Kobe Bryant Helps Lakers Beat Nuggets

The Los Angeles Lakers have taken a 1-0 lead in the NBA's Western Conference finals. The Lakers came from behind to beat the Denver Nuggets 105-103. All-star guard Kobe Bryant led L.A. with 40 points and key plays down the stretch. It was another performance that is fueling the debate over who is the best NBA player.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep in Washington.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne at NPR West in California, where the Los Angeles Lakers are one step closer to a title. The Lakers eked out a win in the first game in the Western Conference finals. They beat the Denver Nuggets 105-103. Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 40 points and he fueled the debate over who is the NBA's best. NPR's Tom Goldman reports.

TOM GOLDMAN: The debate - is it Kobe Bryant of LeBron James of the Cleveland Cavaliers - is taking all kinds of forms these days. There are the puppets brought to us by Nike, little fuzzy likenesses of Bryant and James. At least in this TV commercial it seems like puppet Kobe with his three NBA titles has the upper hand.

(Soundbite of TV commercial)

Unidentified Man #1 (Actor): (as Kobe Bryant) See, for each one of these delicious cookies there is an equally delicious NBA championship ring that you don't have.

Unidentified Man #2 (Actor): (as Lebron James) Kobe, I'm trying to…

Unidentified Man #1: (as Bryant) You've got to be hungry, LeBron.

GOLDMAN: Then there's the Logo. That's the nickname for former Lakers' star Jerry West. His dribbling silhouette is the NBA's official logo. And the big sports news all Tuesday was that West in an interview said James had surpassed Bryant as the league's best player.

(Soundbite of game broadcast)

Unidentified Man (Sportscaster): Bryant on the drive. To the basket, hammered. And Kobe Bryant will shoot two, Lakers up two with 10 seconds remaining.

GOLDMAN: All due respect to the Logo, but Bryant was the man again in last night's game, televised on ESPN. Bryant's aggressive drives drawing fouls late in the game helped the Lakers win a contest in which their coach, Phil Jackson, said they were outplayed by Denver. Bryant scored 40, but it was also his defense and leadership that rescued the Lakers after they fell behind early on.

It was a pretty routine performance made more significant by all the talk about Kobe versus LeBron. But Bryant wouldn't take the bait and say his performance was motivated by the talk.

Mr. KOBE BRYANT (Los Angeles Lakers): If I wanted to go out there and put up 35 points a night, I could do that. That's not my mission. My mission is to win a championship. And you know, the debate of who's the best player in the NBA, that's going to go on for whatever. You know, that's not something that I concern myself with.

GOLDMAN: Indeed, before fans can concern themselves with a Bryant versus James NBA final, L.A. has to win three more games against a very good Denver team that almost stole the Lakers' home court advantage right off the bat.

Tom Goldman, NPR News.

MONTAGNE: The other Los Angeles team won a victory of sorts last night. The L.A. Clippers won the draft lottery. That's the annual drawing when the league's worst teams find out who gets to draft the best young player and dream about next year. The Clippers could choose Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, the national college player of the year.

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