Kobe mesmerizes

FRANK ZICARELLI, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:28 AM ET

Kobe Bryant is so good that no shot is a bad one.

Even when a shot comes up short or hits back iron, Bryant has a presence that makes every touch of the basketball a moment worth relishing.

The fans who gathered at the Air Canada Centre last night came to witness the excellence embodied with Bryant, who has become the face of the NBA.

No player sells more jerseys than Bryant's No. 24, a testament to his popularity.

No player elicits a reaction quite like Bryant, one of the few visitors to Hogtown not named Steve Nash who gets cheered.

For reasons that involve image and perception, it wasn't until last season when Bryant won his first MVP award, even though he has been the game's best player for the better part of five years.

No player in the NBA plays with the swagger that oozes from Bryant.

A night earlier, the Raptors witnessed first-hand the power of LeBron James, who is so versatile and so physically imposing that he can defend virtually all five positions on the court.

Athletically, Bryant and James are on equal footing.

Regardless of a team's defence or an opponent's defender, both can get off any shot they want from any spot on the floor.

Bryant has a better handle and is cunning in his ability to set up a defender.

The time will arrive that King James will supplant Bryant as the game's top player.

But that time isn't now.

James is a kid trapped in a man's body and until he develops Bryant's assassin-like attitude, he'll continue to play in Kobe's shadow.

The NBA got its wish of a dream final matchup last year when the Lakers and Celtics met in the marquee series.

This year, the compelling showdown involves LeBron's Cavs and Kobe's Lake Show, a scenario that could very well play itself out.

Bryant is as close to Michael Jordan as the game will ever see.

On one drive last night, Bryant took Jamario Moon off the dribble and scored on a spectacular reverse layup with Jermaine O'Neal trying to come with help defence. It was Jordanesque.

In his evolution as a hoopster, Bryant has become a team player following years of selfishness and boorish behaviour.

He is the complete package on a Lakers team that is incomplete.

The Raptors got routed in Cleveland on Tuesday night, only to rebound by scoring 63 first-half points against the defensively deficient Lakers.

LOOKING AHEAD

With a game tonight in Boston and a meeting with LeBron and the Cavs looming on Sunday, the Lakers looked past the Raptors and took the struggling team for granted.

Even Bryant had his moments of being casual.

After scoring 14 opening-quarter points, including three three-pointers in succession, Bryant never made a field goal in the second quarter.

And this from a guy who came into Toronto after torching the Knicks for 61, the most posted at New York's fabled Madison Square Garden.

Bryant, like LeBron, is one of those few athletes who are worth the price of admission on their own. The air inside the ACC last night was dripping with anticipation and theatre.

The Raptors added to the drama by playing to a level not seen in weeks.

Makes one wonder where this kind of passion and intensity has been hiding.

But then again, Kobe was in the building. That's the kind of influence only players of Bryant's status can evoke.

And don't for a minute believe LeBron wasn't aware of Bryant's presence when he ventured into Gotham last night.

After the opening period, James had scored 20 points en route to a 52-point evening and his 24th career triple-double.

Too bad there can't be more nights such as last night in Toronto, where the losing continues.

Too bad Bryant makes only one trip.

For the record, Bryant ended up with a game-high 36 points, but he required 28 attempts. Down the stretch of a two-point game, every set ran through him.

He punctuated the night, a 115-107 win by the Lakers, by making two free throws to the chants of MVP, much like New York's more sophisticated fans serenaded Bryant on Monday.

There will be no such reaction in Beantown tonight.


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