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Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game in his last matchup against Michael Jordan

Remembering Kobe Bryant's 55-point game in his last matchup against Michael Jordan

As the basketball world mourns the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant, memories of his career and the highlights that made us fall in love with him are surfacing. One of the most well-told narratives of Bryant’s 20-year career was his pursuit of Michael Jordan as the greatest player of all-time. 

Bryant idolized Jordan and was relentless in his pursuit of at least matching Jordan’s six championships. He competed like Jordan, scored like Jordan, berated teammates and opponents alike like Jordan and came up one title short of his idol’s total.

On one night, however, Bryant did get the best of His Airness -- in their last of eight head-to-head matchups. 

On March 28, 2003, a Friday night in Los Angeles, Bryant put on a show, scoring 55 points in what would stand as his highest scoring total ever against the Washington Wizards.

The Lakers defeated the Wizards, 108-94. Jordan, who had just turned 40 that February and was less than a month from ending his legendary career, finished with a team-high 23 points in over 40 minutes.

Bryant was in a different zone, though, dropping 42 points in the first half alone. Through the first two quarters, he made 14 of 19 shots from the field, including 8 of 11 three-point attempts. While he cooled off in the second half, shooting just 1-for-10, he added to his point total by knocking down 10 free throws. The performance stands as the ninth-highest scoring total of Bryant’s career, and his three-point shooting that night -- 9-of-13 -- is the biggest reason the Wizards are the only team he shot over 40 percent from three against in his career.

Going into that game, Bryant was already a three-time NBA champion at 24 years old and seemed to have gained Jordan’s respect as a player. But Jordan may have inadvertendly fueled Bryant's performance that night. Ex-Wizard Gilbert Arenas told a story on "The No Chill Podcast" of MJ telling Bryant he could never fill his shoes after the Wizards defeated the Lakers earlier in the season. Arenas claims Bryant didn't talk to his teammates for two weeks leading up to the rematch -- he internalized the jab from Jordan and turned it into the 55-point game he put up against the Wizards.

After learning of Bryant’s death in a helicopter crash on Sunday, Jordan released a statement through his spokeswoman saying Bryant was like a little brother to him.

“I am in shock over the tragic news of Kobe’s and Gianna’s passing. Words can’t describe the pain I’m feeling," the statement read. "I loved Kobe -- he was like a little brother to me. We used to talk often, and I will miss those conversations very much. He was a fierce competitor, one of the greats of the game and a creative force. Kobe was also an amazing dad who loved his family deeply -- and took pride in his daughter’s love for the game of basketball. Yvette joins me in sending my deepest condolences to to Vanessa, the Lakers organization and basketball fans around the world.”


Jordan and Bryant exchanged some fun and memorable banter in not only that game but in several of their meetings towards the latter part of Jordan’s career. Just a month earlier, the two went head-to-head in the 2003 All-Star Game. Each started, and clocked 36 minutes, in the double-overtime game, Bryant scoring 22 points for the winning Western Conference, Jordan scoring 20 for the East.

Bryant actually finished his career with a 5-3 head-to-head record against Jordan -- four of those matchups coming against the Wizards. Jordan averaged 24.5 points in those games and Bryant averaged 22.8 points. Whether Bryant actually surpassed Jordan or other legends as the greatest basketball player is debatable, but most agree that Bryant’s style and how he approached the game was as close to Jordan as any other player.

There was no better example of this than that March night in 2003.

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Bradley Beal's recent scoring surge has him in the company of all-timers

Bradley Beal's recent scoring surge has him in the company of all-timers

The wins haven't been there for the Wizards, but over the last 15 games, Bradley Beal has played the best basketball of his career. 

He has the second-longest streak of 25-point games (15) this season, recently set a new career-high for 30-point games in a season (25) and just dropped 50 points on back-to-back nights. The last player to do that? Kobe Bryant

Beal is averaging 36.7 points, 5.1 assists, and 3.8 rebounds to go along with 49.5/36.4/86.2 shooting splits. He didn't make the All-Star game, but Beal is making a serious push for an All-NBA selection at the end of the season. 

