1. Bynum vs. Bryant? Kobe Takes Round 1
Special to ESPN.com
To say the first quarter of the 2012-13 season hasn't gone as expected for the Philadelphia 76ers and Los Angeles Lakers -- half of the principals in the landscape-altering Aug. 10 blockbuster that saw Dwight Howard, Andrew Bynum and Andre Iguodala change hands-- wouldn't be saying enough.
With a franchise center in Bynum, Philadelphia figured to contend in an Eastern Conference that looked, north of Miami, to be assailable, while the Lakers reckoned their swap of the league's No. 2 big man for its No. 1 -- an upgrade that likely wouldn't have even occurred to one of the league's 29 less-entitled franchises -- and their heist of a HOF point guard a month earlier would fast track their quest for Kobe's sixth ring. The rest of the Association, wearily, nodded in agreement.
But though Philadelphia's ordinariness was sealed the moment Bynum's cranky knees began acting up, the source of the Lakers' uneven start has proved harder to finger.
While much ink has been spilt cataloguing all that has hindered Los Angeles' senior team -- injuries to Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, a problematic turnover differential, the coaching change, et al -- on Sunday, their departed center hinted at what could be ailing them.
His hint: Kobe Bryant.
Speaking to an assemblage of Los Angeles reporters before the Lakers eventual 111-98 shellacking of a 76ers team he has yet to don a uniform for, Bynum suggested that Bryant's sky-high usage rate cramped his development in his later years in L.A. -- and might be affecting his replacement.
After crediting Kobe for demanding defensive attention and making it difficult for teams to double him, Bynum admitted that "Later, I felt I was able to get the ball more and do more things with the ball, so I could definitely see how it could stunt growth."
The still-hobbled center added that Dwight Howard might be having similar problems adjusting to the unique demands that come with operating in Kobe's world.
"I think Dwight is a great player, but he's going to have to get accustomed to playing with Kobe and not touching the ball every single play," Bynum said.
Once the basketball began, Bryant, who, at this point has grown accustomed to enduring withering criticism from old teammates (men have healthier relationships with their ex-wives than he does with his former centers), offered a scathing rebuttal.
In a return to the hometown he's long had a thorny relationship with, Bryant started hot and stayed that way. He kicked off the scoring with a fadeaway jumper thirty seconds in and proceeded to, on the strength of a dizzyingly deep assortment of moves that flummoxed the league's eighth-ranked defense, score 11 of the Lakers' first 23; the final two of which came off a back-door feed from Darius Morris that required he whip by two Sixers and then, with Spencer Hawes' paws in his face, hang suspended -- patiently waiting for the laws of physics to have their way with his opponent -- before bouncing it off the glass for a 23-22 lead. He's 34.
Bryant was similarly effective down the stretch. When Philadelphia -- which shot, by its own standards, a white-hot 49 percent from the floor and 10-of-25 from 3-points; this minus point guard Jrue Holiday -- narrowed the Lakers' advantage to 91-82 on a Spencer Hawes 3, Kobe hit a jumper out of a timeout, fed Howard and Chris Duhon on a pair of buckets, then sunk a 3-pointer of his own for his 34th and final point.
And though his Lakers generally struggle when he doesn't -- Sunday's win was just their third in the 14 games this season that Kobe's broken 30 points -- in Philadelphia, the supporting cast was galvanized by Kobe's success, not enervated by it. Howard, though occasionally stymied by Kwame Brown, managed a 17/11 line, Metta World Peace scored 19 points and grabbed a season-high 16 rebounds, and a platoon of shooters, led by Darius Morris, who netted a career-best 15 points, hit 14 3-pointers for L.A., including 10 in the first half.
"When you throw the ball up every night, it's about 48 minutes of playing hard. Two nights in a row, it's worked," Mike D'Antoni told reporters after the game.
For a Lakers team still three games under .500, and nine off-pace in a Western Conference it figured to run away with, it'll take more than two wins to turn around what has been an incredibly disappointing season. And Kobe Bryant, problem or solution, will be at the center of the effort.
