Poor Sam Mitchell. Something about his presence just seems to bring out the best in Kobe Bryant. The most famous example is Bryant's 81-point outburst against Mitchell's Raptors in 2006. But even now, as Kobe limps towards the finish line, Mitchell still can't escape the Mamba's wrath.
Mitchell's presence sprung Kobe to life when the Lakers took on the Timberwolves on Tuesday. Thirty-eight points later, Bryant subdued the young Wolves and brought back painful memories for their coach.
"I hate him," Mitchell said after the game, via ESPN. "If I don't ever see him again, it will be too soon. I hate him."
Mitchell surely will have nightmares about how Bryant lit up Andrew Wiggins, the Wolves' budding young star. Kobe, who is shooting just 35 percent on the year, finished the night 10 for 21 from the field. He connected on seven of his 11 shots from deep, the most three-pointers he's made in a game since March of 2008. He even scored 14 of the Lakers' final 18 points, including a vintage fadeaway to push L.A.'s lead up to three with just under 30 seconds left in the contest.
"It was just another Mamba moment to add to the collection," Lakers rookie guard D'Angelo Russell said to reporters afterwards, via ESPN. "There should be a museum of just Mamba moments."
Mitchell was already in a bad mood before the game, so the loss surely made him angrier. When asked by reporters before the game about Bryant's 81-point night 10 years ago, he shouted them down.
"Can y'all ask me something [else]?" he responded, according to ESPN. "I think I've answered that question for the last five years enough."
At least Mitchell got to answer different questions after the game. He got a front-row seat to a slightly different Bryant, one that made a few adjustments to become a little more efficient. After opening the year throwing up airballs and bricks, he's began to take more shots within the offense's flow. The change has paid off, at least a little. Over his last 12 games, Bryant is shooting just under 40 percent and averaging 14 points in 25 minutes. That's actually much better than where he was beforehand.
On Tuesday he played 33 minutes, as the Lakers needed him on the floor to avoid losing a franchise-record 11th straight game. Given the plight of both teams, at least Bryant and Mitchell could laugh about old memories afterwards.
"Listen, I gave him a hard time, too, about it, just joking and stuff like that," Bryant said. "But honestly, that night, there was nothing much he could've done."