Posted Jan 19 2012 10:13AM
In a quiet moment early in the season, with few others around but with the entire world watching, Kobe Bryant extended his right arm and demonstrated a new shooting motion.
The wrist would barely cock in what should be, and what used to be, a fluid release. And the follow through -- forget it. No such thing.
And then he went on a scoring tear.
Bryant, who is averaging 30.8 points a game and hitting 45.6 percent of his shots, is in the midst of one of the most significant regular-season stretches of his career. That's saying something given his career. His body isn't disintegrating under the weight of advancing age and mounting injuries, despite all the predictions to the contrary after the early playoff elimination last season. So far, there's been no Lakers fade to black.
There is just a response, and he loves to respond. Bryant, like many blood-thirsty athletes, will invent competition if that's what it takes to stay motivated, creating a rivalry with the Suns of 2012 simply because he cherished beating the Phoenix team many seasons ago. He loves getting a chance to silence a boisterous road crowd, knows all about the slights of where reporters rank him among the best players in the game and wants to show skeptics they can't push him out of the game so easily.
"They have to deal with me for a couple more years," Bryant said.
What for many would be simply clinging to greatness in the twilight of a career is another competition for Bryant. This is personal to him.
"I always have a chip on my shoulder," he said.
"Is that a good thing?"
"It got me five championships," Bryant shot back. "It can't be bad."
Medical science is another opponent. The right knee was a problem last season, forcing him to sit most practices, although none of the 92 regular-season or playoff games. He went to Germany for Orthokine therapy, a procedure in which, according to Orthokine.com, "uses individual autologous proteins derived from the patient's blood." That blood is then put into a centrifuge to separate out certain proteins and then injected into the problem joint.
By early in the season, Bryant was saying the problem was close to, if not completely, solved. He had a spring in his step, whether that was from the treatment -- which is not approved in the United States by the Food and Drug Administration -- or the long layoff from after a second-round playoffs elimination and the following five-month lockout.
But, then there was the wrist.
He tore a ligament in the preseason opener and found that it affected his ball handling. Then he fell on it in the first game of the regular season, and "it hurt for sure."
Bryant told ESPN.com he was looking into someone coming to Los Angeles to perform the Orthokine therapy he had in Germany, FDA-approved or not. He might have to look elsewhere -- some doctors said the treatment won't necessarily be an option for his wrist.
"It sounds like a separate and unrelated problem," said Dr. David R. McAllister, the chief of sports medicine and a professor at UCLA's David Geffen School of Medicine. "A ligament injury in the wrist is not the same as a cartilage injury in his knee."
As for the procedure, McAllister said, "My understanding, from what I know about it, it's hard for me to believe this is dangerous" because it is not approved by the FDA. The Orthokine backers simply may not have chosen to go through what can be a costly and lengthy process to be cleared in the United States.
Either way, Bryant is searching for solutions for the wrist, even as he said there are signs of improvement. He has played all 15 games and is averaging 37.7 minutes a game, his most since 2009-10. It is a heavy and risky early workload for someone who has a history of knee problems and who has been hit on the wrist without serious repercussions. Those are signs.
So are these:
Forty-eight points against the Suns on Jan. 10.
Forty against the Jazz the next night.
Forty-two points against the Cavaliers on Jan. 13.
Forty-two against the Clippers the next night.
"I scored back-to-back 40s with a (bleeped)-up wrist," Bryant told reporters after the Utah game, at the mid-point of the streak. "What does it matter if it's still (bleeped)-up in the playoffs?"
Shooting problems? Actually shooting is never a problem, but his percentage is slightly better than last season (45.1) and also ahead of his career success rate (45.4).
So much for that opponent.
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