Kobe Bryant will go down as one of the NBA's all-time leading scorers. The Los Angeles Lakers, though, need their superstar to keep sharing the ball.
With Dwight Howard's status in question, as well as Pau Gasol's spot in coach Mike D'Antoni's rotation, Bryant and the Lakers will try to build off their first road win in six weeks Sunday when they visit the Detroit Pistons.
If he keeps up his current pace of 27.9 points per game, Bryant would need 23 more games to move past Wilt Chamberlain for fourth in league history with 31,420 points. However, it might take Bryant a little longer to achieve that feat as he's scoring just 16.6 per game during the Lakers' 4-1 run. With his new pass-first approach during that stretch, Bryant is taking 12.8 field-goal attempts per game - 8.3 fewer than his season average - while averaging 11.2 assists.
"You're just trying to do whatever it takes to win," said Bryant, who had 17 points, a season-best 12 rebounds and eight assists in a 111-100 victory at Minnesota on Friday.
"Trying to figure things out, even if you're adjusting your game as dramatically as I have, it's just doing whatever it takes to get your team to win."
The Lakers (21-26) improved to 15-4 when Bryant takes fewer than 20 shots and ended an eight-game road losing streak which dated back to Dec. 22. They're now 1-3 without Howard in the lineup after the All-Star center missed Friday's game to receive platelet-rich plasma treatments in his right shoulder.
Howard returned to Los Angeles for that procedure, but he's expected to rejoin the team in Auburn Hills - the third stop on the Lakers' season-high seven-game trip.
If Howard can go, it's uncertain what D'Antoni will do with Gasol, who has not been pleased with being relegated to the bench for the first time in his career. In Howard's place, and starting for the first time in seven games, Gasol finished with 22 points and 12 rebounds Friday.
"It's been a rough season so far, no way around it," Gasol said after his third 20-point game of the season. "Just stay with it, keep playing. You never know when things can change direction."
While a productive Gasol could help the Lakers move up from No. 10 in the Western Conference, the Pistons (18-29) are hoping Gasol's fellow Spaniard will help them improve from 10th in the East.
Jose Calderon, acquired from Toronto on Wednesday in a three-team deal that sent long-time Piston Tayshaun Prince and Austin Daye to Memphis, could make his Detroit debut after missing Friday's 117-99 victory over Cleveland due to visa issues.
Coach Lawrence Frank said Calderon, averaging 11.1 points and 7.4 assists, will start at point guard when he's available, pushing Brandon Knight to shooting guard.
"Great player - done a lot of good things over his career, and definitely a big help for us coming in," said Knight, who had 20 points and 10 assists Friday. "We'll get used to playing with one another and see how it works out."
It hasn't worked out well lately for the Pistons in this series. They've lost six of seven after falling 108-79 at Los Angeles on Nov. 4, when the Lakers posted their first victory of the season following an 0-8 preseason and 0-3 start.
Detroit, though, won 88-85 in the Lakers' last visit to Auburn Hills on March 6 even after Bryant's 19-foot fadeaway at the buzzer forced overtime.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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