he hadn't been able to overcome his struggles, Bryant said, "It just means I can't overcome Father Time at this moment of time, I just can't do it. You know what I mean, I would have been fine with that, because I literally tried everything. If it didn't work out, it is what it is. You've got to cut your losses."

Bryant wasn't ready to say that he has overcome Father Time, though.

"The last five games I've felt great," he said. "I don't feel like I felt at the start of the season; I feel good. I'm moving well, I'm not sore after games, anything like that. From the challenge of where I started at the beginning of the season to where I am now, I feel good."

During the team's recent stretch of eight games in 12 days, Bryant tried to find a routine to help keep his legs loose and limber.

"It was kind of a game-to-game thing," Bryant said. "There were certain games where I'd go into it, feel pretty good, legs feel pretty good, and then the game starts and I don't have them. It was always like a wait-and-see thing. And then one game, I felt good. Next game, I felt good. Next game, I felt better. Then it was like, OK, I can start feeling a little bit more comfortable moving around on the floor and shooting pullups and driving the ball and things like that. But it was just trial and error."

He said the turning point came in San Antonio, the seventh game of the trip.

"I thought that was going to be a game that was going to be pretty tough for me to muster up the legs, but they were there," said Bryant, who in that game tallied 12 points on 5-of-12 shooting to go along with six rebounds and four assists. "So that let me know that I might have turned the corner."

Lakers coach Byron Scott has stuck by Bryant's side throughout, telling ESPN.com during the height of Bryant's shooting struggles that he would "never, never, never" bench the Lakers icon no matter how much Bryant struggled.

On Wednesday, Scott again credited Bryant for deferring to his teammates and taking a less-is-more approach.

"He's letting the game come to him," Scott said. "He's great at seeing the floor. When he wants to be a facilitator, guys really, really seem to get themselves available. He can still be in that aggressive mindset of going after guys. But when [opposing teams are] trying to double-team him or stopping him from getting to certain spots, he's finding open guys."

Bryant reiterated that he's enjoying watching the Lakers' young players develop.

"Yeah, these are things that we discuss and talk about prior to games and practices and things like that -- certain strategic adjustments," Bryant said. "And when they make them during the game and they see the payoff and you see the excitement, it's probably more exciting for me than it is for them."