Then he let his Los Angeles Lakers teammates join in all the fun.
Bryant put up 19 points in the opening period on his way to finishing with 30, and the Lakers ran their offense so well there was no need for the newly acquired Pau Gasol to don a uniform in a 103-91 victory over the Wizards.
“Just taking what they were going to give me,” said Bryant, an efficient 10-for-15 on field goals.
Gasol, the 7-foot Spaniard who came over from the Memphis Grizzlies in a trade Friday, sat on the sideline in a pinstriped suit jacket, listening to tips on the Lakers’ triangle offense from assistant coach Brian Shaw.
The 2002 NBA Rookie of the Year’s new teammates put on quite a clinic, too, repeatedly making the extra pass to find wide-open looks. The Lakers compiled 27 assists on 41 field goals, with Vladimir Radmanovic scoring 15 points, Lamar Odom 14, and Ronny Turiaf 13.
Another measure of how well the visitors played: Nine Lakers scored in the second quarter.
“We’ve grown a lot together. And we understand how to play with one another,” Bryant said. “That’s the big thing—the chemistry. Knowing where guys are.”
Asked whether he’d like to see the Lakers make another move before the trade deadline, he said: “I’m letting (general manager) Mitch (Kupchak) handle that stuff. I gave up playing GM in the summer.”
His every move greeted by a mix of boos and cheers—even some “M-V-P!” chants—from the sellout crowd of 20,173, Bryant gave the Wizards fits whenever he was on the floor.
Leave it to Wizards rookie Nick Young, who grew up in California as a Lakers and Bryant fan, to sum things up: “He’s just better in person.”
Young, a reserve, tried guarding Bryant some, and wound up with three fouls before halftime. That, at least, was better than the player chiefly assigned to guard Bryant, DeShawn Stevenson. He was sitting down, a black T-shirt over his jersey, with three fouls, only 6 1/2 minutes into the game.
“He’s going to get calls,” Stevenson said. “Two of them, I don’t think that was a foul, but that’s the way it is when you’re guarding a guy like that.”
Caron Butler—back after missing three games with a hip injury—also tried to defend Bryant, with similar results. On one sequence, Butler was spun around on Bryant’s twisting baseline drive for a layup. On another, Bryant made a 3-pointer over the outstretched hand of his former teammate.
Add it up, and Bryant helped Los Angeles build a 30-15 lead after one quarter—or, put another way: Kobe 19, Wizards 15.
Bryant had 25 points by halftime, when the Lakers were up 63-41—the most points allowed by Washington in a first half this season. Los Angeles made 66 percent of its shots in the half, while limiting Washington to only 36 percent.
“He took us out of the game,” Stevenson said. “We were passive. We weren’t trying to attack. That’s not like us.”
Wizards coach Eddie Jordan noticed that, too.
And he was critical of his team, which has lost three games in a row.
“We didn’t play as a group as well as we need to play to beat a team like the Lakers. Or anybody. We don’t win this game against anybody tonight,” Jordan said. “We had bailouts, we had short cuts and not enough passion from everybody and not enough concentration from everybody.”
Butler scored 15 points, while Washington’s other All-Star selection, Antawn Jamison, led the team with 21 points and 11 rebounds. … Gasol shot before the game but did not suit up. “We want him to practice first,” Lakers coach Phil Jackson said. … Butler’s free-throw streak ended after an NBA season-best 73 consecutive makes; he missed one with 17.5 seconds left in the third quarter.