Updated: Jan. 29, 2006, 11:41 PM ET

The greats on No. 8

(Editor's note: ESPN.com senior NBA writer Marc Stein supplies each item for this around-the-league notebook edition of the Daily Dime.)

An air of inevitability no longer smothers the NBA season.

The reflex response hasn't changed: You still expect a Pistons-Spurs rematch in the Finals, even with Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili hobbling.

However ...

There is this for variety and intrigue: Who knows what Kobe Bryant has planned for the next 40 games?

There will be a sense of anticipation hanging over every outing from now on, starting with Friday night. Bryant emerged from four days of rest to follow his historic 81-point eruption against the Toronto Raptors with . . . a measly five points through three quarters and then a 25-point rush to help the Lakers secure a 106-105 overtime triumph over Golden State.

It would add up to the biggest game-to-game decrease in NBA history, Kobe's 51-point dip eclipsing Rick Barry's 48-point slippage (from 64 points to 16 in back-to-back games) in 1974. It would also make you wonder if Kobe was trying to save a little bit more energy for Sunday's showdown with the Detroit Pistons, when he'll really need it.

That's OK, though. We're prepared for anything after checking in with a variety of NBA luminaries to answer Eight Burning Questions about No. 8 and what he might (or might not) do from here:

1. What would Wilt think of Kobe even believing he could have a 100-point game?

Golden State executive Al Attles, Chamberlain's point guard on the magical evening of March 2, 1962, in Hershey, Pa.:

"Contrary to what a lot of people might think, Wilt would have liked to hear that. He'd be impressed with Kobe. ... But I remember Wilt telling me he wanted to come out of that ballgame -- it was the team that kind of egged him on to try for 100. The fact he made 28 free throws (out of 32 attempts) ... I think even he felt it was a once-in-a-lifetime shot."

2. Is making a run at triple digits harder for a perimeter player?

Dallas Mavericks assistant Del Harris, Bryant's first coach with the Lakers:

"You really have to look at it two ways. Kobe is obviously not as big or as overpowering as Wilt, but the flip side is that someone has to get the big guys the ball, whereas the smaller players can just get the ball. It's really tough to score if you don't have the ball -- that's a historical fact.

"What I will say is that defenses, particularly now, are a lot more adept at smothering a big guy with double teams and rotations and such, which were not a part of the game when Chamberlain played. There were a lot of factors [back then] that probably made it easier for Wilt than for a perimeter player."

3. Kobe is averaging nearly 46 points a game in January. What can defenders do to slow him down?

ABC's Scottie Pippen, regarded as one of the finest perimeter stoppers in history:

"It's hard for me to say, because the game is so open now. There are no hard traps in today's game. You can't touch guys. You can't give a hard foul. Tony Parker is leading the league in points in the paint -- I never thought a point guard could shoot that high of a percentage. But obviously he's getting to the hole a lot.

"The rules [limiting contact on the perimeter] have really changed the game. When Michael Jordan used to score 40 points, that was a huge headline, national news. Now 40 points doesn't even make you pay attention to SportsCenter. Fifty points is not even shocking. I think I've seen more 40-point and 50-point games in the last few years than I've seen in my whole life."

4. Doesn't a one-on-five performance like the Toronto game reinforce the idea that playing with Kobe is no fun?

TNT's Steve Kerr, one of the greatest role players of all-time in winning five rings with Chicago and San Antonio:

"I don't think his teammates mind. In fact, I think they were just as enthralled as the rest of us. We all used to marvel at MJ and the things he did and it's the same with Kobe. I think he's almost exactly like MJ personality-wise. He's a cold-blooded killer. Not that easy to play with, but if you want to win, get on his side. As for people wanting to play with Kobe [in the future], guys will want to if the money's right. That's what it all comes down to."

5. How does a coach bring Kobe back into a team structure after 81?

Harris: "Kobe's smart. Even if he wants to get 100, it's not going to be this week. He won't try to do that. There will be another time that he takes a shot at a huge number before the season's over, but it won't be now. He's too clever for that. He can see how that could backfire. A guy might hit five home runs in a game because they're capable, but it doesn't happen very often."

6. Is anyone rooting harder for Kobe now than the Raptors he torched?

Toronto's Jalen Rose:

"I'll be watching because I'm an NBA lifer -- I watch every game I can. We don't want to be the team that gave up 81 -- nobody wants to be looked at like that -- but we have to give Kobe his due. This is the best all-around player and competitor in the game. And the scary part is, he will only get better, especially with Phil Jackson on his side. He will go down as one of the all-time greats."

