Updated: March 2, 2013, 11:29 PM ET

1. It's Go Time Again For That Zen Mamba

By Justin Verrier | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- As the losses began to mount, slowly threatening his last best shot at a championship, Kobe Bryant sat in the center of the storm, smiling.

As injuries began chipping away at a title-worthy foundation rebuilt in one flashy offseason, Bryant sat at his corner locker, game after game, feet deep in a rubber ice bucket in front of him, and preached patience.

Even when some comments pointed toward his new center caused a commotion on an important road trip -- really one of the few times the self-proclaimed best quote in the league's barbs weren't laced with a heaping dose of sarcasm -- he was quick to diffuse the situation.

Kobe Bryant
Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY SportsKobe Bryant had 33 points as the Lakers sank the Wolves for a 21st straight time.

Given his reputation and the self-imposed ticking clock on his career, you would've expected Bryant to be less tolerant of mistakes than ever. Instead, his postgame demeanor was downright zen.

"I'm basically the Baby Zen Master," he said in November, soon after the original was passed over for the Los Angeles Lakers' head-coaching gig.

His game was more reserved, too, as he tamed his infamous bloodlust for points and instead embarked on a distributing binge. Even at the All-Star Game -- a friendly, no-defense sideshow in which the ever-competitive Bryant is notorious for going hard -- Bryant throttled it back until he got the opportunity to guard LeBron James late. (And in photos of Chris Paul hoisting his game MVP trophy, you can see Bryant smiling and laughing with his young daughter.)

But Bryant dug into his vintage stock in an easy 116-94 victory Thursday over the lifeless Minnesota Timberwolves, the fourth win in five games since the All-Star break for a Lakers team that is currently just two games back of the Houston Rockets for the eighth spot in the West.

There were dunks that almost made him seem spry again, quick rises over his defender in the midrange and a few teeth grinds and jaw juts.

Afterward, he underlined the Lakers' need for a sense of urgency, like he has been for some time now. But there wasn't much room for jokes in between.

"I've been in attack mode since the break," Bryant said. "It's go time."

He didn't waste any time on the court, either.

Less than a minute into Thursday's game, Bryant posted up on Derrick Williams on the left wing and waited until he saw Williams' eyes peek at the oncoming screen to his left. Bryant instantly darted toward the wide-open baseline and didn't stop when Nikola Pekovic threatened to close out on him, forcefully jamming the ball over the burly center's arm.

"That was surprising for me, too," Bryant said. "Normally, at the start of the game, it's kind of tough to do that. It takes a while to kind of loosen everything up despite the pregame warm-up. So, that was a little new for me."

"I felt sorry for young fella," Antawn Jamison said of Pekovic. "He had to try to block out Dwight and then try to contest a dunk on Kobe."

Bryant would get his aging legs up two more times -- once on a breakaway and again with a reverse off a Minnesota turnover on an inbound pass -- and even lucked out when he caught a missed attempt off the backboard and laid it in with ease.

He finished with 33 points in just 32 minutes, 22 of which came in a first half that saw him pull up time and time again on an unsuspecting Williams.

"You can see he's starting to get a little bit refreshed, legs starting to get back into him," said Jamison, who pitched in 17 points and 11 rebounds. "He's really starting to attack the rim of late. His jump shots are more fluent.

"I just think, maybe a week or two ago that wall was there. Now he's getting past that. He understands the importance of the rest of these games and his role on this team. He's just going out there pretty much leading by example."

Bryant spent the first half of his 17th NBA season doing everything he could trying to plug the holes in the sinking ship. By any means necessary, Bryant has said of late.

But just 23 games remain and the Lakers' playoff odds, despite a recent stretch of 12 wins over their past 17 games, are still not good enough for a postseason spot.

Go time, indeed.

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