At points in the first round, Kobe Bryant did not look like himself. He was slowed, his explosive leaps gone. Oklahoma City was blanketing him with very good defenders -- they deserve a lot of credit. But Kobe was not right, tendonitis in his knee was acting up. He is the master of creating his own space then elevating for a jump shot — but the elevator was not going all the way to the top.
Bryant said of the Lakers' two losses in Oklahoma City: "Played on one leg, basically."
He’s back. Kobe exploded for 61 points in the first two games against Utah, and that is with him working to get the ball to Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Kobe is not trying to score that much, but when he is healthy it just happens.
It's just a matter of the explosion of the moves. Against Utah, Kobe is moving with a real aggressiveness, a purpose, he pushes his way to the spot he wants on the floor. He is spinning and driving baseline with quick moves, something he just could not do last series.
A few times -- like the late game-winning layup in Game One -- he comes hard off the pick to find no defense there and he has driven for a virtually uncontested layup. Blame the Jazz defense if you want (and you should) but Kobe did not do that last series because he lacked the speed to attack the same way.
Last series, Kobe slid around the picks, he glided. Given space he would take his jumpers (and he still hit them with regularity from the spots he likes, such as the at the corner of the free throw line), but he could not create the space. He was slower.
Against the Jazz the Kobe not only pushes and spins his way to those spots, his quick leaping gets him a good look over the top of the defender. He has taken advantage when the Jazz got stuck with a smaller man on him (Deron Williams, for example). Kobe is backing guys down again. It’s been good to see.
Kobe is still shooting a lot of jumpers -- but he is getting the shots he wants again. And that is very bad news for the Jazz. They don’t need another unstoppable problem.
First, the Jazz are having enough problems with the Lakers front line of Bynum, Gasol and Lamar Odom. Second, they don’t have anyone who can really cover Kobe. They traded a good defender to save money earlier this year, and now they are forced to go with Wes Mathews or CJ Miles. Two nice players. But neither of them is going to slow Kobe much.
And that spells trouble for the Jazz, who are already down 2-0 and need to sweep the next two games to have a chance. That’s going to be hard if the explosive Kobe just decides to take over again.