Enjoy Vintage Kobe Bryant While You Can

LOS ANGELES — In the 24th game of his final season, a farewell tour to end all farewell tours, Kobe Bryant's Los Angeles Lakers lost by 29 points to a vastly superior yet unpredictable Houston Rockets team that, at times, looked bored with its opponent.

It was L.A.'s 21st loss, which is four more than anyone else in the Western Conference, and only three fewer than the pitiful Philadelphia 76ers. But for Bryant, the performance stood out as a stark contrast to the inefficient 37-year-old effigy he's been most of this year. It was by far his best all-around statement: 25 points, seven rebounds, six assists, three steals and zero turnovers. 

Bryant shot a season-high 56.3 percent (including 4-of-9 from deep), and the Lakers outscored the Rockets by 2.5 points per 100 possessions in the 31 minutes he was on the floor, per NBA.com. Given that L.A. lost by nearly 30, that's significant. 

Bryant's influence on the game was obvious. Unlike previous nights during which he focused on putting the ball in the basket at every and any cost—of the 86 players who average at least 30 minutes per night, Bryant is 78th in passes per game, per SportVU—in Houston he was charitable, a ball mover who drew two defenders with the intention and desire to feed open teammates. 

All this could change overnight, but right now it looks like the beginning of a trend. In the first four contests of the Lakers' eight-game road trip, Bryant shot 27.4 percent from the floor and 25 percent from behind the three-point line. He averaged 17.5 points and 2.8 assists per game.

But over the last four outings we've seen a more precise and noble incarnation of the second-greatest shooting guard in basketball history. Bryant's scoring average (17.3 points) didn't change much, but his field-goal percentage leapt to 47.4; his three-point percentage to 35.0. His turnovers were down (from 2....

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