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But funny things can happen in the playoffs. That was evident in Game 7 against the Nuggets when Bryant resisted the urge to fight through double teams and try to take the game over. Instead, he passed to open teammates and played lockdown defense in the fourth quarter before hitting a late 3 that secured the win.

“We’re used to Kobe taking more shots,” World Peace said.

Asked how he was able to show restraint, Bryant replied:

“Five championships. It’s not very difficult to win games.”

It will get more difficult in Oklahoma City, where the Lakers will try to avoid being ousted in the second round for the second straight year. The Lakers have great size inside with twin 7-footers Bynum and Gasol and they have one of the greatest players ever in the game, but this is a team as maddeningly inconsistent as it was the day the regular season opened.

In the past, that would just mean Bryant would take over by scoring. But he shot only 43 percent his year, and the time when he could win games on his own may be over.

He needs Bynum and Gasol, and he needs World Peace. They won a championship together just two years ago, so the talent is certainly there.

What’s been missing has been chemistry and desire, the intangibles that often mean the difference between advancing in the playoffs and going home. To his credit, Bryant has taken it upon himself to instill both in his teammates, but it’s a work in progress.

The swagger is still missing. And soon the Lakers may be, too.

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Tim Dahlberg is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at tdahlberg(at)ap.org or http://twitter.com/timdahlberg