One wouldn’t necessarily think that a Tuesday night matchup between the two of the four worst teams in the League would make lead NBA storylines. In fact, it usually wouldn’t be a story at all.
This was different. This was Kobe Bryant vs. Andrew Wiggins.
At the two-guard position, MJ passed the torch to a kid Kobe when he was just 18 years old. As arguably the most highly touted No. 1 pick to come to the league since LeBron, Andrew Wiggins had the weight of the world on his shoulders and has—albeit quietly—so far lived up to the hype. A late night national game on NBA TV, those who stayed up saw a passing of the torch.
From the tip, it was clear that the Black Mamba was going to show who owned the shooting guard slot for nearly the last quarter-century. Bryant started off cooking with deep three-pointers off of the bounce and was practically seeing red off the rip. Highly criticized for his shot selection early in the season, he let the game come to him initially with Wiggins draped all over him, hitting a handful of deep J’s. When a second defender came even a step or two towards him, he gave up the pill for his young teammates to get open looks. The attention that he received from the Minnesota D based off his ability to make shots made the game easier for a team looking to snap a ten game losing streak.
“Everything is revolving around my jumpshot,” Kobe explained in a packed press conference after the game. “If shots are falling, my game kind of builds from there.”
As the game went on, the electricity grew every single time that Bryant touched the rock. Similar to an NBA playoff game, the sold-out crowd at the Staples Center was on their feet for every offensive possession in the fourth quarter. Getting some favorable calls from the refs every time that the 20-year-old Canadian even grazed him with his hands, the illustrious vet was able to create enough space to get his jumper off. When he checked back in with around six minutes left in the game, Kobe let it be known that he would be the one locking down Wiggins for the remainder of the game, eventually leading his team to a 119-115 W with a performance that he didn’t think anyone should have been shocked by.
“You’ve seen this for twenty damn years. What are you impressed by?” Kobe asked the media after putting up 38 points, 5 boards, and 5 assists. “Tonight, I made the open shots that I was supposed to make. Once you make those, you get in a rhythm and tend to make a little bit more difficult shots.”
It wasn’t like Wiggins didn’t go to work himself, though.
Finishing with 30 points on an efficient 13-of-20 from the field, you were able to see the reigning Rookie of The Year’s full arsenal. He exploded past people with his amazing first step, used his size in the paint to finish over the top of smaller defenders, and exhibited NBA 2K-esque body control when finishing at the rack. On the defensive side, while he picked up some cheap fouls, Andrew accepted the challenge of defending Bryant and forced him in to a number of super difficult shots. The competitive nature of Wiggins earned Kobe’s respect, but it was one move in particular that really caught his eye.
“I was really impressed with his turnaround J in the post. When he first got in the League, he was off-balance and exposed the ball too much,” the ever-so confident 37-year-old KB admitted of his young foe. “Now, it’s textbook. He hid the ball well, elevated well, and faded well. I was impressed.”
Having lost ten in a row, this win couldn’t have come fast enough for a young Laker unit loaded with talent yet lacking in experience. On the flip side, this was the fourth loss in five games with a shot to tie the game within the last 60 seconds for a vigorous young Timberwolves squad [Minnesota bounced back with a 108-102 win over the Clippers on Wednesday night. —Ed.]. Getting 81 points dropped on him when he was coaching the Toronto Raptors stung, but losing a close one like this on the road seemingly stung even more for Wolves head coach Sam Mitchell.
“I hate him,” Mitchell half-jokingly said after the game of Bryant. “If I don’t ever see him again, it won’t be too soon.”
Ultimately, while Wiggins showed why he’s the future, it was Kobe who showed that he’s not quite in the past.
“He’s the greatest of my generation,” admitted Wiggins after the game. “He perfected the game of basketball.”
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