Kobe Bryant not slowing down
He continued his torrid pace with a 48-point barrage against Phoenix, bad wrist and all
LOS ANGELES -- There is a certain blueprint that Mike Brown wants to follow in building the Los Angeles Lakers back into championship contenders.
It's first and foremost about defense.
On the offensive end, Brown promotes court balance, spacing and scoring from the inside out by taking advantage of the Lakers' tremendous size advantage over most of their opponents.
Nowhere in those plans does it call for a 33-year-old Kobe Bryant to go out and score 48 points in the 11th game of his 16th season just to win a regular-season game against the middling Phoenix Suns.
It's not that Brown doesn't appreciate the performance or marvel at Bryant's incredible abilities.
"If you open him up, he might be a machine," Brown said after rattling off the list of injuries that Bryant is playing with from the torn ligament in his right wrist to his worn-down knees and arthritic index finger.
It's just that Brown sees Bryant as a resource he hopefully doesn't have to tap with regularity.
"With Kobe, the thing is, I know that if we get in a crunch, we can score because we have him," Brown said.
Tuesday's 99-83 win over the Suns was certainly in crunch time when Bryant checked into the game with 8:32 remaining and the Lakers only up by three points. Bryant would go on to score 16 points in the quarter on 6-for-7 shooting.
That's the challenge when it comes to Kobe. You have to let your players do what they do best, but still be cognizant of how it all affects the team concept.
The first thing Brown said when he opened up his postgame remarks was, "We got a lot of good performances from a lot of different individuals tonight, which usually happens in a team game."
In fact, Brown's postgame news conference lasted more than 14 minutes and he mentioned Kobe's name only once in the first eight minutes.
Brown said that when the Lakers went on their early run to push the lead to double digits, he had a message for Bryant, who was riding the hot hand from the very start, scoring 17 points on 8-for-11 shooting in the first quarter.
"We all have to remember, we have you, so we know we're going to be capable of scoring. But we have to make sure everybody understands we can score on five straight possessions. But if we allow our opponent to score on five straight possessions then it's a wash," Brown recalled telling his star. "We got here because we defended."
It was the highest scoring game that Bryant's had since his 49 points against the Suns on March 1, 2009. It was the highest single-game scoring output by any player in the NBA this season.
It was cause for Kobe to reminisce about the sport in general:
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"I enjoy playing," he said with a wide grin. "At the heart of it is just a kid who just really loves playing the game of basketball."
And for him to throw an aspersion back at those who criticized his 6-for-28 game against the Denver Nuggets:
"If I play bad or if I have one bad game like I did in Denver, everybody cries for a change or cries for the fact that I'm too old, when it's just a bad game with a bad wrist. Nobody wants to hear that."
And even a chance for him to reveal medical secrets about his wrists that he prefers to keep private:
"Everybody's not built the same way. That [expletive] hurts. After the injections, you don't feel anything. It goes numb. It's like it's not even there."
But none of that plays into the team that Brown is trying to build.
To Bryant's credit, he has changed his philosophy since being the 35-point-per-game gunner of old. He's not looking to score just to score. He wants to maximize his ability for the good of the team.
"It's a shift," Bryant said. "It's not something that's necessary for us, it's a weapon for us. So we use it as a weapon. They use me to come off screens and to score and to put the defense in jeopardy. It's not something where I need to score 40 or whatever, but it's a weapon and we use it to put the defense on edge and make them make adjustments."
The last question posed to Bryant on the night was about how the Lakers have performed on their home court this season, going 7-1. After spending the last several minutes fielding questions that were completely offense-oriented (Example: "If your wrist was healthy, do you think you could have gone for 81 again?"), Bryant, "the machine," rebooted and responded with the mantra his new coach has been programming into the team since Day 1.
"We keep ourselves in every ball game with our defense," Bryant said. "Our defense is extremely solid."
The points might have made Bryant smile. That answer will make Brown smile.
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com. Follow him on Twitter.