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|Kobe Bryant has become an extension of Phil Jackson, remaining calm and focused during the Lakers' deepest struggles this season.|
Dunleavy was speaking as both the coach who spent the better part of a decade trying to figure out how to beat Bryant and the coach who was once charged with succeeding Pat Riley as coach of the Lakers. Only a few men can really understand the pressure that comes along with coaching under those circumstances. So it isn't surprising that Dunleavy was the most emphatic in making the case for Bryant. "All these awards are based on the regular season, so it doesn't manifest what kind of great job they did in the regular season until you see what happens in the playoffs," he said. "You're not going to see the full body of work in the regular season. You're not going to be rewarded for a lot of the things you do, where you built a team to peak at the right time or you've been totally unselfish to get the confidence of your teammates up so they'll be ready to come through when you get to the big stage. "The Lakers, pre-All-Star break, were terrible. They lost to Cleveland, and people were saying they were dead. Maybe rightfully so. "But while everybody else was off having vacation, this guy [Bryant] went to work and put up 37 in the All-Star Game. I think he was sending a message out to his guys like, 'OK, it's time to roll.'" The Lakers are 8-0 since the All-Star break, including impressive road wins in Portland, San Antonio and Atlanta. They've looked sharper and more focused. Bryant, as always, has been their leader. But his story is too familiar. Greatness like his is admired but not always appreciated in the moment. A better story likely will be deemed more valuable, leaving Bryant to the consolations of June. Dave McMenamin contributed to this report. Ramona Shelburne is a reporter and columnist for ESPNLosAngeles.com.