Now Kobe Really Needs To Be Doin' Work

ESPN tipped off Kobe Doin’ Work Saturday night commercial-free.

The Spike Lee Joint put 30 cameras on the Los Angeles Lakers superstar in an April 13, 2008  game versus the San Antonio Spurs during his MVP campaign.

Today, David Stern, George Bodenheimer and John Skipper hope the film is a prescient lead-in to Kobe doing enough work to get the Lakers into the Western Conference finals against the Denver Nuggets.

On the court, Kobe Doin’ Work didn’t feature the player at his explosive best. He threw away a couple of passes and Kurt Thomas drew a charge against the man generally viewed as one of the two best basketball players in the world. There were a couple of highlights that received extensive replays: a high-flying swat and a three-pointer to conclude the third quarter.

With Bryant scoring only 20 and sitting out the fourth quarter as the Lakers pulled away, much of the film — inspired by a similar documentary tribute to futbol’s Zinedine Zidane — portrayed Kobe as “a director,” calling plays, anticipating the Spurs’ defensive sets and rotations, barking out defensive assignments and encouraging his teammates. Bryant said he didn’t realize he was so vocal on the court - perhaps a function of having all those cameras on him?

Moreover, the man alternately described as an assassin on the court, the “Black Mamba” and having a competitive streak second perhaps only to Michael Jordan came across as beneficient in doling out praise to teammates and opponents in Doin’ Work. Public persona aside, Lee no doubt caught Bryant at the right time: he recorded the voice-overs just after he dropped 61 points on Spike’s beloved Knicks at MSG on Feb. 2

Will Kobe need to do that much work to get the Lakers past the stubborn Rockets in Game 7 of the Western Conference semifinals on ABC this afternoon at 3:30 p.m.? Or will he match his point total in Doin’ Work, which likely means he has performed as a facilitator and his teammates have taken care of business?

Either way, the league can’t afford a Los Angeles loss. ESPN and ABC have the exclusive rights to the Western Conference finals. The total sports network averaged 7.35 million watchers on May 14 with its Game 6 coverage of Rockets-Lakers, the most-watched hoops telecast in its history.

But it’s unlikely the casual fan tuned in to watch Shane Battier do defensive work on Kobe (for that matter, Lee’s picture might have more interesting if it tracked Bryant’s dialogue in a game against the Rockets and good buddy Ron Artest and Battier).Rockets-Nuggets might make for an interesting on-court battle, but not necessarily a Nielsen must-see.

Back East, the defending champion Boston Celtics will try to make the home court work one more time for it in their Game 7 against the Orlando Magic.

TNT — which carries the decisive contest at 8 p.m. tonight, when it will likely surpass ESPN’s May 14 telecast as the most-watched NBA game on cable season to date — is in somewhat of a tough spot.

The LeBrons await the winner and King James and his court of Cavaliers will bring millions of eyeballs to the screen for the “drama” network’s exclusive presentation of the Eastern Conference finals.

On the surface, the Celtics — playing in the larger DMA and with decades of tradition and engendered love-hate from fans — is clearly the preferred match-up. But without Kevin Garnett and Leon Powe and Kendrick Perkins injured to boot, the Celtics’ grit and resolve is just not going to work versus Cleveland.

This is not to say the fragile Magic will top the Cleveland, which has yet to lose in the playoffs. But Dwight Howard’s team took the season series, two games to one, against the Cavs, losing by four and routing them 116-87, and could be a more competitive foil.

In a season where the big NBA Nielsen prize — Celtics-Lakers — is very unlikely to materialize, TNT needs to take one for the NBA team and the development of the Magic with the Eastern Conference finals.

Still, if Kobe and crew do the right thing, a Finals matchup against “The Chosen One” will work up more than a few witnesses for ABC.