Warriors guard Raja Bell is perhaps most known for his rivalry with Los Angeles Lakers guard Kobe Bryant.
During his days with the Phoenix Suns, Bell was Bryant's personal defender in multiple playoff series. The heated matchup included verbal jabs, elbows and shoves, a couple of physical altercations and zero love lost.
But ask Bell who's the best player in the game, and he'll answer without hesitation. He won't say LeBron James or Dwyane Wade or Carmelo Anthony.
"Kobe," Bell said. "He's a winner, man. Not that the LeBrons and D-Wades and 'Melos aren't. But he just seems to have a sixth sense about closing and timeliness with his game that I think he's developed over time. I think they don't necessarily have it to the degree he has it yet. They're on his heels. But if you ask me who I'd take to win this year, I'd take Kobe."
The consensus in the Warriors locker room is that they are facing the best player in the game tonight when Bryant and the Lakers come to town.
Though he's certainly in the mix, Bryant isn't being mentioned as a front-runner for MVP. His numbers — averaging 27.7 points, 5.4 rebounds and 4.9 assists per game — are slightly down from his MVP season two years ago. His field goal percentage is down and his turnovers are up from last season.
Still, he's separated himself from the rest of the league's elite players with one number: six. That's how many game-winning shots he's made in the final
"He's just got too many things in his game that makes the game so easy for him," said Warriors forward Devean George, Bryant's former teammate for three championships with the Lakers. "My question is how is he getting these shots off? Two guys should be on him. Let somebody else win the game. But that just shows you how he's still got it."
Warriors guard Monta Ellis, who likely will draw the task of defending Bryant, said that's just it. In addition to his elite skills, Bryant has a supporting cast that opens things up for him.
He's got an All-Star power forward in Pau Gasol, an All-Star caliber small forward in Ron Artest, a rising star in center Andrew Bynum and one of the game's most versatile players coming off the bench in forward Lamar Odom. Not to mention a proven big-shot artist in point guard Derek Fisher, ready to make teams pay for leaving him open.
"He's got a lot out there," Ellis said. "There is no one way you can guard him out there. There is not much you can say about Kobe. His game speaks for him."
Bryant didn't have to do much the last time the Lakers were in town. Los Angeles didn't even need his 20 points on 20 shots in their 33-point win over the Warriors on Nov. 28.
But when the Warriors pushed the Lakers to the brink in Los Angeles on Dec. 29, the Warriors got to witness firsthand why Bryant is widely considered the game's best closer. He scored 17 of his 44 points in the fourth quarter. The Lakers won 124-118.
"Kobe wills his team to win," George said. "LeBron does the same thing, he just doesn't have the championships. I think that is probably what sets Kobe apart."