7. We have to ask: Are the comparisons between Kobe and MJ more valid than ever?

Pippen: "My hat's off to [Bryant]. Eighty-one points is a great accomplishment. But I could never compare what Kobe has done to what Michael was able to do.

"Against some of those Piston teams we played, those Knick teams, a layup wasn't always a layup if you know what I mean. If I think back to some of the defenders [Jordan] played against like Joe Dumars or Alvin Robertson or even John Starks, there's no way those guys would let Michael Jordan go through them like Toronto did."

8. We have to ask, Part II: How can anyone honestly suggest Kobe could score 100 points in an age where the nightly league average for teams is 97?

ABC's and ESPN's Bill Walton, who, like Chamberlain, has a spot on the list of all-time great centers after winning championships with Portland, Boston and UCLA:

"Kobe's level of fitness is so amazing, he's left everyone else in the dust. When you saw him at the end of that Toronto game, he didn't even look tired. He's like a guy on a bike ride who feels so strong that he just says, 'The heck with the rest of you guys,' and breaks away from the rest of the pack.

"I think he's going to get 100, and I think he's going to get it in the next month."

• Talk back to ... Marc Stein | The Daily Dime gang

Dimes Past: 19 | 20 | 21-22 | 23 | 24 | 25 | 26 | 27

Kobe Bryant, Scottie Pippen
Tom Hauck/Getty Images
Back in the day, young Kobe struggled against the long-armed Scottie Pippen. Then again, so did most everyone else.

Eastern Conference

Is the season over?

History says so.

Five teams in NBA history have started a season 35-5 like the Pistons have this season ... and all five wound up winning the championship.

The 1995-96 Bulls (72-10), 1971-72 Lakers (69-13) and 1996-67 76ers (68-13) opened with 37-3 records en route to a championship. The Bulls also started 35-5 in 1996-97 (69-13) and 1991-92 (67-15) and won it all both times.

Fred Hoiberg's first choice, if he decides to play this season after heart surgery, is reuniting with former Wolves coach Flip Saunders in Detroit. The Pistons, though, obviously don't have a huge need for new additions at this point and Hoiberg is thought to be leaning against trying a comeback before next season.

Interim GM Wayne Embry will handle the expected relocation of Jalen Rose (and maybe Mike James) before the Feb. 23 deadline, but the Raptors have made it clear that they want a name veteran from the outside to replace the fired Rob Babcock.

There won't be a better front-office free agent out there than Denver's Kiki Vandeweghe, who has done everything with the Nuggets that the Raptors need to do -- things like changing the culture of a losing franchise, clearing salary-cap space to overhaul the roster and gaining the trust of star players, which is priority No. 1 for the Raps in their desperation to re-sign Chris Bosh to a contract extension in the summer.

If you're wondering why Vandeweghe hasn't been able to secure an extension from Nuggets owner Stan Kroenke, I'm right there with you. But because it hasn't happened, Vandeweghe will be a top candidate for any GM opening.

Whether or not Denver wakes up and hangs on to its prodigal Nugget -- another possibility is that another team beats the Raps to Vandeweghe anyway -- you can expect to hear the name of Bob Whitsitt in connection with the Raptors' job. Whitsitt is undeniably eager to find a way back into the league, but faces the challenge of selling himself after what has happened to the Seahawks since Whitsitt was ousted from his NFL post and the negative reviews that linger from his roster choices with the Trail Blazers.

Question Marc

Warren (Cherry Hill, N.J.): Can you writers just once let an accomplishment sink in before rushing to brand it the "best of all-time." Your opinion might prove to be right, but only time can judge it.

Stein: Warren, Warren, Warren.


What would be the fun in that?

Nobody has time anyway. It's far more fitting, in a society where none of us want to wait for anything, to fire off as soon as Kobe Bryant shocks the world and detonates for 81 points.

Warren, of course, is referring to my contention that Kobe's 81 trumps Wilt's 100. Chamberlain's triple-digit night (points, not women) was heretofore considered the Greatest Individual Feat in NBA history. I contend -- like Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, just to name one basketball sage on my side -- that Kobe should take over the top spot after cracking the 80s in a contest that was not reduced to a record-chase (like Wilt's) and in an era of fewer possessions per game and increased defensive sophistication.

Agree? Disagree? Doesn't matter. There's no need to wait with the opinion anyway.

My question in response to your question: Did I miss the change in policy, or is half the fun in watching sports still debating everything afterward?

Towering Over The Competition
Rasheed Wallace
Melissa Majchrzak/NBAE via Getty Images
Rasheed Wallace and the Pistons have been playing like giants. And 70 wins doesn't seem too tall a task anymore.

Decisions, Decisions

Ricky Davis or Steve Francis?

