Fifteen times, the Los Angeles Lakers have dealt with the difficulty of playing professional basketball contests on back to back nights. Fifteen times, they have failed to win both games. Tonight was their 16th and last opportunity, and they needed badly to be successful to keep Utah at bay in the race for the last playoff spot left. You knew, even against an under-manned and unimpressive Portland team with nothing to play for, it would take a special effort to get the job done. You just couldn't have known how special it would be.
Kobe Bean Black Mamba Vino Bryant. Take a bow.
Number 24 did a lot of things that a man in his 17th professional season has no business doing. He scored 47 points. He played 48 minutes. He was two steals and one block short of a 5x5. His full line is simply obscene: 47 points on 14-27 shooting, 18-18 from FT, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 4 blocks, 3 steals, and one turnover. He did with glitz. He did it with glamour. He did it with grit, and he did it with grind. He did it every which way at every which time, and he did it all long past the time when most of his peers can no longer lace 'em up.
He had help. Not a lot, but just enough to get the job done. Tonight was a night for the guys with big paychecks to earn them with stellar play. Joining Kobe in statistical superiority, Pau Gasol had another fantastic game, with 23 points on 11-15 shooting, 7 rebounds and 9 assists. More and more, the Lakers are beginning to realize that Pau is the big man through whom the offense should run. And Dwight Howard rounded out the stars with a solid 20-10, even if his 6 turnovers were a burden to be carried. And Steve Blake deserves honorable mention for coming up with the two biggest offensive rebounds of the season ... not bad for a point guard.
Yes, the Lakers needed all of this to beat a lowly Blazers squad who came in losers of 8 straight. Yes, the short-handed Blazers started 4 rookies and gave minutes to guys that make the Lakers reserves look like All-Stars. Yes, the Blazers had nothing to play for and LA had everything to play for. In an honest analysis, this game was likely proof that the Lakers simply aren't that good as currently constructed, a team that would be lucky to pick up a game or two against the high-octane team which is waiting for them in the first round. But I don't care, and neither should you. We just witnessed another superb, surreal, stunning performance from a guy who's given us 17 years worth of them. And I'm going to cherish every last damn bit of it.