3-23-07- Kobe Bryant wants to be remembered for scoring points and winning basketball games, not the suspension-yielding swipes he's taken at opposing players.
If he keeps this up, he may get his wish.
Bryant scored 50 points to lead Los Angeles to a 111-105 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Friday night, making the Lakers star only the second player in NBA history with at least that many points in four consecutive games.
"Remember that suspension two weeks ago?" Lakers coach Phil Jackson said, referring to a one-game suspension Bryant got for hitting Timberwolves guard Marko Jaric. "I think this has motivated him. I don't know if we like to have suspensions all of the time work for us, but there were some things there that motivated him."
Bryant, who also was suspended in January for hitting San Antonio's Manu Ginobili, had scoring totals of 65, 50 and 60 in his previous three games, all Lakers victories.
"The thing that was frustrating for me was people were talking about, 'He's a dirty player,' which, for me, is pretty insulting," Bryant said. "To have people talking about something else besides that -- it's a much better feeling."
Indeed, people are now talking about Bryant's place alongside the man the Lakers' star first knew as the character Bombaata in the movie "Conan the Barbarian."
Only the late Wilt Chamberlain has had more 50-point games in a row than Bryant, hitting that mark in seven consecutive games during the 1961-62 season. Bryant, of course, has long since learned all about Chamberlain, the basketball legend. He's also studied up on Elgin Baylor and knows Michael Jordan, the only other players to hit at least 50 three straight times.
"It's a tremendous honor for me to be in the same (category) with those guys," Bryant said. "The coolest thing about it is this younger generation gets a chance to learn about Elgin Baylor, gets a chance to learn about Wilt Chamberlain and some of the things that they've accomplished, so that the legacy will continue to live on."
Bryant said his recent streak has resulted from his feeling great physically and his teammates helping him get better looks at the basket. But Bryant hit off-balance fades over double teams and other shots of similar difficulty as well.
And he calmly made all 16 free throws he attempted while the opposing crowd tried to rattle him with arm-waving taunts.
"He's just been in such a good rhythm and he's such a good player that when he's feeling like that, it's kind of hard not to just keep going to him because it's amazing to watch and there's a good chance you're going to score," Lakers forward Luke Walton said.
Tyson Chandler had 22 points and 22 rebounds for New Orleans, which trailed nearly the entire second half. Chris Paul had 28 points and 12 assists for the Hornets, who were playing the last of six games scheduled in New Orleans this season before a full-time return to the rebuilding city over the summer.
The Hornets had won two straight and three of four before falling to Los Angeles in a game that left New Orleans on the outside of a close race for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
Lamar Odom had 15 points and 10 rebounds for Los Angeles, while Kwame Brown had 10 points.
Hitting everything from a long 3-pointers to fadeaways off the glass, Bryant scored 10 points in the first three minutes of the second half during a 14-4 run that gave the Lakers the lead for good at 70-61.
His one-handed floater as he skipped across the lane gave him 39 points and Los Angeles a 78-65 lead with 5:28 still remaining in the third quarter. A half-minute later, Bryant made a 3-pointer from the corner that prompted a rumble from the hostile crowd and excitement for a young boy in a courtside seat.
"I went over to the sideline and I said ... watch this 3, I've got a 3 for you," Bryant said, "Then I knocked down a 3 and gave him a high-five."
Bryant gave Los Angeles its largest lead of the game when his 16-foot jumper late in the third quarter made it 87-69.
None of it surprised Hornets coach Byron Scott, who while trying to analyze video of Bryant's recent performances found himself repeatedly rewinding simply to enjoy the mastery of Bryant's shooting.
"We knew Kobe was going to have one of those nights," said Scott, who looked like Bryant's biggest fan in the hallway outside the locker room after the game, giving his former teammate a prolonged hug. "He's just so good. He's such a competitor and he lives in the moment. This is the moment right now with a playoff-type atmosphere. We knew he was going to come out and play like that."