January 16, 2009
As we get set for tonight's rematch between the Magic and the Lakers tonight, I am reminded of the scene when these two teams met in Orlando a few weeks ago. The Magic squeaked out an impressive 106-103 victory, despite the fact that Kobe went off for 41 points.
In the L.A. locker room, the mood was understandably subdued. As the players filed out a media horde waited for the reigning MVP to give his thoughts on the game. When Bryant finally appeared he seemed to be in relatively good spirits, which surprised me considering the way the game had unfolded.
It was as if Kobe knew something that the rest of us didn't.
My guess is that despite the loss, he knew the Lakers would be able to bounce back ... which they have. Since that December 20th contest, Kobe and company are 10-2 and have the best record in the league at 31-7.
After that game, I asked Bryant if he thought the Magic would be able to win a title. He paused ever so slightly. "Sure," he said.
I didn't believe him.
"Me, intimidated?" Kobe asked quizzically as a smile began to appear on his face.
"Nah, man," he continued, "Unless it's a bee I'm not intimidated by anything."
I never got the sense that Bryant felt like Orlando was on the same level as his team. Maybe a bee really is the only thing that strikes fear into his heart, but, for the moment, the thought of playing Dwight Howard and the Magic in the Finals seems far more appealing than squaring off against Kevin Garnett and the Celtics or LeBron James and the Cavaliers.
That's why this game tonight is so much more important for the young Orlando squad. It gives them a chance to show Kobe and the rest of the NBA that they are actually a legitimate title contender. A win at Staples would continue an impressive week for the Magic who knocked off the Spurs in San Antonio on Sunday and set an NBA record for three's against the hapless Kings on Tuesday.
Striking a little fear into the heart of the Mamba would top the list of accomplishments.