The summer tentpole movies are approaching. Usually they are big budget affairs that often involve a superhero who is faced with staggering obstacles and preposterous levels of adversity.
First up, Kobe Bryant and his Los Angeles Lakers.
That's right, Kobe might as well don a body leotard, a cape and a mask, because what he will be asked to do in the upcoming NBA playoffs is not much different than the kinds of tasks presented to The Avengers, Batman, Spider-Man and others of that colorful ilk. In his case, he'll have to transform the Lakers into a team capable of winning a championship.
It seems unlikely that he’ll be able to pull a Superman, reverse the Earth's rotation, turn back time, and change these Lakers into one of their previous championship teams, because that might mean he'd have to try to get along with Shaq again.
But the challenge remains Herculean. Kobe will have to stoke the fire under Andrew Bynum, but make sure he doesn't go postal like Metta World Peace. He'll have to keep MWP peaceful — assuming he gets to play again this season (he's suspended for the first six games of the playoffs). He'll have to remind Pau Gasol that you don't have to be mean, but you do have to be tough. He'll have to help Ramon Sessions raise his game under pressure; tell Steve Blake to keep shooting; encourage young guys like Jordan Hill and Devin Ebanks to seize their postseason moments; and work serenely with coach Mike Brown.
NBA finals: Heat def. Thunder 4-1
Winderman: LeBron James has been a prodigy, superstar and villain. And now he's champion. The journey has left the league and Finals MVP humbled and happy for those closest to him.
On Sunday, the Lakers outlasted the Oklahoma City Thunder at Staples Center in double overtime. Kobe was stupendous down the stretch, which made up for his struggles earlier, and for the fact that World Peace got tossed and later suspended for a thoughtless elbow to James Harden's head.
Yet it didn't appear as if Bryant discovered the long-term solution to the threat of the Thunder, and other young and athletic clubs like it. It only felt as though Bryant was holding up a bridge long enough for his teammates to get across it before he let it go. He'll have to perform larger and more astonishing feats from here on out.
Because he has won five championships and lusts for a sixth, it's understandable that Bryant strains to look at his current situation with optimism. He knows winning it all is technically possible. He realizes that other teams in the West like the Thunder and Spurs, and maybe the Grizzlies and Clippers, might be better positioned because they're eager, confident and hungry. But he still has the moxie of a gifted upstart with no limits to his ambitions.
First and foremost, Bryant is still the best pressure scorer in the NBA. His shooting percentage may make you cover your eyes in horror some nights, but he's also capable of nailing giant shots when his team needs them. He bears down in the final minutes of games, concentrates better, becomes more savagely competitive, and keeps his cool. That Kobe Bryant has not lost a step.
He needs help at the feeble age of 33, and he knows it. During a recent seven-game absence from the lineup because of a shin injury, he was able to examine how his teammates took on extra workloads in his absence. World Peace and Bynum were especially forceful, yet everybody seemed to pitch in. It allowed the Lakers to grow as a team, and it gave Kobe a fresh perspective.
PBT: San Antonio raced out to a 25-point lead at home, pushed back on Memphis’ big third-quarter run, shut down Zach Randolph and cruised to a 105-83 win.
PBT: The Grizzlies haven't faced a team this postseason that can execute its system to the level that the Spurs can. The results were obvious in the series opener.
Video: NBA from NBC Sports
Grizzlies ready for 'running' Spurs
DPS: Lionel Hollins tells us how he plans to play against the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference finals.
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