if the Lakers don’t have enough problems.
An aging star. Young players trying to find their way in the league. A third consecutive season with decreasing win totals.
But sometimes the star doesn’t look so aged, the young ones do some sharp things and the final score shows the Lakers winning, not losing.
Bryant kept hammering away at the Nuggets’ players in the post, found the Lakers’ big men for three key assists in the second half and played exemplary defense against a reserve named Will Barton.
Don’t laugh. Barton decimated the Lakers for 18 points in the first quarter and 23 by halftime. He had two in the second half after Bryant picked him up.
The Lakers trailed by 21 at one point. They are now 5-23.
Bryant is probably thinking about reversing his retirement announcement after a pronounced uptick in his play the last two weeks.
â€œZero [chance],â€ he said. â€œNot an inkling.â€
He had five days to rest his sore right shoulder and didn’t do much physically because it was painful, he said. He did watch the new â€œStar Warsâ€ movie. He said it was â€œamazing.â€
Equally impressive has been his return from the statistical grave.
His overall accuracy lingered below 30% and his three-point shooting was around a subterranean 20%. In his last four games, though, he is averaging 25 points on 50.7% accuracy.
Bryant flew high for an offensive rebound in the first quarter, pump-faked twice and scored on a high-arc baseline shot. Then he posted up Jameer Nelson and beat him with a turnaround near the free-throw line.
In the third quarter, he backed down Barton on the right side and scored. And was that a double-team the Nuggets threw at him when he tried to post up Barton again? It was, indeed.
After his off-balance 16-footer rolled in with 32.2 seconds left, Nuggets forward Darrell Arthurcould only smile ruefully after going to the bench for the a timeout.
Interestingly, who was the first guy Bryant spoke to after the game? Barton. He went up and offered what seemed like encouraging words to the young Nuggets forward.
Jordan Clarkson added some youthful fire, offering up 19 points and eight rebounds, including one on a free throw he missed late in the game that drew praise from Bryant.
Not to be overlooked was a defense that shut down Denver in the second half after allowing 64 first-half points to a team without its leading scorer (Danilo Gallinari) and an exciting rookie (Emmanuel Mudiay). They were each out because of a sprained ankle.
There was another bothersome stat the Lakers ended, an inability to beat a Western Conference opponent. They had lost 17 in a row to West teams, but the Minnesota Timberwolves are now off the hook. The Lakers beat them last April.
Before the game, Lakers Coach Byron Scott offered a somber view of Bryant’s last season.
â€œWe wanted him to go out on top and have a chance to win another championship. The reality is that’s not going to happen,â€ he said. â€œWe are a team that’s trying to reload â€” I don’t like the word â€˜rebuild’ â€” and get back to where we’re used to being.â€
Sorry Scott, it’s still a rebuilding process. Painfully so.
But Bryant reloaded his own game Tuesday.
â€œI can still play a little bit,â€ he said with a wry smile.