Saturday, June 6, 2009

Express News: Ever against Spurs, Kobe doin' work

By Buck Harvey - Buck Harvey

Spike Lee aimed 30 cameras at Kobe Bryant a year ago. In the background, playing the straight man in the film, were the Spurs.

Never has casting been more appropriate.

As the last NBA Finals of this decade begin tonight, the Spurs are in the background again. Kobe has a chance to cement the Lakers as the team of this decade and, if he does, the reason should be clear to anyone who remembers 2000.

Then Kobe looked the way he will look tonight.

The Lakers will win this championship. They have flaws, as the Rockets and Nuggets revealed, but they match up well with the Magic.

The Lakers have long defenders to stretch out on the Orlando 3-point shooters, and they have two 7-footers to stretch toward Dwight Howard. Lamar Odom will be a perfect counter for Rashard Lewis, Phil Jackson has experience on Stan Van Gundy and the Finals format will help the Lakers as it helps every team with the home-court advantage.

Then there's Kobe. Having played more NBA seasons, games and minutes than Tim Duncan, Kobe will still be able to take Mickael Pietrus where he wants to take him, then elevate over him.

Kobe was a physical marvel as a teenager, and not much has changed. Whereas each of the Spurs of this decade has risen and fallen, exchanging places on the graph of their primes, Bryant's knees and ankles have held a straight line.

His bio explains why. He skipped college, after all.

Still, he's only two years younger than Duncan, with more NBA wear. Wait a few years to see if LeBron James is able to do the same. Will his 250-pound body give in to gravity?

Kobe's body still defies gravity, but it won't hold up forever. He has put in a lot of miles for someone who will be 31 in August, and a warning of that came against Denver. Then Kobe did something no one can remember. He admitted he was fatigued.

Wednesday, in Los Angeles, he went the other way. Then he told the press, “I can play at a high level for another six years at least,” and he has reasons for wanting to. His sight is on Michael Jordan and his six rings.

But No. 4 would have significance, too, especially for his franchise. Both the Lakers and Spurs have three titles in this decade, and no other Western Conference team has even one.

Maybe that's why Lee chose a late-season Spurs-Lakers game in 2008 for “Kobe Doin' Work.” Lee had gotten the idea from a film about the French soccer star, Zinedine Zidane.

So the 30 cameras were set up, and at times Kobe acted as if he knew where each one was. At times he came across as he often does with the media — as if even he's not sure what is real and what is phony.

At times he was smart, with a deep understanding of the game. And at times he was funny. Kobe said waiting for Duncan to shoot a free throw “is like being at the longest stoplight in the world.”

The Lakers routed the Spurs that day, with Kobe sitting the entire fourth quarter. Fittingly, Manu Ginobili didn't play because of an injury.

The film limped, too, with critics panning “Kobe Doin' Work” as borin'. For once, no one blamed the Spurs.

Kobe recovered. He beat the Spurs in the Western Conference finals last season, and a year later he's back in the same place with a chance to win his fourth title this decade.

He's still jumping, still limber, still performing as if this were 2000. Only his straight man seems to get older.

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