By Steve Aschburner, NBA.com
Posted Mar 11 2011 12:21PM
Kobe Bryant spent much of Thursday evening trying, and mostly failing, to shoot the lights out in Miami's AmericanAirlines Arena.
Then he spent a chunk of the wee hours insisting that those lights be kept on.
At an hour when only the four-legged variety of gym rats should have been scurrying about the Miami Heat's home floor, shooting and shooting some more in the gaping arena bowl long emptied of fans. He had gone 8-of-21 in the Los Angeles Lakers' 94-88 loss to the Heat in a much-anticipated marquee game -- first 4-of-4, then 4-of-17. So after a postgame simmer and shower, Bryant donned sweats and went back on the court, determined to go a million-for-a-gazillion -- or something like that.
The Lakers' always-shooting guard kept a crew of Miami ball boys around to feed him the ball, who were sneaking peaks at their watches and mentally spending the large tips that Bryant surely would be giving them. This seemed to be less about practice than it was about therapy for the manner in which Bryant faltered down the stretch; he turned over the ball twice and jacked up two 3-pointers -- one from about five feet beyond the arc -- that missed.
Word filtered back to the folks in the media workroom who were chronicling the end of the Lakers' eight-game winning streak as well as Miami's five-game losing streak. Bryant quickly became a trending topic as Thursday turned into Friday among the assembled writers:
@HowardBeckNYT: Kobe Bryant just left the AmericanAirlines Arena court, at midnight. After shooting for an hour. Kobe in a nutshell.
Naturally, the Twitterati pounced:
@mdotbrown: Pau [Gasol] should've came out there and practiced standing by the basket.
@thefarmerjones: [Kobe's] going to be doing pilates on the tarmac of Miami Int'l airport at 4 a.m. Media welcome to watch. #kobe
@russbengtson: After he finishes lifting, Kobe's gonna go jut his lower jaw out in a mirror for a couple of hours
Finally, long after Bryant had stopped shooting (a moment for which Kobe critics often pine):
@EthanJSkolnick: It's clear, from listening to sports radio on ride home, that Kobe succeeded in changing conversation from Heat win to his own work ethic.
Or ego, which probably is as inextricable from Bryant as a great player and perennial Most Valuable Player candidate as that work ethic. After working up his second sweat of the night -- or first of the morning -- the Lakers' star said: "It's my job. This is what you're supposed to do if you're not feeling comfortable with something and you feel like you can tweak some things."
Most MVP candidates put in long hours. Few of them do so in such a dramatic, high-profile way, with crews still packing up from a TNT broadcast and writers available to rush into the tunnels for a glimpse of this mad, driven genius. Chalk that up, perhaps, to Bryant's Hollywood influences.
Fortunately, The Race didn't allow its conversation to be changed entirely by Bryant's Dracula schedule. It still keeps its pressing topics in proper order, 1 through 5, as the serious contenders for MVP look to have solidified into a starting five. And that number is a worthwhile cut-off, given that the actual MVP ballot offers only five slots for names. The rest here at the The Race are helpful to monitor rises and falls, but ultimately they are honorary spots.
Here's where the conversation stands at the moment:
Dropping out: Manu Ginobili (No. 8 last week), Rajon Rondo (No. 10).
Honorable mention: Carmelo Anthony, New York; Pau Gasol, L.A. Lakers; Chris Paul, New Orleans; Zach Randolph, Memphis; Amar'e Stoudemire, New York; Russell Westbrook, Oklahoma City.
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