Commentary

Kobe now serving it up hot and fresh

Originally Published: January 27, 2013
By J.A. Adande | ESPN.com

LOS ANGELES -- Watching the Los Angeles Lakers beat down the Utah Jazz on Friday and take down the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday is enough to make me believe a deal has been struck: The Laker community will be confrontational -- the way Kobe Bryant likes it -- and in return Bryant will share the ball the way everyone else has wanted.

So there was Bryant, snapping at Steve Nash for passing up a shot Friday night. Or Kobe with a look of disgust on his face when Metta World Peace was clogging his path by posting up on the right block Sunday afternoon. You know what else happened on a regular basis this weekend? Kobe Bryant dishing out 14 assists per game as if he were gunning for John Stockton's record, not Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's scoring crown.

There wasn't a contract drawn up by lawyers for everyone to sign. Not even so much as a handshake deal. But everyone seems to be happier after the Lakers' proved able to, in Bryant's uncouth terms, "finally beat a team that's worth a s---" with a 105-96 victory over the Thunder.

"There's been no discussion, but it's been great," Lakers guard Steve Nash said. "He's been making plays for everybody. No matter how we do this or how it looks, when he plays for his teammates, draws a crowd and makes the right read, we're a different team."

While Bryant's passing was the talk of the Lakers' locker room, the passer himself was more pleased with the no-nonsense atmosphere.

"We're doing a real good job of holding each other accountable," Bryant said. "That makes a big difference."

The best sequence that summarized both of the changes came in the fourth quarter, with the Lakers clinging to a one-point lead. Bryant, dribbling on the right side, saw World Peace in his way. Kobe made a face as if he'd just bitten an onion soaked in lemon juice and dismissively waved World Peace out to the corner.

"What the f--- are you doing?" Bryant later recounted his thoughts at that moment.

Friday, Bryant had used the same terminology to express his displeasure at Nash making an unnecessary extra pass. That night he also expounded on the current climate in Lakerland: "The culture right now is a confrontational one, which you want. You can't just sweep things under the rug all the time. They don't get better by doing it. You have to be able to confront things."

On Sunday, World Peace vacated the spot and left Bryant a lane to drive to the hoop. Bryant drove past Serge Ibaka, but rather than challenge one of the NBA's top shot-blockers Bryant found a cutting Earl Clark, who took the ball and slammed it home.

Kobe got things his way, and everyone else got a chance to shoot the ball. For what it's worth, the Lakers are 7-14 when he scores 30 points this season and 3-0 when he has 11 or more assists.

"When he distributes the ball like that, guys are ready to catch it," Lakers forward Pau Gasol said. "He sets everybody up and sets up such a good energy on offense and it carries over to the defensive end. It's worked great."

Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni's joy from looking at a box score with 29 assists and six players in double-digit scoring was tempered when his eyes caught the Lakers' record, which is still under .500 at 19-25. You also wonder if D'Antoni's happiness is diminished by the essential scrapping of his offensive philosophy to accommodate this bigger, slower team.

"We're a team that posts the ball," is how Bryant described the Lakers' newfound identity. "We play inside-out."

Does that sound like a typical Mike D'Antoni team to you? But the urgency of their situation has forced everyone to abandon his comfort zone. Nash has gone from directing the show to becoming a spot-up shooter (he made 6 of 11 shots in both of Kobe's 14-assist games). Pau Gasol is coming off the bench, but still scoring more than his season average. Dwight Howard had only seven field goal attempts (he did shoot 10 free throws).

"I think the key for us is to not look at the past and how we played in the past individually and say, 'Well, I had success doing it this way,'" Nash said. "Look at how you can get involved and impact with the way that we're playing."

The Lakers are still four games behind the Houston Rockets for the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference. Even though the Lakers aren't a playoff team yet, they finally have started to play like one. The ongoing question: Is it the fancy passing, or a passing fancy?