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Bryant slowly regaining his health

Marc J. Spears
Yahoo Sports

LOS ANGELES – Kobe Bryant(notes) has listened the past few weeks as his critics have said he’s on the downward slide, that he’s too old, that he’s physically worn down. And after totaling 30 points, eight assists, five rebounds and three blocks during a 111-103 victory over the Utah Jazz to give the Lakers a 2-0 lead in the Western Conference semifinals, Bryant barked back to his skeptics.

“Stupid. They’re stupid,” Bryant told Yahoo! Sports. “It’s an injury. They don’t know me very well. They think I’m done. I just hear it. I just hear it. I find it amusing. It’s entertaining.”

Bothered by tired legs and an injured right index finger, Bryant played in only three regular-season games in April. Not until he had three days off between Games 4 and 5 of the Lakers’ first-round series against the Oklahoma City Thunder did Bryant begin to feel like he was getting his legs back.

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(Getty Images)
Career playoff points leaders

Kobe Bryant scored 30 against the Jazz on Tuesday to overtake Julius Erving in career NBA/ABA playoff points.

Rk. Player Pts.
1 Michael Jordan 5987
2 Kareem Abdul-Jabbar 5762
3 Shaquille O'Neal 5187
4 Karl Malone 4761
5 Kobe Bryant 4583
6 Julius Erving 4580
7 Jerry West 4457
8 Larry Bird 3897
9 Tim Duncan 3853
10 John Havlicek 3776
Note: Stats as of May 4, 2009

Over the past three playoff games, Bryant appears to be returning to his old self. After Game 2 against Utah, he said he hasn’t felt this good since he returned from an ankle injury at Memphis on Feb. 23.

"It’s just work,” Bryant said. “Constant. I’ve been doing it for a while, so you already know what you need to do, and at this point it’s about getting healthy. You have an injury. You have to take care of it and get as healthy as you can because that is really what the limitation is.

“It’s been an uphill battle for a while. But I got through it.”

While Bryant scored 39 points in Game 2 against Oklahoma City, Tuesday’s performance against Utah seemed to be his best of the postseason.

Not only did Bryant score, he got his teammates involved by distributing eight assists and rebounding well. He even showed fresh legs by winning a jump ball. He made 11 trips to the free-throw line. And if anyone still doubted his legs, he emphatically threw down a reverse dunk on Utah swingman C.J. Miles(notes) late in the game.

“Those are playoff legs,” Miles said. “Robert Horry used to say that all the time. He used to say there is a difference between regular-season legs and playoff legs.”

The Jazz have been throwing Miles, Wesley Matthews(notes) and double-teams on Bryant, and nothing has worked so far. Utah is hoping the return of forward Andrei Kirilenko(notes) from a calf injury in Game 3 will help. Despite Bryant’s physical limitations, Miles isn’t surprised to see him back to his All-Star form.

“He seemed fine in both games to me,” Miles said. “He’s definitely aggressive. He’s being aggressive to score more. He missed some jump shots today, which is the difference between [Game 1] and this game. I think we made him take more jump shots this game then we made him take last game. He looks fine to me.

“You try to stay in front of him to make the shots tough. He’s going to make shots. He gets too many looks, too many plays run for him and he’s too good. I’m just trying to get in his way a little bit and not let him get 50. Not let him get 81.”

If there was a knock on Bryant offensively, it was his seven turnovers. Pau Gasol(notes) also had six turnovers among his 22 points and 15 rebounds. And while Bryant and the Lakers have held serve during two home games, they know it will take a lot more to win the next two in Utah.

“We have to play better,” Bryant said. “We have to perform better. Pau and I can’t turn the ball over as much as we did.”

Bryant said he’s not quite back all the way physically, which has to worry Utah. To make matters worse for the Jazz, there are three days off between Games 2 and Game 3. That’s three more days for Bryant to rest his legs, three more days for Bryant to laugh at his skeptics.

“The talk is really just entertaining. I sit back. I watch. I listen. People are dumb. …It’s almost comical.”

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