NEW YORK — It’s official: We all want to be like Kobe.

After dropping a double nickel on Michael Jordan’s Wizards of Odds, including a freaky 42 in the first half (breaking Elgin Baylor’s Lakers’ franchise record of 37), Master Bryant overshadowed His Airness.

Aside from his three championship rings and string of seven 40-plus games (a total of 18 this season), what makes Kobe spectacular beyond his 24 years is his voracious appetite for being the big stud on a big stage.

From his overtime performance in Game 4 of the 2000 NBA Finals vs. Indy when he carried the Lakers (he had missed the previous game with an ankle injury) after Shaq had fouled out, to the All-Star Game MVP performance in his hometown of Philly, Bryant has upped the candlepower of already blinding lights.

Last Friday night was supposed to be all about Hollywood’s go-away genuflection to Jordan, replete with video tributes of his most hallowed funk and dunk, the accentuation of his supernatural statistics (six titles, six MVPs, league high 30.2 points per game career scoring average, 18 different Nike shoes, countless comebacks) and swarms of movie stars who couldn’t help but admire themselves at how much they admire M.J.

That is, until Kobe quickly crossed the Jordanian Border, where he encountered only rare pockets of resistance, and rewrote (as in wreaked havoc on) the screenplay.

Bryant’s 8-11 shooting from three-point range confiscated any suspense about the outcome by halftime (despite 17 by Jordan who scored 23 on the night) as well as Kobe’s final 55-point output (one shy of personal best), accomplished something even more remarkable: It reduced both Aff-Air Jordan and Shaquille O’Neal to mere understudies.

The fact that Bryant was the lead item in no way reflects unkindly on one Mr. Matt Harpring. All he did last Friday was match Milwaukee point-for-point (22-22) in the third quarter of Utah’s 13-point barbecue of the Bucks.

Demonstrating their lottery fever, the Bucks are headed downhill in a hurry. If the team wasn’t in enough disarray, Tim Thomas refused to re-enter last week’s loss to Denver and Anthony Mason decided to play.

The Bucks fined Thomas an undisclosed substantial amount despite acts of contrition to his teammates and coach George Karl.

Amazingly, since acquiring two certified defensive players in Gary Payton (averaging 21 points and eight assists since the Ray Allen deal) and Desmond Mason, they have only shown intensity at the offensive end.

Payton’s excuse: “The Eastern Conference is underrated.”

A report that the Hornets are considering trading Jamal Magloire (their only real center) to the Raptors for Morris Peterson is so fabricated and dysfunctional I’m sorry I gave it this much of a play.

The Pacers looked as if they were learning from Tim Hardaway (during last week’s demolition of the Bulls) even when he was he on the bench; you can see the confidence they have in him (14 points, seven assists, eight deflections, three steals, four rebounds after sitting out a year) to get them the ball in shooting rhythm at the right spot.

Since the 36-year-old is no threat to impound Jamaal Tinsley’s starting job, the second year pro should thrive under his tutelage.

Longtime Rocket assistant coach Larry Smith is doing an excellent job filling in for Rudy Tomjanovich during his bout with bladder cancer. Smith’s in command. Makes good calls. Calls timeouts appropriately. Players are getting good shots.

Yao Ming is touching the ball more often in critical situations. And there seem to be enough isolations to keep everyone happy and the defense off balance.

Unfortunately, assistant coaches normally don’t get a chance except as a result of the head coach’s demise.

Smith’s smooth transition to power is a perfect illustration as to why career people like himself and Larry Drew (Wizards) and Randy Ayers (76ers) and many others warrant promotions on their own merit.

Anyone who thinks Pat Riley’s second straight descent to the lottery will influence him to leave Miami isn’t acquainted with the large print in his agreement with owner Mickey Arison.

Aside from banking $5 million to $7 million annually on his 10-year deal, Riley acquired 10 percent ownership of the Heat his during first five-year stretch as president/coach and gets an additional two percent for every season invested over the next five-year period.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.