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Perhaps you made the mistake of thinking the Kobe Bryant narrative effectively ended on a muggy night in Orlando five months ago. With a Most Valuable Player award, a scoring title and finally a championship without Shaquille O'Neal to go with the three they won together, it seemed there was nothing more to be said about him. On to the next story.
Um, have you checked the stats leaders? Notice the K. Bryant, LAL, at the top of the leading scorers' list?
He's come out firing, a 25.3 shots-per-game average that's on pace to put him over 2,000 field goal attempts for only the second time in his career. He is connecting at a 49 percent rate, better than any other season. And his 33.6 points per game rival the standard of 35.4 he set in 2005-06. Yes, it's possible that Kobe at age 31 is doing work as well as he's ever done it, rather than just quietly slipping into the next phase of his career.
What, exactly, could he be trying to prove when there's nothing left to prove?
"I don't really play for that," Bryant said. "I know Michael's speech [at the Hall of Fame], he played for a lot of those things. I don't. I'm already there. I don't need that stuff. It's icing on the cake, but my motor's already running. I just can't stop. [There's] not something that motivates me. It's just how I am."
It turns out that last season, when his scoring average dropped below 27 for the first time since 2004, was just a glitch, an aberration brought on by two years of playing in the NBA Finals interspersed by two summers playing for the USA national team.
"I didn't like doing it last year, but I understood that we were playing for the long haul, so it was something I had to do," Bryant said. "Last year I just couldn't, because of the long schedules that we've had ... it was like, 'OK, let me dial back a little bit.'"
Now he's turned the dial all the way to the right. He's gone for 40-plus three times already. The 28 points he scored against New Orleans on Sunday might not seem that mind-boggling unless you realize he scored 26 in the first half and played only five minutes in the fourth quarter because the Lakers were in the process of beating the Hornets by 16 points.
Some of this is attributable to the Lakers' lack of big men. Pau Gasol has yet to play this season because of a hamstring injury, and Andrew Bynum missed the past two games with an elbow injury. So Bryant is taking it upon himself to replace over 14 feet of players and almost 40 points per game of offense.
"Nothing surprises me anymore, so I'm honestly not surprised at all," Lakers coach Phil Jackson said of Bryant's early scoring outburst. "Well, some of it certainly is. But he's the kind of guy [where] it doesn't mater if things are going well like that. He's going to want the ball and make them have to come double-team him, make them play him ... he's been doing a good job."
These days he does most of his work in the post. The Lakers are spreading the floor well, and feeding him at the edges of the paint, allowing him to go to work with his back to the basket and shoot fallaway jumpers over defenders. All but four of his 21 shots on Sunday were within 19 feet.
"With the two big guys out, I heard Phil out there yelling, 'Go block to block' -- every time, every possession," said Hornets guard Devin Brown. In his first start of the season, Brown had the misfortune of guarding Bryant. "That's all he was doing. I told one of the coaches, 'I don't think he went above the free-throw line in the first half.' It didn't seem like it to me. So when he gets on that block, he's very aggressive."
If Bryant hasn't been finishing at the hoop as strongly as he used to, he's looking comfortable dropping in soft jumpers.
"Even when I was a kid, I migrated to the post," Bryant said. "It's not something unnatural to me, like I'm trying something new. I'm used to playing down there."
Just doing what comes naturally, forcing his way into the NBA conversation. He's a big story ... because he's the same old story.
"We're missing our defense and our ability to score," Paul said.
Oh, well, that pretty much covers it then. Just the basics of basketball. The Hornets are in the bottom half of the league in scoring offense (97.6 points per game) and defense (105.3 points per game). With a record of 2-5 following a 104-88 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday night, the Hornets have been spared a spot in the Southwest Division basement only by the grace of the 1-6 Memphis Grizzlies.
Players such as David West are speaking about the need for "adjustments," always a code word for coaching complaints, and coach Byron Scott is making adjustments to the starting lineup, adding Devin Brown to the backcourt alongside Paul for their game against the Lakers and promising to swap Peja Stojakovic for Julian Wright (whom Scott described as "scattered" right now) before the Hornets play the Clippers on Monday night.
"Rotations will probably be a little bit different, too," Scott said.
