HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – Rockets forward Chandler Parsons seemed to be living a rookie dream a couple weeks ago when the games deadliest scorer heaped high praise on his.
Players the caliber of Los Angeles star Kobe Bryant don’t notice rookies. And if they do they certainly don’t admit it.
But Bryant had no choice but to take notice after Parsons tightened the defensive grip on him in the final minutes as the Rockets clawed back for a 107-104 win in their Western Conference showdown at the Toyota Center on March 20.
Bryant, of course, wasn’t about to concede to being locked down by the rookie, but the game’s best closer did give Parsons props for his potential in this league.
“Oh, come on,” Bryant said when asked about being locked down by Parsons.
“I love him though, I do. I think he’s a terrific young player,” Bryant continued. “I think he has a really bright future and I don’t say that a lot about a lot of people.”
That was good then, but Parsons has wisely pushed aside Bryant’s words as the Rockets and Lakers get set to battle one last time in the regular season on Friday night at the Staples Center.
“I will probably just let it go,” Parsons said following practice Thursday. “It’s over with and we have a whole another challenge Friday night so what happened earlier is done with. We have to move on and hopefully get a big win Friday night.”
But the question is has Bryant moved on? Bryant is highly competitive and the fact that a rookie may have showed him up could be all the motivation he needs Friday.
Rockets coach Kevin McHale knows the praise-and-bait game all too well having watched his Boston Celtics teammate Larry Bird and Chicago Bulls rival Michael Jordan master it during their day. Bryant is the closest thing to those two in terms of competitive spirit left in the game.
So forgive McHale if he seems a little suspicious of the props Bryant paid Parsons after the last meeting.
“I will wait until Friday to see how that goes,” McHale said with a smile when asked about Bryant’s praise of his rookie.
Parsons seems fully aware of what could be in store for him Friday. Bryant and the Lakers are in a fight to hand on to the top three seed in the Western Conference and then to top it off he has this kid, who many say bottled him up with the game on the line, coming into his arena.
Despite being defended well, Bryant still managed to score 29 points with the help of some spectacular shots over the 6-foot-9 Parsons. Chances are he will be looking to outdo his 10 of 27 showing from the field and 2 of 7 from 3-point range during the last meeting against the Rockets.
“I just think he’s going to be aggressive, he’s Kobe Bryant,” said Parsons, who has started 46 of the Rockets 52 games this season. “I’m sure he has been in this situation a thousand times before so he is going to be aggressive and I’m going to get his best game.”
But Parson should be getting used to it. In addition to having to carry more of the scoring load with leading scorers Kevin Martin and Kyle Lowry out, he has continued to draw the toughest defensive assignment each most nights.
Parsons, who was hardly known for his defense principles at Florida, has actually been impressive as a defensive stopper against the likes of Kevin Durant and Bryant this season.
He certainly still has some limitations when it comes to keeping more athletic players in front of him, but he has made up for those deficiencies with grit and hustle.
“Chandler has done some really good stuff for us this year, considering he’s a rookie,” McHale said. “He is a guy we have a lot of confidence in.
“He’s very good offensively and defensively wise it’s like anything, he’s got things he’s really good at and he’s got things he has to work at. There are some NBA schemes he really struggles with and there are other things he does very very well against. It’s like any other rookie, it’s just getting better.”