Kobe will take race for MVP to the wire

It's amazing to think that Bryant was being acknowledged as the game's best player for almost half of that time.

With O'Neal gone and Bryant free to show all he could do, the Los Angeles Lakers sank in the standings. Kobe could reduce his peers to slack-jawed wonder, as he did two seasons ago when he scored 81 points in a game, and Allen Iverson, then in Philadelphia, said he called everyone he knew to watch this.

This season, it was the Lakers who surprised the world with Bryant having, as Coach put it, his "best year ever as far as [being] an overall team player."

There's also an undercurrent among press people that Kobe Bryant is not only deserving, they owe him one for all the years he was deserving and got little notice.

Nevertheless, Bryant's candidacy has two problems named Kevin Garnett and Chris Paul.

Garnett galvanized the Celtics, who weren't expected to dominate. Garnett may also have the advantage of getting a heavy vote in the East while Bryant and Paul split the West vote.

The greater problem for Bryant may be the 22-year-old Paul, himself, with the Hornets astonishing everyone, sitting atop the wild West.

Voters are also swayed by the last thing they see and the NBA deadline for ballots isn't until April 17, the last day of the season.

The MVP race will have a lot to do with where the three teams finish.

Like the race in the West, it's going down to the wire.