"Right now we're 15 individuals trying to become a team. Until we start getting to the point where we trust each other and the communication's out there with one another, we're going to struggle."
Paul is as good as anyone in the league at getting the ball to teammates, but they aren't able to keep up with him in transition and aren't doing anything when he dishes in the half court.
They miss the defensive presence of Tyson Chandler, who was traded to Charlotte for Emeka Okafor over the summer, and they miss the outside shooting that Stojakovic and Morris Peterson gave them two seasons ago but haven't been able to replicate.
"We're a different team," Paul said. "You can't compare us to the team two years ago, you can't compare us to last year. We can't try to play like the team we were two years ago. We're trying to figure it out.
"The losing is the issue ... I'm not OK with losing. That's the thing that irks me right now. I hate for somebody else to be able to say they beat me. And the way we're losing right now, we're not even close."
ESPN.com writers and TrueHoop Network bloggers chatted with fans and gave their in-game opinions throughout Sunday night's slate of games -- all in Daily Dime Live.
QUOTE OF THE NIGHT
"We're not a good basketball team right now. I've been saying that, but nobody's listening. We're totally predicated on shooting. We do not have any kind of defensive mindset, we don't have much toughness and we're not very smart. So, right now we're not a very good team."
-- Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy on his team's performance against the Thunder
With leading scorer Kevin Martin sidelined (wrist injury), Tyreke Evans scored 18 of his 23 points in the second quarter to lead the Kings to a 120-107 win against the Warriors.
One of the bright spots early in the season for the Warriors has been Anthony Morrow. Morrow, who signed with the Warriors after going undrafted out of Georgia Tech, is out to prove he's one of the best shooters in the NBA.
Morrow would spend hours before and after practice last season working on his shot, and it showed as he shot 47 percent from the arc during his rookie season. This past offseason he cut back on his shooting workouts to focus on other areas of his game, showing them off nicely in the Las Vegas Summer League, which he capped off with a 47-point performance.
Morrow came into camp this season with a solidified spot in the rotation, unlike his first season, during which his minutes fluctuated. His offseason work has been noticeable as he's been more willing to put the ball on the deck and finish.
Coach Don Nelson realizes the importance of getting Morrow the ball and has repeatedly said how vital it is for him to get his shots. Stephen Curry and Morrow have shown cohesion and chemistry on the court after playing together in the summer league.
Morrow should be at All-Star Weekend participating in the rookie/sophomore game as well as the 3-point shootout. In what looks to be a long season for Warriors fans, they can take solace in watching one of the best shooters in the NBA on a nightly basis.
To read more, check out Malek's TrueHoop Network blog, Warriors World.
It's strange to be on the other side of things.
Sunday night's game between the two clubs was the opposite. The Thunder walloped a short-handed Magic team 102-74, and I'm not sure it was that close. This time Howard was limited to 20 points and seven rebounds and didn't block a single shot. The Thunder swarmed Howard, frustrating the big man.
The normally dangerous Magic sharpshooters went just 3-for-16 on 3-pointers. Oklahoma City, on the other hand, went 9-for-16 from deep. The Magic missed 13 free throws and shot 37 percent from the field, while the Thunder shot 57 percent and outrebounded the Magic by 15.
It was a beatdown in every sense of the word.
And I know, I know. No Rashard Lewis, no Vince Carter. Only eight Magic players suited up. While good excuses, I don't think that makes up for 28 points. One team came completely ready to play, and it was the one wearing white.
I don't want to get ahead of myself, but it's clear this Thunder team is nothing like the one from last season. Not even like the team that was playing solid ball last April. These guys are hustling, helping, playing unselfishly and, best of all, playing awesome, inspired defense. When they're making shots, they can beat anybody. Seriously. Any-body. Sunday's romp is proof.
To read more, check out Young's TrueHoop Network blog, Daily Thunder.
Ben Wallace scored only two points on a pair of free throws, but he grabbed 16 rebounds in the Pistons' 88-81 win over the 76ers. It was the fourth time in Wallace's NBA career that he had at least 15 rebounds in a game in which failed to score a field goal. The only other active players with more than one such game are Reggie Evans (4) and Jeff Foster (2).• More from Elias Sports Bureau