- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
- 0 Shares
LOS ANGELES -- It was asking a lot of Kobe Bryant when the Los Angeles Lakers shifted to assigning the 34-year-old to guarding the opposing team's most dynamic guard while still relying on him on the offensive end.
It was asking so much, in fact, that Bryant admitted after the Lakers' 99-90 loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday that he will need some help to be able to continue it.
After holding Cleveland's Kyrie Irving to just 15 points and Milwaukee's Brandon Jennings to 12 points in consecutive wins while still averaging 27.0 points on 63.6 percent shooting the past two games, Bryant's defense and offense both took a major hit against Miami.
Not only did Bryant's man on defense, Dwyane Wade, score 27 points on 11-for-20 shooting, but Bryant's offense also struggled, as he scored just 22 points on 8-for-25 shooting (32 percent).
Bryant, who leads the league in scoring at 29.7 points per game, said that alleviating some pressure on him on offense will in turn allow him to apply more pressure on defense.
"If (guarding the opposing team's offensive threat) is going to be something that I'm going to have to do for a while, I'm going to need my teammates' help to free up offensively," Bryant said. "Like we did in the fourth quarter -- create some picks for me, create some easy shots. That's going to be tough for me to guard the top guy and come down the other end and have to go one-on-one every play. So, I'm going to need some help."
He brought up the issue several times during his postgame remarks to the media.
"I need some help offensively to save energy and not have to isolate and do things like that," Bryant said. "I'm going to need some picks. I'm going to need to catch-and-shoot like I did in the fourth quarter a little bit to make my job a little easier. I think the first three quarters of me just standing around the perimeter, the defense is praying for that. We have to do some things to free me up and get me in open spaces, this way I can be more active on the defensive end of the floor."
Bryant started the game with just nine points on 3-for-16 shooting through the first three quarters before getting things going in the fourth, putting up 13 points on 5-for-9 shooting in the final frame thanks in part to getting open looks from the 3-point line off a screen set by Pau Gasol as well as a handoff assist from Gasol.
"We talked about it going into the fourth quarter. I said, 'Coach D man, goddamn. Come on, man. Come on, man. I can't be standing out here like this all night long now,'" Bryant said, recalling a conversation with Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni. "We did a much better job of that. My teammates know. We got to pick each other up. I'm going to go out there and do what I got to do defensively, and then on the offensive end of the floor we'll pick each other up."
Point guard Steve Nash, the man responsible for orchestrating the show on offense, agreed that the Lakers can make it easier on his fellow 17-year veteran teammate.
"Ideally, we should be able to make them pay in other areas of the court," Nash said. "We should make problems for people with Dwight [Howard] on the block, Pau on the block. When they're doubling my pick-and-rolls, the game should open up because it should be a 3-on-2 or 2-on-1 on the weakside. I just don't think we were efficient enough elsewhere tonight. He shouldn't have to carry us like that all the time. We have good enough players that we should be able to take advantage of elsewhere on the court."
Howard suggested that the contributions of Wade, whom Bryant was assigned to keep in check, had a bigger impact on the outcome than LeBron James' 39 points on 17-for-25 shooting on offense.
"I think what hurt us was Dwyane," Howard said. "LeBron is going to get his points, but to be able to control Dwyane and Chris Bosh (who had just seven points on 3-for-10 shooting), we have a better chance of winning. Tonight, D-Wade had it going on offense."
Bryant put some of the offensive blame on himself for the fact that only nine of his 25 shot attempts were from 15 feet away from the basket or closer.
"I take responsibility for that," Bryant said. "I allowed myself to be too big of a decoy tonight. I'll take the brunt of it because I should have been way more aggressive and not allowed myself to be on the perimeter. To have to take 25-footers all night long, that's just not going to happen again."
What will happen again is Bryant playing defense on the Lakers' opponents' best weapon to try to disrupt their offense.
"We have to do that," D'Antoni said before the game. "That's really good and it works. Can we give him a day off from it? Maybe. Can we give him a little less (playing) time? Yeah. But, anybody that does something that well, we kind of have to do it for a while.
"Kobe being on the ball is a big deal. He sets the tone for us defensively. He has done that and taken on that leadership role, and when that happens, we've been pretty good lately."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
16hMatt Walks, ESPN.com