Looming Large: Kobe Bryant

On Friday night, Orlando Magic fans heading to the Amway Arena get a special treat (and we're not talking about a Hedo TurkoGLU-stick for the first 5000 fans). Visiting central Florida are the Los Angeles Lakers, one of the NBA's best road shows featuring one of the most talented players of all time, Kobe Bryant.

Cast your stones if you must about Bryant as a person, but Kobe is one of the best players ever to don a tank top and dribble a ball. To put it simply, Bryant is the closest thing to Michael Jordan that we've seen, and probably the closest thing to "his Airness" that we ever will see. Everyone knows how great of a scorer he can be, but Kobe is also the league's best one-on-one defender, and this season, Kobe has become an accomplished passer who is making everyone on his team better.

Offensively, Bryant's 27.6 points per game average is second in the NBA, and it only tells part of the story. Bryant can literally score from anywhere inside of 30 feet, defended or not. He can take the ball to the basket and soar above defenders, shoot the outside shot, post up, fade away, or find an open teammate. Bryant is a player that must be accounted for every trip down the court and when he gets into "the zone," he may be the best player ever, as evidenced by his ridiculous 81 point outburst a couple of years ago against Toronto.

Bryant is a lock down defender who can take away the opponents best player (averages nearly two steals per game), he's a solid rebounder from the guard position (as evidenced by his 6.2 rebounds per game average), hits his free throws (83.3%), and distributes the ball better than most perceive (5.3 assists per game).

The Magic will be facing off against Bryant Friday night and will probably not see the best of him, due to a dislocated pinky finger. Since the injury, Bryant's points have gone way down (just 17 points in two games), but he's dished out 18 assists and has still played great defense. New Jersey Nets guard Jason Kidd described Bryant's performance after Tuesday night's game after scoring just six points-

"I think if you would tell us that going into the game, we'd have a pretty good chance of winning. But that just shows the player that Kobe is, if his shot's not going he found Gasol or whoever else. Because he gets so much attention, he found the open guys and he's got a nice addition of Pau to the team, which he can help take care of that load. And if you pay attention to those two guys, then Derek knocks down 3s."

At 29 years old, Kobe has already been in the league 11 and a half years and is just hitting his prime. He and the Lakers seem to be on a mission this year to garner their fourth NBA championship since 2000. The Magic have an opportunity in front of the home fans on Friday night to scrub the Lakers mission, at least for one night.

Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of MagicIllustrated.com, and a regular syndicated contributor to FoxSports.com, Sirius Radio, MySpace Sports and Sportsillustrated.com. Charlie is also a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.

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