The Kobe effect

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I guarded Michael Jordan once in my life, back in 1992 as a member of the Cleveland Cavaliers. After six or eight minutes into the game he hadn't scored, and I thought to myself, "I'm doing pretty well."

But during a timeout late in the first quarter, I realized that MJ hadn't even taken a shot yet, and that his teammates were all in a nice rhythm. The Bulls had a sizeable lead, and Michael hadn't broken a sweat yet. Finally early in the second quarter Michael decided to score, and he treated me like a redheaded stepchild. He finished with 48 points and I scored two. Chicago pounded us by 35 or so.

I was reminded of that experience while watching Kobe Bryant and the Los Angeles Lakers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves in Game 3 Tuesday. Kobe went scoreless in the first half – only attempting two shots – but his team had a nine-point lead.

Los Angeles was running the triangle offense effectively, sharing the ball and moving with a nice rhythm. Gary Payton had 14 points and was doing a good job getting Shaquille O'Neal and Karl Malone involved. The Lakers controlled the game throughout, but when Minnesota made second-half runs, Kobe used his prodigious talent to quell them.

He scored 22 points – 22 important points – as his team pulled away, winning 100-89 to take a 2-1 series lead.

If you're wondering why Phil Jackson frequently seems upset with Bryant, it's because Kobe has the ability to make his team play like that more often. When he is patient early, Los Angeles' offense flourishes. On Tuesday, the Lakers committed just 13 turnovers while dishing out 29 assists. That's the effect Kobe can have on the triangle offense.

He can help the team to take care of the ball, share it, and distribute the scoring. And when things aren't going well he can take over offensively.

That was the formula Jordan used with the Bulls, and it is one of the reasons why so many of his supporting cast made big shots over the years. They were involved and in rhythm when the game was on the line, and Jordan wasn't afraid to pass them the ball (thanks Mike). But it took him a long time to truly trust his teammates. When he finally did, the Bulls started winning titles.

Kobe is similar to a young Michael Jordan. He's so enormously talented that he feels like he can win games by himself. And he frequently does. But when he's overly aggressive from the start, the team doesn't build momentum as a unit. And if Bryant starts missing shots, the team can't rely on an offensive rhythm to carry it through.

Also, when Kobe is patient early, the ball usually ends up in Shaq's hands in the post, which establishes the inside game and softens the defense.

The Lakers have so much talent, they can win some games without playing well. But now that they are deep in the playoffs battling a very good Minnesota team, they need to be at their best.

This means competing, defending, establishing Shaq in the post and getting role players involved.

All of which Kobe can help to accomplish by settling into games early before taking over late.

Just like MJ used to do.