Kobe's Scoring Streak: 50 is the new... 50, Unless it's 60
If you're the Lakers, life begins at 50.
To review: the Lakers were getting Smushed, having lost 7 in a row, stinking it up from January all the way through the Ides of March, sinking faster than a 290-pound rock (more on Kwame Brown later) before Kobe Bryant decided to stop facilitating and start Kobe-ing.
Starting on March 16 against Portland, in a display of athletic genius even most Kobe haters had to grudgingly concede was pretty damn great, consecutive scoring games of 65, 50, 60, 50 and, finally, a dud of 43, resulted in five straight victories--not coincidentally, the Lakers' first five-game win streak of their odd season.
Now for the misconception: Kobe did NOT start jacking up jumpers and channeling Wilt Chamberlain to hog the ball, or to prove how good he is, or to selfishly shine the spotlight on Kobe. Heck, Kobe makes the SportsCenter highlights just by remembering to show up.
No, he binged on points like a college kid on spring break binges on beer for no less noble a reason than to save the Lakers' season.
And with help from the return of selfless teammates Lamar Odom and Luke Walton, save it he has, even giving Laker fans hope that they'll somehow match up well enough against the Spurs in the first round to give San Antonio fits-- or at least a good scare.
I give Kobe lots of credit for finding at least a temporary solution to a gnarly situation, thereby saving de facto son in law Phil Jackson from having to explain to poppa Jerry Buss why his famous franchise was going down in flames, their $10 million a year head coach notwithstanding.
Now instead of losing to Memphis and New Orleans and the DeVry Institute, the Lakers are beating them, if mostly just barely.
But at the same time, it's also troubling to watch any Jackson team resort to a style best described as Phoenix Suns Lite: Which is, to play no 'D' at all while simply having Kobe and company try to pump in more points than the opposition.
You can bet this is not how Dr. Phil wants to play it; a coach of his pedigree should be embarrassed to play this way, like it's summer league, first team to 120 wins.
But if Kobe turning into a human video game is the only way to win, it is quite entertaining, a big kick for fans, and it'll have to do as a style for now until the Lakers make their run at Kevin Garnett this summer.
The fun, featured matchup at Saturday's Final 4 raises the fair question: If Florida has the same players as last year, and UCLA has mostly the same players as last year, then why should the result be any different than the Gators' 73-57 beatdown of the Bruins in Indianapolis in the championship game a year ago?
Why should anyone believe UCLA has any chance to making alligator shoes out of Florida?
Why should anyone think it'll be Florida needing the Gator-Aid?
Here's why: UCLA's hard-hat defense.
The Bruins' play with a mean blue-collar attitude that's close to felonious. You go to the hole, there'll be TWO calls: one from an official, the other to 911.
Their vicious double teaming on the box, along with thier corner and half-court traps, create the impression there are 7 or 8 blue shirts on the floor, not 5.
I haven't seen this kind of swarming since "Arachnaphobia."
In a city as superficial and entertainment driven as Los Angeles, it's weird to watch a team that disdains glamour the way the Bruins do. It may say "UCLA" on their jerseys, with all the history and tradition the name implies, but Ben's boys play like angry dockworkers.
Not only have Bruin players successfully adopted Ben Howland's lunchpail style, with nearly perfect defensive precision, they've bought in with all their hearts.
If you don't believe me, ask Weber State, Indiana, Pitt and Kansas. Between them they averaged exactly 50.2 points per game in the West Regionals. 50 in today's era when everyone's 3-point happy? That is a very crazy stat indeed.
50? That's 3 FEWER points than Kobe averaged by himself during roughly that same time period.
Prediction, incredible as it may seem: UCLA 62, Florida 56.
Ted Green is the KTLA Prime Sports Senior Sports Producer.