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'Kobe the Scorer' becomes 'Kobe the Passer'

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'Kobe the Scorer' becomes 'Kobe the Passer'

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) For 17 years, Kobe Bryant has been a supremely confident, ultra-aggressive offensive force who believed that the more he scores, the better the odds the Los Angeles Lakers win.

Even by his standards, Bryant was on a blistering run to start this season. He averaged just over 22 field goal attempts, right up there with the highest averages of his career. He took 31 shots in a loss to Houston, 41 in a win over Golden State and 32 in a loss at Toronto.

Off to a 17-25 start, and with the playoffs slipping away, Kobe has revamped his game. He's channeling more Magic than Michael now, becoming the Lakers' chief playmaker to jumpstart the struggling team. After posting double-digit assists just once in his first 42 games, Bryant is averaging 11.2 assists over the last five, a stretch that has produced four victories to offer some hope that all is not lost.

``It feels good,'' Bryant said Friday, when the Lakers beat the Timberwolves. ``You're just trying to do whatever it takes to win. 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.''

Passing hasn't exactly been absent from Bryant's game over the years. It just hasn't been at the forefront of his approach to breaking a team down. He's always thought of himself as the best one-on-one player in the world, and that mentality has fueled a get-out-of-my-way approach that has helped him fly up the career scoring chart.

He's averaged a healthy 4.7 assists for his career and was right at that number through the first 42 games this season. Bryant has more career assists than any of the five players who have scored at least 30,000 points. But he has completely changed his role in the last two weeks.

In the four-game losing streak that preceded the Lakers' mini-surge, Bryant attempted 25, 32, 22 and 23 shots and dished out a total of 14 assists.

In the last five games, he's taken 10, 12, 12, 17 (the only loss) and 13 shots and picked up 56 assists.

``I just try to dominate the game through passing and getting to the rim and scoring when the opportunity presents itself,'' Bryant said. ``There's many ways to dominate a game.''

For someone as notoriously stubborn as Bryant, it's quite an eye-opening transformation.

``It's not the easiest thing in the world to change a mentality,'' Lakers coach Mike D'Antoni said. ``But he's definitely trying.''

In the twilight of his career, and with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard not close to the All-NBA players they have been, it's also been absolutely necessary for the Lakers' survival. They are 21-26, good for 10th place in the competitive Western Conference.

``It's different now playing against him than watching him on TV,'' Wolves forward Derrick Williams said. ``He's just a deadly weapon. If you leave a little space he's going to knock down a shot. If you get too close to him, he's going to hit people with backdoor passes.''

His teammates are feeding off the newfound unselfishness, too. Pau Gasol had struggled for most of the season, but he had 22 points and 12 rebounds against the Timberwolves on Friday night. Antawn Jamison has scored in double figures in four straight games, and Nash is adapting quite well to playing off the ball and knocking down all the open shots that come when Bryant draws so much attention from the defense.

The Timberwolves certainly didn't have an answer for his new game Friday. In the first quarter, he relentlessly backed down the overmatched Luke Ridnour in the post, drawing double teams from a scrambling Wolves defense. Bryant easily surveyed the scene, kicking to wide open shooters on the perimeter for easy shots. The Lakers hit eight of their first 10 3-point attempts to build a 29-point lead in the second quarter.

Bryant said he studied Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson and John Stockton as much as he did Jordan while he was growing up. And whenever he's asked about Magic - widely considered Bryant's biggest competition for title of the greatest Laker - he smiles broadly.

``That's the thing that gets lost as the years go on,'' he said. ``People forget how good he was and some of the passes he makes. You go back and look at some of that (stuff) he was throwing around out there, it's outrageous. Some of the things he sees. And me growing up a huge Magic fan, I'm very familiar with that.''

If Bryant can somehow dig these Lakers out of the rubble and take them to another title, it will be the sixth of his career - tying Jordan and moving him past Magic on the ring count.

``We're trying to find that balance a little bit,'' he said. ``We're obviously not reaching our full potential if I go through a full half without really shooting the ball. But at the same time, I think the most important part is to get everybody in rhythm. I can always find my offensive rhythm throughout the game.''

That's an ongoing conversation with D'Antoni.

