Kobe's fire should have Jazz fans in a cold sweat

Mar 16 2013 - 11:31pm

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Kobe Bryant
Kobe Bryant

Just a guess here, but I'll bet if you consider yourself a fan of the Utah Jazz you don't really like Kobe Bryant.

Yeah, I know. I really stepped out on a limb there, didn't I?

Bryant, 34, has long been a thorn in the side of the Jazz and their fans. Now in his 17th season in the NBA -- all with the Los Angeles Lakers -- he has played 57 regular-season games against the Jazz, averaging better than 25 points, four rebounds and four assists per game.

Indeed, over the years Bryant has hurt the Jazz on many levels. He's hurt them in the regular-season, the playoffs and even in the stands at EnergySolutions Arena, where L.A. fans sporting Kobe jerseys seem to come out of the woodwork whenever the Lakers come to town.

But outside of L.A. and Staples Center, the Lakers' home arena, Bryant is despised everywhere he goes. The fact he scores all those points, gets all those calls and garners all that attention from national media outlets like ESPN and TNT, generally fuel the flames of disdain and bitterness. However, for years Bryant has used that hatred to fuel his own game, so it's really just a vicious cycle.

He's diabolical that way, isn't he?

Yes, I get why Jazz fans -- all fans except Laker fans, really -- don't like Kobe. After all, he's just so ... so ... so ... KOBE.

But here's the thing: In a league full of big, macho guys who make their living competing at the highest level, nobody is more intense and more driven than Bryant.

Nobody wants it more.

He may be annoying with that cranky face he's always wearing and all that fist-pumping he does, but while some of his contemporaries seem to play the game to get noticed, Kobe plays because he likes to win ... or perhaps because he just really hates to lose. And this is why the Utah Jazz and their fans ought to be a bit worried today.

The Jazz and Lakers are fighting for the Western Conference's final playoff spot. Going into Saturday's game vs. the Memphis Grizzlies, Utah sat in ninth place, a full game behind L.A. in the standings.

If they somehow finish in a tie when the regular season ends next month, the Jazz will make the postseason because they own the tiebreaker. However, a closer look shows the Lakers have a much easier schedule down the stretch.

What's more, they've got Kobe and apparently he's not going to let them lose.

During a 96-92 loss in Atlanta last week, he suffered a pretty nasty ankle sprain and team officials said he'd be "out indefinitely." That little piece of information must've left Jazz fans giving each other high 5s. After all, even though Utah has been struggling badly of late, the Lakers without Kobe are something of a rudderless ship.

For a day or so it felt like the Jazz might be able to slog through the final month of the season and still back into a playoff spot, all because Bryant and his banged-up ankle wouldn't be able to help the Lakers.

Turns out that might not be the case after all.

Did anyone notice what happened on Friday?

The Lakers beat the playoff-bound Indiana Pacers on road. Bryant tried to play -- probably insisted on it -- but could hobble around only for a quarter. Although he was held scoreless for only the 15th time in his storied career, he took to the bench and essentially served as assistant coach and head motivator.

He was even seen drawing something up on a clipboard for knuckle-headed teammate Dwight Howard, who helped L.A. win the game with a three-point play in the final minutes.

Suddenly, a game that appeared to be an "L" on the schedule turned into a victory, thanks at least in part to Kobe's will to win, even though he didn't score a lousy point.

Man, that's pretty scary.

And that's why I'm guessing if you consider yourself a fan of the Utah Jazz, you don't really like Kobe Bryant.

Jim Burton is the Standard-Examiner's sports columnist. He also covers the Utah Jazz and the NBA. He can be reached at 801-625-4265 or at jburton@standard.net. He tweets at http://twitter.com/jmb247

 

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