LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant always credits his mentors and teachers when he rolls past a scoring milestone. Given the manner in
which he hit his latest superlative, he felt it was only appropriate to give a
nod to Hakeem Olajuwon.
Bryant scored 41 points while becoming the youngest
player to reach 24,000, leading the short-handed Los Angeles Lakers to a 114-98
victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on Friday night.
Scoring basket after basket on turnaround jumpers and
inside moves against the undersized Memphis defenders in the low post, Bryant
carried the Lakers while reaching the milestone 38 days before Wilt Chamberlain
did. With a second-half surge from his growing repertoire of inside moves, he
even overtook Grizzlies guard Allen Iverson for 16th place on the NBA's career
Bryant visited Olajuwon over the summer to learn more
about low-post play, and the Houston Rockets' famed center provided Kobe with
even more skills to keep knocking down scoring marks.
"You think back on all the years I've been here, all the
mentors I've had," Bryant said. "I've learned everything from other guys that
have been here. There's nothing original in my game."
Even if Bryant doesn't invent, there are nights when he
perfects — and the rest of the Lakers were grateful for his attention to detail.
Ron Artest had 19 points and seven assists in the fourth
straight win for the defending NBA champions, who played without injured big men
Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol. Lamar Odom managed just three points before fouling
out on his 30th birthday, but Bryant and Artest probably can carry the Lakers
until they're whole again.
"We don't really know the identity of the team right
now," Artest said. "We're driving without a license – no identity. We're like
'The Bourne Ultimatum.'"
Before punctuating his night with two beautiful fallaway
jumpers in the final 2 minutes, Bryant became the 17th NBA player to score
24,000 points on a second-quarter basket. At 31 years, 75 days old, Bryant
needed every bit of his head start from skipping college to beat Chamberlain to
Bryant scored exactly 41 points for the third time in
four games, giving him 99 career 40-point games. Bryant scored 15 points in the
third quarter while the Lakers turned a halftime deficit into a 12-point lead,
and he added 10 in the final period while the healthy Lakers held on.
"It looked easy because I did a lot of work early to get
my position (in the low post)," Bryant said. "It just comes easier to me this
year because I'm well-rested. I have the energy to carry things for a longer
period of time."
Iverson had eight points in 22 minutes coming off the
bench in his third game with Memphis. Before the game, the 10-time All-Star said
he didn't fully understand the controversy over several barbed comments he made
earlier in the Grizzlies' road trip when he said he didn't want to come off the
bench or be part of a rebuilding team.
Rudy Gay scored 22 points — two in the fourth quarter —
and Zach Randolph had 21 points and 15 rebounds for the Grizzlies, who are
winless on a four-game trip that ends Saturday night against the Clippers.
"For the most part, we played pretty good defense on
Kobe, but he hit tough shots," Gay said. "(Bynum and Gasol) are really good
players, but they also have Kobe, and Kobe's a great player. So it's not like
just because those two guys were out that we thought we were going to win.
You've still got to play the game."
The Lakers opened a stretch with 14-of-16 games at home
by beating Memphis for the fifth straight time overall and the fifth in a row at
Bynum sat out after straining his right elbow in
Wednesday's win at Houston, while Gasol missed the chance to play against his
brother, Marc, the Grizzlies' starting center, because of a strained hamstring
that's kept him out all season.
"Great teams aren't just one or two players," Memphis
coach Lionel Hollins said. "They're great for a reason. They need those two
players to compete on the highest stage, but during the regular season, they'll
find a way to get around those injuries."
Odom struggled in Pau Gasol's place, and DJ Mbenga had
13 rebounds while starting for the first time in his three seasons with the
Buffalo Bills WR Terrell Owens attended the game,
waiting in the tunnel afterward for Lakers friends to finish dressing. …
Mbenga, the Congolese 7-footer, had started two games in his career, one in each
of his first two seasons with Dallas. … The Lakers honored John Radcliffe,
their longtime scorer, by presenting a championship ring to his wife, Carolyn.
Radcliffe, who had held his job since 1961, died during the summer. … Bryant
is responsible for the three highest-scoring performances by an opponent in
Grizzlies history, including a 60-point game in March 2007.