The Minnesota Timberwolves, determined to make a splashy move after they were rebuffed in their attempts to pry Ron Artest away from Indiana, opted for the safer dice roll, if there is such a thing.

They chose Davis.

Knowing it needed a shakeup after a 12-6 start was followed by a 9-15 nosedive -- and finally prepared to break up the Kevin Garnett-Wally Szczerbiak combo after 6 solid but contentious seasons together -- Minnesota decided that it had to move quickly to pair a more athletic scorer with Garnett.

The Wolves could have packaged Szczerbiak with defensive specialist Trenton Hassell to put Orlando's Francis alongside KG, but Davis comes at a much more reasonable price ... along with a center (Mark Blount) whom Minnesota was already chasing.

It's not like the dream scenario of trading for Paul Pierce, or the fantasy notion of stealing Chauncey Billups back from Detroit, but I'd call it a worthwhile fallback.

Marc Stein's column on the Wally-Ricky deal

Film Session
Marc Stein and ESPN The Magazine's Chris Broussard joined Cold Pizza on Friday morning to assess the Minnesota-Boston swap featuring Wally Szczerbiak and Ricky Davis.

Western Conference

So much for the notion that the battered Rockets might just pack in the season to boost their (lottery) odds of getting Tracy McGrady and Yao Ming some good young help for next season.

McGrady is in the midst of his third comeback this season from back trouble and concerns about Yao's toe condition threatening his All-Star participation have eased significantly. The Rockets say it's all but definite, in fact, that Yao will try his own comeback next week after sitting out a month and a half.

Now for the inevitable disclaimer Houstonians have come to expect in this nightmare season: Free-agent disappointment Stromile Swift isn't even the league's best Swift these days.

Stromile has barely played this month because of an eye infection and underperformed when he played before that. Seattle second-year center Robert Swift, meanwhile, is getting his first extended run of minutes as a pro and totaled 21 points and 19 boards in the Sonics' best back-to-back wins of the season so far -- roadies over Phoenix (that double-OT classic) and Utah.

At the time of his (latest) injury, Denver's Marcus Camby was averaging 16.3 points, 12.3 rebounds and 3.1 blocks. There hasn't been a player in the league to average 15, 10 and three over a full season in those categories since Shaquille O'Neal did it in his MVP season of 1999-2000: 29.7 points, 13.6 boards and 3.0 blocks).

So ...

The Nuggets are scoffing at the idea that bringing Camby back now, even though they went 11-2 without him in January, could foul up their flow somehow. It's a sentiment that stood even after Denver lost at home to the Clippers on Friday night in Camby's ragged return.

"One of the great things about Marcus," said Nuggets general manager Kiki Vandeweghe, "is that he doesn't need the ball to have an impact."

The bigger challenge for Camby will be reclaiming the lead in the NBA rebounding race. He's still within reach of Orlando's Dwight Howard (12.6 rpg), but Camby no longer qualifies. And history says it's unlikely he'll play enough in the final 38 games to re-qualify, since Camby hasn't played more than 20 consecutive games in one season since a career-best run of 28 in a row as a Toronto rookie in 1997.

An official announcement about the Hornets' home for next season is expected next week. The most likely scenario, according to league sources, remains that the club would stay in Oklahoma City for one more season, with a handful of games to be played in New Orleans.

How many? That'll be easier to forecast after seeing what happens when the Hornets return to New Orleans Arena for three games in March.

Marc's Quote

"That's Larry Bird in Sacramento."

Memphis guard and Kings-ex Bobby Jackson, referring to a former teammate who's also a former King now: Peja Stojakovic

A Fine Line
46 16-27 5-6 4-4 8 9 41

Even great lines aren't typically good enough to seize this corner of cyberspace when they come from the losing side. But Michael Redd's 41 points, nine boards and eight assists in an OT loss at Detroit on Wednesday night were significant for two reasons.

1. Forty-one points against the Pistons is always something.

2. Redd became the 11th player in January to score at least 40 points in a game ... which is still four shy of the league record for the most 40-point men in a single month. There have been two months previously in NBA history in which 15 players have recorded 40-plus games: February 1970 and March 1990.

January's leaderboard entering the weekend:

Kobe Bryant (Lakers): 6
Mike Bibby (Sacramento): 3
Allen Iverson (Philadelphia): 3
LeBron James (Cleveland): 2
Tracy McGrady (Houston): 2
Ray Allen (Seattle): 1
Carmelo Anthony (Denver): 1
Gilbert Arenas (Washington): 1
Vince Carter (New Jersey): 1
Rashard Lewis (Seattle): 1
Michael Redd (Milwaukee): 1



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