- Dave McMenamin, ESPN.com
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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. -- Have desperate times in Laker land called for desperate measures for the purple and gold? Convincing one of the greatest shooting guards of all time to play more like a point guard seemingly would qualify.
Even though Bryant ended up scoring less than half of his 28.9 points per game average, good for third best in the league, Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said it shouldn't be looked at like a "sacrifice" by the All-Star guard.
"If you win, is it really a sacrifice or is it, 'Yeah, you played the right way?' " D'Antoni said after practice Saturday. "I don't know if it was a sacrifice, is all, but (Bryant) set the tone. There's no doubt about it. He played like Oscar Robertson played back in the day -- 14 assists, nine rebounds, and he got easy shots all over the place. Some nights it's 14 points, some nights it's 30 points, but he'll read the defense."
Bryant addressed the new role on Twitter after the game, quoting a fan that referred to him as "Kobe Johnson" (after Magic Johnson, the greatest point guard in Lakers franchise history). Bryant also responded to a tweet that said, "You should pass more often bro." Bryant replied, "u know what? In this situation, I think u r 100 % right."
The 14 assists were one shy of Bryant's career high in February 2002 against Washington and nearly matched Utah's team total of 16.
According to ESPN Stats & Information, it was just the fourth time in Bryant's 17-year career that he played 30 or minutes and finished a game with more assists than field goal attempts (he was 7 for 10 on Friday), and the Lakers are 3-1 in those games.
Bryant is averaging 4.9 assists per game this season, 25th among all qualifying guards in the NBA and slightly above his career average of 4.7. Bryant dabbled at the point earlier in the season when Steve Nash missed 24 games with a fractured left fibula. The Lakers are 4-1 this season when Bryant registers eight assists or more.
Bryant's 10 shot attempts also tied a season low, but by limiting his shots, it spread out opportunities to Dwight Howard, who was 8 of 12 from the floor for 17 points, after totaling just 19 shots combined during the Lakers' four-game losing streak entering Friday.
"I think for a lot of bigs, when we're fed and we eat a little bit, we're happy," Howard said on Saturday. "Just like men. Give us some food, we're good. We don't eat, we're grumpy."
Howard said Bryant's adjustment on offense helped not just him, but the entire team.
"We have to play for each other to win," Howard said. "All of us have to sacrifice part of who we are, part of who we've been, especially on the offensive end for the team. Still bring the same kind of energy, but we have to figure out a way to all put it together. I'm sure everybody on this team wants to be the guy to score, make plays and all that stuff, but we have to figure out ways to do it together. If you get everybody else involved early and throughout the game, it just makes it tough for teams to guard.
"(Bryant) did a great job of that (Friday) night. When he plays that way, it makes it tough for teams because he's passing. He's throwing lobs. He's picking the defense apart. Now he can get the chance to go one-on-one, where he's dangerous."
After the game on Friday, Bryant told reporters that the passing plan was premeditated.
"I tried to make a real concerted effort to force the game upon my teammates a little bit and just have them play with confidence," Bryant said. "Even the shots that are not going in, just try to push it on them a little bit."
Even with the win Friday, times are still very much desperate for the 18-25 Lakers, especially with the league-leading Oklahoma City Thunder coming to town Sunday.
D'Antoni said the Lakers will try to implement a similar game plan. If that means Bryant will assist more than he scores once again, it shouldn't be viewed as a sacrifice if the Lakers come out on top.
"It's a privilege to play the game and it's a privilege to win and to me, you do everything possible to win," D'Antoni said. "Whether that's a sacrifice, I don't know. That's like saying, 'OK, you really play hard tonight,' and that's a sacrifice for the team by playing hard."
Dave McMenamin covers the Lakers for ESPNLosAngeles.com.
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