Updated: March 23, 2007, 11:53 AM ET

Kobe madness: No. 24 as Mac

No, folks: Kobe Bryant has not elbowed his way back into the MVP race.

Not even with his second 60-point detonation in less than a week.

But, yes: The Los Angeles Lakers have cemented their strategy for the rest of their season.

Pray for rage.

Find a way, in other words, to keep the game's greatest singular talent flat-out fuming.

Kobe has been openly angry for about a week. He's even been telling us how fed up he is, first because so many talking heads were calling him "a dirty player," then because of rumblings out of Austin, Texas, that he's been calling Kevin Durant on Nike's behalf.

The real volume, though, is in the point totals.

Sixty-five against Portland.

Fifty against Minnesota.

Sixty more Thursday night in a 121-119 triumph over the hapless Memphis Grizzlies.

I haven't seen a guy play this well when he's mad since John McEnroe went 82-3 in the 1984 tennis season.

Most of all, obviously, Kobe was outraged by the possibility that the injury-ravaged Lakers were slipping all the way out of the playoffs from their 30-19 perch. They had dropped seven straight games and 11 of 14 before a seething Bryant decided last Friday, with Phil Jackson's encouragement and even with Lamar Odom and Luke Walton coming back, that it's time to start scoring.

I said so Sunday after Bryant's mere 50 points against the Wolves and don't see how anyone can dispute it now: That supposed "witch hunt" by the league office against Bryant's elbows, as the Zenmeister termed it, actually wound up helping this reeling team.

As steamed as Jackson is about the increasing scrutiny Bryant's been getting, not even he can dispute that day after day of national discussion and dissection about Kobe's elbows, intentions and suspensions pushed No. 24 into a state where he was going to A) end that skid by himself if necessary and B) make sure we'd have something else Kobe-related to obsess about.

Don't forget how desperate they were before this Kobe Madness started. The Lakers looked so bad in the two weeks prior to this scoring jag, Jackson was moved to announce that "Jesus Christ could come back and we still wouldn't have a chance."

They needed this Kobe.

No one's about to say to that the Lakers are all the way fixed, since none of these three gems came against playoff-bound opposition ... and since they only managed to beat the defenseless Grizz by two points on a night when Bryant was so good that he didn't have to force shots to score 60.

I likewise feel safe saying that not even two or three more 60-pointers from Bryant in L.A.'s final 14 games can turn the two-man MVP derby between Dirk Nowitzki and Steve Nash into a three-sided argument. The MVP trophy, remember, is meant to celebrate the best individual season. Bryant's isn't up there if the Lakers are just four games over .500.

Then again, consider where they were before Kobe erupted: 33-32 ... and panicking.

Now look.

Look at ESPNEWS, where it makes my evening to see Bryant bogarting his way into the BREAKING NEWS box in the bottom right corner on a Sweet 16 night in the NCAAs.

Just when you thought you had seen it all from Bryant -- if you allow me to repeat another line from Sunday's fawning tribute -- he shifts the focus from his elbows to that scorching hand in an instant.

When he's mad, turns out he's McEnroe bad.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for ESPN.com. To e-mail him, click here.

Dimes Past: 13 | 14 | 15 | 16 | 17-18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22


Encore!
Kobe
Joe Murphy/Getty Images
Kobe Bryant leaves the floor after beating Memphis. After three 50-plus games, his next act is scheduled for Friday in New Orleans.



The Coaching Hot Seat
LV

(Editor's Note: Chris Sheridan is handicapping the odds for next coach to be fired. Here's his take on Sonics coach Bob Hill.)

His contract expires June 30, which means owner Clay Bennett can avoid the word "fired" when he issues a news release sometime after the season explaining how Hill "will not be retained."

Interestingly, the Sonics keep track of games they lost but could have won, as well as games they won but could have lost. In most seasons, they usually see something approaching a 50-50 split, but this season they've lost 22 games they could have won and won just nine they could have lost.

