Kobe Bryant might be the most predictable man on Earth. He took the court knowing that Carmelo Anthony had just gone for 50 points against Miami, with a stat sheet thick with shots and little else. In L.A., Shaquille O'Neal's jersey was being retired at halftime. Phil Jackson was in the house. Was there even the slightest chance that Bryant, for a night, wasn't going to have one of his all-around, "good teammate" games?
The East is largely sorted out. The Heat have run away with the conference, and the Knicks are five games up in the Atlantic. LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Mario Chalmers again sat with "minor" injuries, and the game had the feel of an exhibition rather than a potential playoff preview. That doesn't make this any less impressive:
Anthony scored 50 points on an unfair 18-for-26 from the field in the Knicks win, including 7-for-10 from beyond the arc. Nearly everything was long-range or mid-range—his shot chart shows zero attempts from the middle or around the basket, completely out of character from his regular tendencies. There's a Carmelo who can beat you by driving to the rim and picking up fouls, and then there's this Carmelo.
Anthony did it all in just 40 minutes on the court, and maybe most impressively, did much of the damage with Shane Battier on him. Battier, still a world-class defender, picked up five fouls in a futile effort to make Anthony work for his shots.
“It might not be an opportune time to announce my candidacy for defensive player of the year,” joked Battier.
“I had the streamers and party favors ready to hand out to everybody but, as they say, timing is everything in life, so I’m going to shelve that campaign until next year.”
“Boy, he was a shot-maker tonight,” Erik Spoelstra said, and that's about all he was. Via J.E. Skeets, Anthony's line of 50 points, with two rebounds and two assists, was only the seventh such lopsided line in the NBA's modern era. It hasn't been done since 2007, when Kobe Bryant in gunner mode went for 53, 2, and 2, on 19-for-44 shooting.
Bryant has a selfless mode too, and it was a given that he was going to break it out against Dallas. Los Angeles needed a win and needed one bad, to move into a tie for the eighth and final playoff spot, and also keep the Mavs off their heels. (While Shaq's Laker jersey was raised to the rafters at halftime, Kobe stayed in the locker room. Joking with reporters, he said "I appreciate you guys trying to start some shit for old times' sake. I'll help you out and say, 'Aw, fuck him. I didn't want to go out there.'")
Under the eyes of an old teammate and an old coach with whom he frequent clashed, Bryant put up a triple-double. He had just 23 points in 47 minutes, but with Steve Nash sitting, he ran the offense and did the dirty work. He racked 11 assists, many to leading scorer Dwight Howard (I can make anyone great, he may have thought toward Shaq), and 11 boards. Four steals and a pair of blocks and a +20 on the night completed the all-around dismantling.
Kobe being Kobe, he told reporters, unprompted, that his back and hamstrings were hurting from playing so many minutes these past few weeks, nearly single-handedly keeping the Lakers afloat. Maybe he still needs to be a martyr from time to time, and maybe he finds his motivation in the strangest of places—Phil, Shaq, Melo—but he'll carry a team until it's dead, or he is.