Kobe Bryant and the Lakers beat the Denver Nuggets 104-100 in Game 2 of their Western Conference playoff series. Nuggets coach George Karl complained on Sunday that Andrew Bynum got away with about 30 illegal defenses in Game 1 so he was most likely hoping to put a little bug in the refs' ears going into last night's contest. While his strategy didn't exactly backfire, it didn't help much either. As the Nuggets focused more on Bynum, Kobe was able to do what Kobe does.
At 33, Kobe Bryant has already logged more minutes than Michael Jordan, played in more seasons than Magic Johnson and Larry Bird. His 6-foot-6 frame, slender compared to the NBA's modern stars, has absorbed injury-inducing blows to virtually every relevant part. He cracks jokes about his dwindling vertical leap. But on some nights, when the legs are fresh and the back is loose, when there is spring in the knees and juice in the joints, he can appear utterly ageless.
The Lakers are in a really good place in terms of health. Kobe has been relatively healthy all season (he played through his major wrist injury and finally sat with the shin injury); Bynum has missed just one game due to injury (sprained ankle); Pau Gasol hasn't missed any time at all; Matt Barnes is playing on a sprained ankle; and Ramon Sessions played through his sprained shoulder. The main thing at this point is keep everyone healthy and injury free.
Avoid series momentum-changing pitfalls such as the Memphis Grizzlies' blown 27-point lead to the Los Angeles Clippers. Avoid hotheaded mistakes such as Boston's Rajon Rondo's bumping into a referee or New York's Amare Stoudemire's punching a glass fire extinguisher case. And avoid, above all else, the injury bug that already has claimed the season of Chicago's Derrick Rose and threatened the availability of Atlanta's Josh Smith moving forward.
Of course, this series is far from over, and the hope is that the fellas don't get complacent when they head to Denver for Game 3. As long as they keep their foot on the gas, they have a great chance of ending this series early enough to give everyone some rest before the next one begins. Knock on every piece of wood you see from here on out, folks.
Finally, Gregg Popovich won the Coach of the Year award, Tyson Chandler is your 2011-2012 Defensive Player of the Year, and Pau Gasol is a finalist for the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award, won last season by then-Ron Artest.