After Kevin Durant poured in an efficient 32 points against the Denver Nuggets on Wednesday night, Kobe Bryant now needs a big game against the Sacramento Kings in order to win his third scoring title.
Although Kobe won't admit that he's chasing the scoring title, anyone who has ever watched Kobe play knows that Mr. Bryant knows exactly how many points he will need in order to get the title. Kobe is an NBA history buff and he appreciates the numbers and history of the game. As it stands, that number is 38.
Kevin Durant provided some major intrigue regarding the scoring title in just this past week. Kobe held the title all season up until the end of the OKC game this past Sunday, the Lakers 65th game of the season. There are only 66 games this year! However, in OKC's 64th game of the season, Durant met Kobe in a classic double overtime thriller and he scored 35, utilizing a high volume of shots, with just 11 makes on 34 attempts. Durant's total put him ahead of Kobe by less than a tenth of a point. Durant followed up the Lakers game with 32 points apiece against the Kings and the Nuggets to close out his season. Durant sits exactly at 28.03 points per game.
This past Saturday, Kobe underplayed the significance of the scoring title, stating, "[It's] not very important, San Antonio was playing me single coverage yesterday, if it was important I would have gone for 50." I only believe about half of that statement. Yes, Kobe can drop 50 about anytime he wants, but the Spurs game was Kobe's first game back after a seven game layoff due to a shin injury. It was also the third meeting between the Lakers and the Spurs in a span of nine days. Kobe missed the first two games of the series due to his injury. At that point in the season, Kobe still led the league in points per game and it was more important for the team to find some success against the Spurs. Following Andrew Bynum's monster game one of the series, the Spurs blew out the Lakers in game two. That third game was more about finding cohesion, integrating Kobe back into the flow of the game, and trying to find some success after a disappointing game two. Unfortunately, the Lakers stunk up the joint with some horrible defense, and once again they were stomped, losing 97-121. Kobe attempted 12 shots in the game, hitting 7, for 18 points, and he only played 30 minutes. So for Kobe to provide that quote, it tends to ring a bit hollow in context to the situation at hand. As a whole, the Lakers were focused on winning against a likely foe in the playoffs.
Fast forward to this Thursday, and Kobe's previous understatement will probably be retracted. Kobe needs 38 points to become the second oldest scoring champion ever. In fact, only two previous players have won the scoring title past the age of 30, Jerry West at 31, and Michael Jordan at 32, 33, and 34. Not to knock Michael's performance, but he had a nice two years away from basketball to recharge his body and come back to dominate.
Obviously, stepping away for two years and coming back to resume dominance is impressive, but Kobe will have the chance to do this in his sixteenth consecutive season. The grind of basketball is ridiculous, especially during this truncated season. At this point, Kobe has 58,706 minutes under his belt, including the playoffs. Basketball is a young man's game, but Kobe is still going strong. Kevin Durant has won the last two scoring titles, but I strongly believe that Kobe is going to gun for his third career scoring title. With all the talk of how Kobe was getting old following the Lakers' early dismissal from the playoffs last year, it would be impressive to see Kobe win the scoring title.
So the question becomes, will Kobe gun for it? Gunning for a scoring title, especially when Kobe is the guy doing it, will carry a negative stigma. Kobe has always been labeled as selfish, and this game could be another example for his detractors. However, gunning for a scoring title has always been a part of the game. "The Admiral," David Robinson, famously dropped 71 points against the Clippers in the final game of the 93-94 season to surpass Shaquille O'Neal for the scoring title. The closest scoring title ever occurred in the 77-78 season. David Thompson scored 73 points in the final game of the season to take the lead in the scoring race. 73 points! However, George "The Iceman" Gervin answered Thompson's 73 with 63 of his own. Gervin won the title, edging out Thompson, 27.21 to 27.15. Even more interesting is that both Gervin and Thompson's teams ended up losing their respective games.
Kobe has 38 or more seven times this season. Five of those games came early in the season as the Lakers struggled offensively while they adjusted to Mike Brown. Kobe dropped 40+ in four straight games from January 10th to January 14th, impressively doing so while playing four games in five nights. Since that span Kobe has only hit 38+ twice. However, one of those games came against his upcoming opponent. Kobe hung 38 on the Kings on March 2nd. Kobe's last explosion came against the Warriors as he hit 40 on April 1st.
I believe that Kobe should go out and take the scoring title. He held it all season and he deserves it. The Lakers have locked up the 3 seed and have nothing to lose. While resting Kobe may be a wise option, especially if the Lakers get stuck playing Saturday instead of Sunday, historical greatness should trump a little bit of rest. Kobe has only played two games since his injury, and accumulating a big point total would send a nice message to the league and forthcoming opponents. In terms of history, any elite stat that Kobe accumulates will enhance his legacy. Why not take a shot at enhancing his legacy? When it comes down to it, Kobe is going to be considered a top ten NBA player of all-time. Padding the resume to possibly catapult into the top five, top three, or even greatest of all-time stratosphere should not be taken lightly. The greats can only be nitpicked in terms of criticism, why not make it a little harder for critics to nitpick? Possibly even more impressive, in terms of the present day, Kobe can send a message to the young ballers out there that he is still a man to be reckoned with.
It wouldn't surprise me if Kobe came out and racked up 10 assists instead of forcing up jumpers. Kobe has had moments in his career where he has purposefully passed the ball, possibly even overpassed the ball. The Kings may double Kobe on every possession and make him hit the open man. Whatever the case, it will be exciting.
Go win that scoring title Kobe. You're not ready to pass the torch, and you know it.
Get more great NBA analysis over at Blog is my Medium, Sport is My Message.