Assigned to run point on the Daily Dime, I went in hoping to write about something or someone other than Kobe Bryant. Before tipoff, I thought maybe I'd look at the Jazz's oddball Andrei Kirilenko-Mehmet Okur-Carlos Boozer front line and how it's still not an ideal configuration, no matter how many games they won out of the gate. (And how their 2-3 record since Kirilenko returned from injury is an indication.)
Kobe sends 52 messages
Or maybe I'd write about Derek Fisher and how he really didn't want to go to Utah because his wife had just had twins at the time of the trade and he didn't know if he'd be buried on the bench behind Deron Williams and Dee Brown.
But then the Lakers got a head of steam and under a semi-directive to write about the winning team, I thought maybe I'd go with Luke Walton, who airballed an early J and next touch buried a 3, something he couldn't or wouldn't have done a year ago. Or put the spotlight on Maurice Evans outhustling the NBA's Charlie Hustle, Matt Harpring, and what a quietly terrific draft-night deal that was getting him for a second-round pick from Detroit. Or go the combo route, looking at how GM Mitch Kupchak is routinely skewered and yet looks like a Executive of the Year candidate for acquiring a host of role players in Evans, Ronny Turiaf, Vladimir Radmanovic and Jordan Farmar that suddenly makes the idea of dealing a few pieces for Kevin Garnett less of a strip-mine operation.
But then Kobe went and dropped 52 points Thursday in a 132-102 win on the team with the NBA's best record -- as opposed to the NBA's best team -- including crushing two dunks on the entire Jazz defense and did it all in a way that wasn't the least bit forced. I even enjoyed watching Phil Jackson irritably clean his glasses in the midst of Kobe's 30-point third quarter, going 9 for 9 from the floor and 10 for 10 from the line, as if the thought bubble over the Zenmaster's head was: "Yeah, yeah, I know you've got all that, but what about the triangle? Work the triangle, damn it. What about the ballhandling skills I put the team through? How am I going to get any love when you're pulling up and hitting bottoms from 25 feet? Show-off."
Actually, Kobe didn't just break the half-century mark on the scoreboard. He also switched onto Kirilenko when he started to heat up on Walton and kept him scoreless until the game got out of hand. Which, combined with Kobe's 15 free-throw attempts, is why all the talk of anyone being a better player is laughable. Only Steve Nash understands how to get his teammates going and yet take every big shot as well as Kobe does within the context of the game. And Nash simply doesn't have the physical tools to play defense the way Kobe can.
I understand. He doesn't do funny commercials. He seemed to be channeling all of MJ's mannerisms his first few years while denying any similarity. He has a nasty edge that he sometimes inflicts on people who meant him no harm. He doesn't have Shaq's seal of approval. The list of reasons those who don't like him is long and varied. But how many times does one man have to drop iodine tablets into the same village well to make it potable? How many times must Kobe demonstrate that no one in the league -- and I mean no one -- has his combination of skill, tenacity, understanding of time and score, killer instinct and ability to control the game at the both ends? And how many times must I be the one taking the flag and waving it?
Trust me, if you're sick of me sticking up for Kobe, I'm equally sick of having to do it. It shouldn't be this difficult to have the man recognized as the league's all-around best player. OK, so you don't like him. I'm good with that. But not respect him? Not give him his due? Anoint anyone who hasn't accomplished half of what he has as The King or The One or The Whatever? Ignore what every player in the league will tell you, even those who consider him arrogant and a little bit evil, that he's the best?
You in the back with the Raja Bell jersey -- you want to know why we didn't see this in the third quarter against the Suns in Game 7 last year? Answer: Because Kobe was playing on the knee that required offseason surgery. Because, unlike Game 7, the rest of the Lakers contributed at both ends from the get, which opened the door for Kobe to go off. There's no getting 52 against a good team (exempting last year's Raptors) unless your teammates are keeping the opposition honest. Otherwise, they're going to run double and triple teams at you with impunity -- something the Suns did and the Jazz didn't.
No doubt someone will poke some holes in his performance against the Jazz. Phil may even provide some ammo for it. All I can say is, you better get started now. This one won't be easy to ventilate. Or as a Cuban philosopher once exclaimed: "You got some 'splainin' to do, Lucy."
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Pistons coach Flip Saunders talks with Rasheed Wallace. Detroit won its seventh straight, improving to 10-5 on the season.
The defending NBA champion Heat (6-9) played their 15th game of the season Thursday. Miami is the eighth defending NBA champ to have a losing record in its first 15 games of a season: 1998-99 Bulls (4-11), 1969-70 Celtics (4-11), 2002-03 Lakers (5-10), 1956-57 Warriors (6-9), 1948-49 Bullets (6-9), 2004-05 Pistons (7-8), 1947-48 Warriors (7-8).
It appears this season Kobe Bryant is playing more to the specs laid out by Phil Jackson. This could be a temporary development while he is recovering from surgery, or it could be a sign of growth that often comes to players.
When I've watched him this season, his body language when teammates erred was not great, but it wasn't bad either. Rarely did I see a scowl, and sometimes he made a positive gesture to the offending teammate. This is an area to scrutinize going forward, especially when the Lakers suffer some tough defeats.
Kobe rises once again, drops 52 on Jazz
Andrew D. Bernstein/Getty Images
Kobe Bryant scored 30 points in the third quarter against the Jazz. He scored 30 in the third in his 62-point game against the Mavs last season. All of his scoring came in the first three quarters of both games. He also scored 53 through the first three quarters of his 81-point game against the Raptors.
Quote of the Day
-- Andrew Ayres
GUMMY UNBEARABLE: When Dwyane Wade's potential game-winning jumper drew nothing but the side of the rim, he appeared to fling his gum in despair. That sums up the frustrating season so far for Wade and the Heat -- when the Hubba Bubba is a-flyin', Miami fans are a-cryin'.
SILLY MONGOOSE: The Jazz failed to unleash Billy Joe Cuthbert's D on a white-hot Kobe. Clearly, Jerry Sloan is waiting for the right moment. Summoning the spirit of Ben Poquette couldn't hurt, either.
BARK'S BITE: On the TNT broadcast, when not defending the merits of Elvis against the withering criticism of Kenny Smith, Charles Barkley says the one big thing missing from the Jazz is a go-to guy. And Carlos Boozer, though quite good, is not that kind of guy, says Wade's "dad."
BOOGIE BLIGHTS: Ronny Turiaf's spirited bench dancing just might make up for the terpsichorean sins of Mark Madsen.
-- Andrew Ayres
Matt (Seattle, WA): Chad, can we officially declare that "Amare Stoudemire is back" or do we need to wait for a couple more consecutive 20-10 games?
Chad Ford: I think three consecutive and dominating 20-10 games is enough for me. Of course we'll want to see if he's healthy enough to sustain it ... but it looks like the old Amare is starting to return. If he can keep it up, I'm sticking by my prediction that the Suns will win it all this year.
Heat F Wayne Simien is sidelined indefinitely with a salmonella infection, the same ailment that struck him last summer. He won't accompany the team on its four-game road trip.
• Heat F James Posey returned after missing five games with a calf injury.
• The Pistons came into the Heat game with 171 turnovers, fewest in the NBA.
• The Staples Center crowd cheered Utah's Derek Fisher, a member of three NBA champions with the Lakers, when he entered the game late in the first quarter.
-- The Associated Press