But just how impressive is it? How does Beal's recent surge stack up against the best players in the NBA this season and former greats of the game?

At this point in the season, only two players have averaged as many points as Beal in a 15-game stretch: James Harden and Damian Lillard, two of the best high-usage scorers in the league. 

Let's forget about averages for a moment. Over the 15-game span in question, Beal has scored a total of 550 points, the highest total in franchise history since Walt Bellamy in 1963-64. Bellamy owns the top four totals in Wizards history, so Beal's stretch comes in at fifth. To be in the same sentence as a Hall-of-Famer, though? Huge accomplishment.

Changing gears, it's time to talk about these 50-pieces Beal is growing accustomed to lately. Entering Wednesday night's game with Brooklyn, Beal's coming off two straight 50-point games. If he were to get 50 again, he'd be in the company of some all-timers. 

Last five players to score 50 points in three straight games

Kobe Bryant: 4 (2007)
Michael Jordan: 3 (1987)
Wilt Chamberlain: 3 (1963)
Elgin Baylor: 3 (1962)
Wilt Chamberlain: 3 (1962)

If Beal is going to get to three-straight games of 50-plus points, he'll probably have to have a few more monster fourth quarters. He already put up a 22-point fourth quarter on Monday against Milwaukee and a 21-point fourth against Chicago on Sunday.

His explosion against the Bucks marks the fourth-highest scoring fourth quarter in the NBA this season. Zach LaVine, Jordan Clarkson and Coby White are the only players with more believe it or not. 

To put it in context with Wizards history, the 22-point fourth ranks as the fourth-highest scoring quarter for a Wizard since 1998, and if we're talking about the highest-scoring fourth quarters in Wizards history, Beal would own the top three. 

Beal has shown no signs of slowing down in this ruthless revenge tour he's putting opposing defenses through since he was snubbed from the All-Star game. It'd be nice for the Wizards to get a few more wins as they push for the last playoff spot in the East, but for now, Washington fans can sit back and enjoy the show. 

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Real Marquee Matchup: Bradley Beal looks to keep historic streak going vs. Nets

Real Marquee Matchup: Bradley Beal looks to keep historic streak going vs. Nets

It is only natural when a player has a big game, like scoring 50 points, to wonder if they can do it again. Bradley Beal actually did that this week, scoring 55 points against the Bucks just one night after dropping 53 on the Bulls.

Now he goes into Wednesday night with a chance to do something no one has done since Kobe Bryant in 2007: score 50 points in three consecutive games. Only four players have ever gone for 50-plus in three straight: Bryant, Michael Jordan, Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain.

Beal, of course, has technically scored 53-plus in two straight games. If he were to somehow do that a third time, he would be only the second player to accomplish the feat. Chamberlain is the other.

Basically, if Beal were to go off for 50 or more again, it would put him in extremely rare company, even rarer than the group he joined on Monday night. So, expectations should definitely be set accordingly.

That said, Beal happens to have some recent success against the team he will face on Wednesday, the Brooklyn Nets. Beal has scored 30-plus in his last three meetings with them, shooting 53.7 percent from the field along the way. The Wizards won two of those three games. 

Earlier this month, Beal went off for 34 points with six rebounds, three steals and three blocks against Brooklyn. He has their number.

The Nets, though, are one of the best defensive teams in the NBA. They boast the seventh-best defensive rating (107.9), are fourth in opponent field goal percentage (44.1) and ninth in three-point percentage (34.5).

And those numbers are while playing a lot of games with Kyrie Irving. Though Irving is one of the most gifted offensive players in the league, there is reason to believe Brooklyn could get better defensively now that he is out for the season with a shoulder injury.

Can Beal keep it rolling? Watch at 7 p.m. on NBC Sports Washington.

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