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Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Updated: January 27, 1:17 PM ET
Obama's Assist

By Dave McMenamin
ESPNLosAngeles.com

WASHINGTON -- Kobe Bryant eluded three defenders in the lane and scored a twisting, turning, double-pump little ditty off the glass with just about five minutes remaining in the third quarter on Tuesday.

It put the Lakers up by 12 at the time and Los Angeles went on to beat Washington Wizards by the same margin, 115-103. Sure, it wasn't like it was a clutch bucket or anything, but it should have looked familiar for two reasons.

First, it should have reminded you of the last time the Lakers played championship basketball.

I mean, literally the last time. Game 5 of the NBA Finals. In Orlando.

In the third quarter of that game, Bryant made a near-identical shot. He drove from the right wing, took off from one side of the lane, used sleight of hand in midair to move the rock around like a shyster taking someone's money using the old cups-and-ball magic trick and put it in off the window as he landed on his backside on the other side of the lane.

The shot pushed L.A.'s lead to 11. The Lakers won the game by 13. Cue the championship confetti.

Second, it should have reminded you of Monday. You might have heard the Lakers were at the White House. During the ceremony, President Barack Obama pantomimed Michael Jordan's similar "spectacular move" from the 1991 Finals when he claimed the Lakers "exemplified excellence in basketball."

The two flashbacks aren't unrelated.

Being in the president's presence not only helped cause Bryant (26 points, eight assists) to play at the title-taking level he's capable of, it infused the whole team with the life it had been lacking.

"It reminded us what we were playing for," Bryant said. "It reminded us what's at stake. I'm sure it helped re-energize us a little bit."

Kobe Bryant
WASHINGTON - Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers goes up for a shot against Brendan Haywood of the Washington Wizards at the Verizon Center. The Lakers beat the Wizards 115-103.
The fact that Bryant not only came out sharp, but looked like a carbon-copy of his championship self on that particular play, could be attributed to the Baller in Chief as well.

Bryant's tank wasn't quite topped off with Obama's influence after Monday, so he made a return trip to the White House on Tuesday morning, spending "about 20 minutes" in the Oval office with the president, bringing along his wife Vanessa and daughters Natalia and Gianna.

Following Bryant's lead, the Lakers shot 58.7 percent as a team, ran out to a 16-point lead at halftime and didn't let the lead dwindle to less than nine the rest of the way.

Just about every Lakers player who starred on Monday credited the president in one way or another.

Lamar Odom eclipsed his 9.5 points per game average by halftime, racking up 11 points on 5-for-5 shooting, five rebounds and three assists before the teams headed toward the locker rooms. He finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and three assists.

"The trip to the White House gave us a little energy," Odom said. "We want to go back."

Obama's assist: Quoting Odom during his speech, causing the forward to become so overwhelmed by the honor that when he was asked to recall it before the game on Tuesday, Odom blushed and said, "I can be on reality TV, but I'm too shy for that."

Pau Gasol, who's been on Mission: Aggression since being pushed around down the stretch in the first game of the road trip in Cleveland, ended up with 26 points, 10 rebounds and tied Bryant for the most shot attempts with 15 a game after taking a season-high 23.

"Yesterday was a good day to help us regroup," Gasol said.

Obama's assist: Ending his remarks on Monday, thus making sure the last thing the assembled room would have on its mind when they dispersed, by singling out Shannon Brown and endorsing his entry in the dunk contest.

Brown, whose dunk total had ironically slowed to a near halt since being named as a slam dunk participant last week -- he had just one stuff in the four games since the announcement -- broke out of his slump to slam home three in spectacular fashion with one fast break, one alley-oop and one putback. He finished with 11 points, three assists and three steals.

"We're a better team than our record shows," Brown said. "Meeting the president gave everybody a little boost of confidence in themselves."

Air Force 1 won't be following the Lakers' charter to Indianapolis for Wednesday's game against the Pacers and the mega eight-game road trip may be halfway over, but there's still four games left.

"Indiana's always [tough]," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. "We just don't win there very often."

They are 2-2 so far on the trip and need to finish 3-1 -- with games still remaining against some pretty decent ball clubs in Boston and Memphis -- just to come out with the 5-3 record that Jackson set as the admittedly low goal before the journey started, with the assumption they would be able to surpass it.

The Lakers found something in Washington that Jackson knows a defending champion needs to find somewhere along the way.

This is the ninth time Jackson has coached a team that was seeking consecutive titles. In seven of those seasons (all but the 1993-94 Jordan-less Bulls and 2002-03 Lakers), his squad triumphed again.

"Sometimes they don't present the intensity of feeling perhaps about a regular-season game as I'd like them to," Jackson said before the game. "I think the road is good [to cure that]. We got stagnant at home a little bit."

And they got down-right presidential on Tuesday.

Now we'll see if they can sustain.