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Kobe: Standing With Wilt and MJ

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Kobe has been amazing. The only guy who has scored 50+points in more consecutive games than Kobe is Wilt Chamberlain. It’s heady company, basically the answer to every NBA scoring trivia question is Wilt Chamberlain. Wilt did a lot of things that were amazing.

But not only has Kobe scored 175 total points the last three times he stepped on the court, he’s done it efficiently. Most players who score that much take and miss a lot of shots, getting their points through quantity not quality. Kobe, on the other hand, is shooting a very impressive 54%. He’s shooting 53.6% from three-point range.

And while many fans will never put Kobe and Michael Jordan on the same pedestal in their minds, it appears Phil Jackson has. Take it from the best Laker writer on the planet, Roland Lazenby:

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After Bryant scored 60 in a road win over the Memphis Grizzlies recently, Jackson told reporters, “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.” I interviewed Jackson many times during his years as coach of the Chicago Bulls. The “blood in the water” quote was the sort of commentary he frequently offered about the incomparable Michael Jordan.

In Bryant’s career with the Lakers, I can’t recall Jackson offering a truly Jordanesque quote about Bryant. Oh, Jackson has had plenty of nice things to say, some of them genuine.

But I perceive this quote as different. Kobe Bryant has finally achieved the status he has sought so long. He finally has neared the level of respect, even reverence, that Jackson accorded Jordan.

It has taken him a long time to earn that status. Fans still withhold from him the respect they gave to Jordan, the sense that Jordan was bullet-proof, that he could do no wrong in their eyes. Because of the criminal allegations in his past, because of the perception of his selfishness, Bryant may never be accorded that level of respect by the fans.

But there's no question this is a new day. Bryant has arrived at his moment, able to use his full arsenal truly for the first time. His three big scoring games in a row all resulted in Lakers wins. He is the man at last, the dominance he sought in his youthful vision.

While Kobe's streak soaks up the entire spotlight, it masks a big problem -- the Lakers have played terrible defense of late. Last night the Lakers allowed Memphis -- the worst team in the NBA -- to score 119. Minnesota and Portland, two teams not headed to the playoffs that Kobe scorched, also broke 100 easily. The Lakers have won three straight because the offense has bailed the defense out, or maybe it is more accurate to say Kobe has. Kobe has been a blast to watch, but the Lakers have just 13 games before the playoffs start to get the defense on track, or they are only going to play four games in the post season.

AP Photo by Alan Spearman