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‘Magic’ touch belongs to Kobe

‘Magic’ touch belongs to Kobe

Posted: Friday, June 5, 2009 2:57 pm
By: By TOM WITHERS, AP Sports Writer

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Kobe Bryant may as well spend the night at Staples Center. So focused on winning an NBA title, he’s not much fun to be around these days.
“My kids call me Grumpy from the Seven Dwarfs,” the Los Angeles superstar said, flashing maybe the only smile he has shown in days. “That’s how I’ve been at home, just a grouch.”
On Thursday night, Bryant turned the Orlando Magic into a bunch of Dopeys.
The tote is now Disneyland 1, Disney World 0.
Bryant had 40 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, and the Lakers took their first step toward redemption after last year’s finals failure against Boston by throttling the overwhelmed Magic 100-75 in Game 1.
Bryant, unleashing a year’s worth of frustration, dismantled the Magic’s defense with his highest scoring effort in 27 games in the finals.
“We only made 23 shots,” Orlando’s Dwight Howard said. “Kobe made 16 by himself.”
This series means more to Bryant than the others. After missing a chance at his fourth championship — and first without former teammate Shaquille O’Neal — last season, the 30-year-old guard doesn’t want another to slip by.
The Olympic gold medal last summer was nice. Not nearly enough.
He wants a ring to go with it.
“I just want it so bad, that’s all,” Bryant said. “I just want it really bad.”
Game 2 is Sunday night at star-studded Staples Center, where actors Jack Nicholson, Leonardo DiCaprio and other Hollywood types had front-row seats to see another virtuoso performance by Bryant, who scored 18 points in the third quarter as the Lakers opened a 26-point lead and embarrassed the Magic.
Orlando couldn’t stop Bryant.
Jumpers, fadeaways, layups. He made them all.
“They were giving me jumpers,” Bryant said. “So I took them.”
The last time the Lakers were seen in the finals, they were heading toward their locker room in Boston last June and summer break after being drubbed by 39 points by the Celtics in a series-ending Game 6. The renewed rivalry between the league’s superpowers never panned out.
Bryant and his teammates have used that humiliation to motivate them all season and throughout these playoffs.
They are on a mission, but Bryant warned it’s far from accomplished.
“It’s one game,” Bryant said. “No big deal.”
The Magic, who went 2-0 against the Lakers in the regular season, were outclassed in their first finals appearance since 1995.
Not even the return of All-Star point guard Jameer Nelson from a four-month layoff following shoulder surgery could help the Eastern Conference champions. Nelson finished with six points on 3-of-9 shooting.
Howard was engulfed by two and three Lakers every time he touched the ball. He scored just 12 points and made only one field goal — on a running left hook.
The Magic’s outside shooters, so deadly while eliminating MVP LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers in the conference finals, were off the mark.
The Magic went just 8-of-23 on 3s and shot only 30 percent overall.
“We’ve never had a shooting night this bad,” Howard said. “We’ve just got to come out and play a lot harder than we did tonight.”
Lakers coach Phil Jackson, seeking a record 10th title, is 43-0 in series in which his team wins Game 1.
Unless the Magic can come up with some tricks to stop Bryant, this could be over quickly.
Before the game, on the dry-erase board in Orlando’s locker room, coach Stan Van Gundy, in handwriting as neat as a schoolteacher’s, devoted two sections on how he wanted his team to defend Bryant.
Nothing worked.
The self-proclaimed “Black Mamba” slithered around Magic defenders with ease. Bryant scored an effortless 18 points in the first half and then took over in the third quarter.
“He was great. He was tremendous,” said Van Gundy, who felt his team did a poor job defending the Lakers’ pick and roll. “We were giving him too much space on his pull-up jumpers and he did a good job of attacking us. I know this: We are a lot better than we showed.”
Bryant did get some help as Pau Gasol scored 16 and Lamar Odom had 11 points and 14 rebounds.
On the eve of Game 1, Bryant said winning his first title since O’Neal was traded in 2004 was not that important to him.
Bryant bristled at the notion that he wouldn’t have any of his three titles — from 2000-02 — without Shaq as nonsense.
He says he wants No. 4 because it’s the one in front of him.
And he’s three wins from getting it.
In Game 1, he wouldn’t be denied.
“He had the smell,” Jackson said.
Notes: Since the NBA adopted the 2-3-2 format in 1984, the Game 1 winner is 18-7 in the series. All-time, the winner of the opener is 45-17.


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