With the team's future in Seattle very much up in the air, the move that makes the most sense is handing the coaching reins to Lenny Wilkens for a season, then deciding a year from now whether to replace Rick Sund in the front office once everyone knows whether the team will be leaving Seattle. There is lots of chatter out there that Bennett will target Spurs general manager R.C. Buford if he axes Sund. ODDS: 3-1

See full Chris Sheridan story



Daily Dish: Dudley Does Right
dish

Boston College senior and ACC Player of the Year Jared Dudley dishes with Chad on preparing for the NBA Draft now that the season's over.

He plans on attending the Orlando pre-draft camp.

Daily Dish: Agent selection process


Records At A Glance



The Fifties Generation

Kobe joins Baylor, Wilt and MJ scoring club


Hook Brings You Back
Devin Harris
AP Photo/Tony Dejak
Yao Ming, shooting here over Chris Webber, scored 27 points, grabbed seven rebounds and made a key block in the final minute as the Rockets hung on for a 91-85 victory over the Pistons.



Extreme Behavior
Kobe Bryant

Thursday's Best
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant: His Lakers needed the 60 points in a 121-119 win over the Grizzlies. That's three straight wins, three straight Kobe games of at least 50. Only Elgin Baylor, Wilt Chamberlain and Michael Jordan have done it before.

Hedo Turkoglu

Thursday's Worst:
Knicks guard Stephon Marbury: When you miss 16 shots, that's not good. So 6-for-22 was not the best thing for the Knicks in a 92-86 home loss to the Blazers. Teammate Nate Robinson took eight fewer shots but scored 14 more points.

Quote of the Day
"At one point, we got the offensive rebound and [had] a whole new 24-second [shot clock] left. Lamar [Odom] gave the ball right back to him and Kobe went right back at them. He just smells blood in the water and he's going to go after you."
-- Lakers coach Phil Jackson, after Kobe Bryant's 60-point night.

Complete line score for every player

Playoff matchups if season ended now

Chad Ford's Lottery + Mock Draft

-- Andrew Ayres



Hornets Eye Peja Return
Peja Stojakovic

There's a chance Peja Stojakovic could be back in uniform as soon as this weekend.

The biggest free-agent signing in Hornets history completed his first five-on-five practice Thursday since undergoing back surgery in November.

If Stojakovic comes through Saturday's practice with no setbacks -- after looking good in his first workout, by all accounts -- he'll be a candidate for activation either for Sunday's home date with Houston or Tuesday's home game against Dallas.

See complete Marc Stein blog




Early Return Not Good For Lee
Lee

It was not exactly Willis Reed, but Knicks forward David Lee unexpectedly limped onto the court Thursday night in the first quarter at Madison Square Garden.

Nine days after the Knicks announced that they expected Lee to miss two-to-four more weeks because of a stress reaction injury to his right leg, Lee entered the Knicks' 92-86 loss to the Blazers with 3:10 remaining in the opening quarter.

"I told you that I would be back as soon as possible and this is as soon as possible," said Lee, a Sixth Man of the Year candidate .

Lee finished with no points and five rebounds in 10 minutes. He ended up 0-for-4 from the floor and the Knicks were flat.

They are 30-38 and a half-game out of the eighth playoff spot. They still have injury problems as Quentin Richardson's bad back continues to force him to join Jamal Crawford on the sidelines. Richardson's back is so bad he was not expected to make the trip to Cleveland for Friday night's game against the Cavaliers.

Lee said he is hopeful he can play against the Cavs.

-- Andrew Marchand at Madison Square Garden



Next For Pacers Housecleaning: Tinsley
LV

Brent (St. Louis): Chad, I'm depressed about my Pacers. I'm not sure which is worse, the team's play or the moves made by the usually solid front office. Has the sky fallen on Indy?

Chad Ford: It's a mess right now, but I think they know it and are trying to fix it. It's not easy because they had so many unmovable pieces that they had to get off the team. It looks like the Pacers lost their midseason deal with the Warriors, but they had to get Stephen Jackson out of there.

Now the guy they need to dump is Jamaal Tinsley. My guess is they'll do it this summer, use their draft pick on a young point guard and probably even shop Jermaine O'Neal a bit to see if they can get back a few solid young players in return. They do have some talent, but it's pretty ugly right now.

See complete Chad Ford chat

 

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