``You need to be aggressive and make the right play,'' the coach said. ``When you take off and they collapse on you, make the pass. If they don't, then score. I think you need to do it for four quarters. You can't come into a game and be a facilitator for a quarter, (then say) `OK, now I'm going to be a scorer.'''

Bryant is getting more and more comfortable with each passing game, and all of a sudden these Lakers have new life. Once buried under a pile of injuries and dysfunction, they're 3 1/2 games behind Houston for the eighth seed and charging. They're close enough that Bryant is starting to peek at the standings again.

``A little bit now because you kind of want to have in your mind's eye what's going on,'' he said. ``But we'll catch up.''

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Follow Jon Krawczynski on Twitter:http://twitter.com/APKrawczynski

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John Wall and Bradley Beal sport Elena Delle Donne’s face mask in WNBA Playoffs

John Wall and Bradley Beal sport Elena Delle Donne’s face mask in WNBA Playoffs

The newest celebrity fashion statement in Washington D.C. is sporting Elena Delle Donne face mask.

Just ask Washington Wizards John Wall and Bradley Beal.

The two Wizards superstars made it out to the Entertainment and Sports Arena supporting their fellow D.C. athletes Thursday evening. The Mystics were playing Game 2 of the WNBA Semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces.

Wall attended Game 1 as well with the Wizards first-round draft pick Rui Hachimura. Several other Wizards were spotted throughout the first two games of the series. 

Since mid-July, Delle Donne has worn a face mask after suffering a nasal fracture in a game. The injury forced the 2019 WNBA MVP to miss two contests until being cleared for play. Even though she no longer is required to wear the mask, medically, Delle Donne continues to wear it for the remainder of the year.

Earlier in the regular season, Redskins running back Derrius Guice also took in a Mystics game in a Delle Donne mask.

Just next time, someone give John a hand. He’s recovering from an injury after all.

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Elena Delle Donne celebrates second WNBA MVP award by crediting others

Elena Delle Donne celebrates second WNBA MVP award by crediting others

WASHINGTON -- A lot can change in four years, and for Elena Delle Donne, that has certainly been the case. As she stood at the podium on Thursday at St. Elizabeth's Arena to accept the 2019 NBA MVP award, she reminisced on her journey since 2015, the first time she got the honors.

Back then she was 26 years old, playing for the Chicago Sky and "wide-eyed," as she put it. A blockbuster trade, several injuries and a wedding later, she is MVP again.

"I've definitely grown so much," Delle Donne said. "It's a different vibe now. I just have a different feel being so settled and happy where I am." 

Delle Donne is quick to deflect compliments and spent much of her press conference tipping her cap to others. She thanked her teammates and coaches and said she wouldn't be able to win MVP without them.

She also thanked the Mystics front office and ownership group as they were getting set for Game 2 of the WNBA Semifinals against the Las Vegas Aces.

"Thank you to the organization. This is a first-class organization that really makes coming to work nice," she said. 

"You get to show up and we have a chef cooking for us. It's just a phenomenal place to be a part of. It feels like a family and I absolutely love D.C."

Delle Donne's most effusive praise was reserved for her wife, Amanda. Delle Donne went into detail about how her support makes the success she has on the court possible.

"She's the one I get to go home to and she keeps my head straight. She has to deal with all my craziness. She makes my pregame meals and basically gets everything in order for me," Delle Donne said.

Though Delle Donne talked mostly about others, the occasion was to celebrate her. Whether she is comfortable talking about herself or not, her accomplishments speak for themselves. She is now one of six players in WNBA history to win multiple MVP trophies and the first to do so with two different teams.

She got 41 of 43 first-place votes this time around after placing second in the league in scoring (19.5 ppg), fifth in rebounding (8.3 rpg) and 11th in blocks (1.29 bpg). She was the first player in WNBA history to shoot at least 50 percent from the field, 40 percent from three and 90 percent from the free throw line.

Delle Donne is in the midst of a historic career. And now at 30 years old, she understands her place in the sport has context that goes way beyond trophies at stats.

"It's always incredible to know that something you've done will go down in history. It's even more inspiring to know that there are little girls looking up to me that maybe can do the same or do more. That's what I did when I was younger because I had them to look up to," she said.

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