Kobe Bryant never takes a night off. DeMar DeRozan learned that first-hand last summer, playing in a tiny gym in front of just a few hundred fans.
“No matter if you're in the backyard playing or on the main stage playing, he's going to try to take your neck out,” DeRozan said. “You could be a little girl guarding him, no matter who. . . that's one thing about him.”
The Los Angeles Lakers star and the Toronto Raptors swingman played together in the pro-am Drew League during the NBA lockout last summer, Bryant pouring in 43 points and a game-winning jumper in a game.
“It's rare just to keep it up day in and day out, night in and night out, no matter where you're playing,” DeRozan said. “Some guys definitely tend to take a day off or a play off, or whatever may be from time to time, but that's not the case with him.”
The Raptors (9-19) continue their season-long seven-game homestand Sunday when they host the Lakers (15-12).
Shutting down Bryant, who famously dropped a staggering 81 points on the Raptors back in 2006, is an almost-impossible task on a good day. But making matters worse, the Lakers are coming off a loss to the New York Knicks on Friday night in which Bryant was outplayed by phenom Jeremy Lin, and Bryant is sure to still be fuming.
An angry Bryant, said Raptors coach Dwane Casey, is that much more difficult to guard.
“That's why I was hoping they would beat New York because he is a wet hen when he's in that situation,” Casey said after Saturday's practice at the Air Canada Centre. “He's going to come out focused, he's going to make sure his teammates are focused so they're going to be upset, but we have to come out with the same focus we had, disposition we had against Boston.”
The Raptors are coming off an 86-74 upset of the Celtics on Friday.
Casey also knows all about Bryant's competitive drive. The coach recounted a story about the U.S. Olympic team training in Las Vegas prior to the 2008 Beijing Games.
“All the other players were going out to dinner and all that, he would go back to the gym at night and work, and (Oklahoma City's) Kevin Durant saw that and took that as an example of how hard he had to work as a player,” Casey said. “That's how he got that work ethic he had, he saw Kobe do it.
“That's how (Bryant) perfected his shot, he's worked at it for his entire career.”
Casey said Bryant, who recently passed Shaquille O'Neal for fifth on the all-time NBA scoring list, plays with a “laser-like” focus on every possession.
“He thinks the game. It's funny the difference between a player like himself and everyone else, some players get paralyzed by different schemes, different looks. He doesn't, he analyzes it, dissects it, and he knows how to attack it.
“He's a computer on the floor. A lot like Michael. I think that's what makes him different than any other player.”
Bryant has been complementary of DeRozan's game, which the 22-year-old Raptor considers an honour.
“It means a lot, he's definitely one of the players I look up to, that I've watched since I was a kid, and to me he's still one of the best players to this day, in the NBA,” DeRozan said.
DeRozan, who scored 46 points in his last two games, said Bryant offered him some advice when they played together last summer.
“Just different ways of working on my game from post-up. . . He doesn't say much but the little that he does say definitely means a lot,” DeRozan said. “He told me: Just shoot the ball, don't worry if you miss 10 in a row, keep shooting. Don't think about the last shot, just keep shooting. Don't stop shooting, shoot it whenever you've got it.”
Injured guard Jerryd Bayless went through a few drills at practice, but Casey wasn't sure about his status for Sunday's game. Bayless sat out Friday's win over Boston with an ankle injury. The Raptors will already be missing Andrea Bargnani, who will sit for the 15th time in 17 games with a strained calf muscle.
“I've just got to wait and see who shows up in uniform, which is tough because even though we're home, we're going through some of the hottest teams in the league with San Antonio coming in, New York's coming in, and the Lakers,” Casey said. “We'd like to have a full group but we don't.”