Scoreless through 24 minutes at Time Warner Cable Arena, Bryant left the majority of the 19,624 in attendance that came to see the Lakers scratching their heads after taking two shots without a single drive to the basket.
Currently 3.5 games back of the Western Conference’s eighth and final playoff spot, the Los Angeles Lakers trailed by double digits to a bottom-dweller that had lost eight of its last nine, not all that surprising for a team that has underachieved all season despite major off-season acquisitions.
The reasons for Bryant’s discontent hadn’t changed: Too much isolation, little ball movement and a collection of stars that looked out of it on the floor.
“We have to play the right way,” Bryant said. “When we have shots available, we take them. If we don’t, move the ball on. It can’t be about individual touches. It can’t be about that.”
By the nine minute mark of the third quarter, it appeared Kemba Walker had given the Lakers the dagger on their annual trip to the Queen City, drilling a 3-pointer just in front of Bryant to give the Bobcats a 19-point lead. Walker tossed up three fingers to signal what he had done and Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni called timeout.
That’s when L.A., mostly Kobe, woke up.
Bryant looked for his shot on the Lakers' ensuing possession and found the bottom of the net on a 12-foot turnaround. The MVP chants didn’t start until late in the fourth quarter when Bryant struck several times over the last three minutes to help the Lakers avoid an embarrassing loss to a team with the NBA's worst record.
Rallying from a second-half deficit however had more to do with Charlotte missing shots than it did L.A.'s offense executing with precision.
The victory overshadowed a team chemistry that's clearly out of whack and further revealed an obvious disconnect between Bryant and big man Dwight Howard. Critical of Bryant’s comments about playing through injury earlier in the week, Howard made 4-of-7 shots in 38 minutes and pulled down 12 rebounds in his second game back.
Down the stretch, the Lakers' halfcourt sets ran through Bryant and Howard rarely touched the ball. All of Howard's 12 points came during a first half in which Bryant appeared idle.
"Continuity," Howard said when a reporter asked of his team's offensive mindset. "We have to do a better job of spreading everything out and moving and getting everybody involved. When we do that, we are pretty good."
There's nothing pretty good right now about the Lakers (24-27), a team that wouldn't be at the 20-win mark before the All-Star break had Bryant not eased some of the distributing pressure off of Steve Nash in recent games. Friday's win disguised an ugly series of acquisitions and coaching hires that simply haven't worked out west.
The Lakers lack cohesion on offense and anything past a first-round exit, at least at this point, is a long shot.