No one knows where Andrew Bynum will be.
Tom Sunnergren's work appears regularly on Philadunkia, an ESPN TrueHoop blog
2. Around The Association
Recap | Box score
Most valuable player: Jose Calderon. Calderon's line was 18 points, 10 rebounds, 14 assists, 1 steal and 1 block with 0 turnovers on 12 shots. Pretty impressive. Calderon spearheaded Toronto's offense, consistently finding cutters at the rim, reading picks correctly, and hitting his shots.
X factor: Toronto's rim defense produced 13 blocks, nearly all of them without leaving good defensive position. The blocks made the game into a shooting contest instead of a rim battle, which seemed to play to the Raptors' advantage.
That was unexpected: Amazingly, all but four of Toronto's 54 second-half points came directly from one of three sources: Alan Anderson points, Calderon points and Calderon assisted baskets.
Recap | Box score
MVP: In a return to a hometown he has an uneasy relationship with -- NBA stars, they're just like us! -- Kobe Bryant scorched the Sixers for 34 points and six assists in leading the Lakers to their first two-game winning streak since Thanksgiving.
X factor: With Jrue Holiday sidelined again with a sprained left foot, Nick Young got his second starting nod in as many games. He took full advantage. Swaggy hit six 3-pointers on his way to a season-high 30 points.
That was three-mendous: From the tip, the Lakers had it dropping from deep. Los Angeles, entering the action third in the Association in 3-point shooting, hit eight of their first 12 from deep on their way to a Wells Fargo Center record 10 first-half triples and finished 14-of-34. The Sixers, no slouches, hit 10 of their own.
Recap | Box score
MVP: JaVale McGee and Andre Iguodala: On a night when the Nuggets simply needed to be decent to beat the lowly Kings, McGee and Iguodala went well beyond the call of duty into transcendent passing, athleticism and energy.
X factor: Court vision. Denver has a legitimate concern this season with spacing. But against a defense like Sacramento's, it was enough to have a lot of talented passers and finishers that could make cuts and reads as appropriate.
Least valuable player: Aaron Brooks, Tyreke Evans and John Salmons. The collective statline of Sacramento's starting backcourt trio: 15-3-3 with 3 turnovers in 52 minutes on 4-for-22 shooting. For comparison, backup guard Isaiah Thomas got 20-3-4 with 4 turnovers in 27 minutes, and more efficiently.
Recap | Box score
MVP: Nic Batum. This game was full of fantastic individual efforts on both ends, and Greivis Vasquez deserves a shoutout for a great effort in defeat. But Batum secured the rare 5-by-5 box score line, posting 11 points, 5 boards, 10 assists, 5 blocks and 5 steals in a game that should never have been so close.
X factor: The legend of Damian Lillard got a little bit longer Sunday, as the rookie drained a long go-ahead 3-pointer with three-tenths of a second on the clock to win a game that the Blazers had all but blown. Portland is in love.
That was more thrilling than it should have been: The Blazers were up by 16 in the second half and got tremendous games from JJ Hickson -- 24 points and 16 boards -- and Batum, but lost control of the game until their rookie's heroics.
3. Sunday's Best
Jose Calderon, Raptors: If any contenders want point guard help, Calderon just showed them some triple-double goods. He had 18 points, 14 assists and 10 rebounds to lead short-handed Toronto over Houston 103-96 on Sunday.
4. Sunday's Worst
Kings lose again: Sacramento took its fourth straight loss by double digits, this time a 112-97 drubbing at the hands of the visiting Nuggets. The journeyman John Salmons had a dud of an outing in three of those four losses.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"I could definitely see how it could stunt growth."
-- Sixers center Andrew Bynum, telling reporters about his development being hindered by playing with Kobe Bryant
8. At Least Philly Fans Entertain
9. Stat Check
10. Sunday Conversation