At the beginning of the season, I picked Kobe Bryant to finish as the MVP.
Why Kobe is the MVP
When I did that, I took into consideration everything he's accomplished in his career, yet he's never been the MVP for the regular season.
Why not? I don't know why this particular recognition has eluded him. Maybe there's some backlash about the breakup with the popular Shaq. Maybe, to a degree, the Colorado court case. There's no doubt his image has taken a hit.
And maybe we've just become accustomed to his being a superstar player.
Then the season began. Before he went on this latest run, he was taking seven fewer shots per game and still averaging 29 points per game. He was making his teammates better, Luke Walton and Andrew Bynum in particular, getting everybody involved. And in the last few weeks, when his team needed him to take over in scoring, he did.
He's my call for MVP.
However, Bryant had an off night Tuesday, scoring 23 in an 88-86 loss to the lowly Grizzlies. That snapped the Los Angeles Lakers' win streak at five. And it snapped Kobe's 40-point-game streak at five, too.
Overall, though, he has done more for his team (compared to other MVP candidates) even though his supporting cast isn't as good. The Lakers might not be winning at the level of the Spurs and Mavericks, but without him they're a lottery team.
I don't think the award has to go to the best player on the team with the best record, even though I really like what Dirk Nowitzki has done this year.
Kobe's popularity might show he's the people choice. His jersey is No. 1 in sales -- when I think MVP, I look at somebody with star power. No shortage of that here.
Let's not forget about his defense. There are questions that could be raised about parts of most candidates' games, but there really aren't a lot of weaknesses in Kobe's game.
His run of four 50-point games certainly called attention to his offense. I had two 50-point games, one early in my career and one later. On those nights, the game slows down, you see the doubles coming. Everything seems to flow.
Kobe's now at the stage of his career where the game has slowed down for him every night. He's playing the game within the game, like Larry, Magic and MJ before him, gaining that special confidence that comes with experience and mastery of the game.
And his experience will now help him with the increased attention he'll be facing on the court in the weeks ahead.
For the rest of the regular season, I think you're going to see a lot of teams come at Kobe with more double teams, keying on him. This is where the kind of teamwork he helped develop in his team early in the year will show. His assists will likely go up. Having Lamar Odom and Walton out there will take the pressure off.
And then the playoffs will come. This is where the stars come out. Watching Kobe night in and night out, we can see a stretch of games that shows he can dominate a series.
As it stands now in the West standings, the No. 6 Lakers would take on the No. 3 Spurs. Scoring 50 in the playoffs is a much taller task compared to many of the teams Kobe has faced in this run. A very tall task against the Spurs.
No matter who his team faces, the playoffs this year will likely show the evolution of Kobe. He can take over. He can make teammates better. He has learned from the Suns' series last year. The dominant player's focus will be that much sharper on exactly what his team needs.
Sounds like an MVP to me.
ESPN analyst Jamal Mashburn went for 50 in his second year in the NBA playing for Dallas.
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
Mavericks center Erick Dampier, left, and Hornets guard Chris Paul, tangle during Dallas' 105-89 win over New Orleans/Oklahoma City. Dallas (59-11) needs only one more win to match the franchise record of 60, set in 2002-03 and matched last season.
It would've made for interesting drama in an episode of Baywatch: the lifeguard goes out and resuscitates a comatose swimmer, only to have the swimmer come to life and drown the lifeguard. Tuesday night at the Staples Center, the Lakers played David Hasselhoff and the Grizzlies were Shelley Winters (I don't know why I always think of her drowning performance in the original Poseidon movie, I just do), coughing up just enough seawater to eke out an 88-86 win.
This, mind you, was a Ms. Winters -- er, Grizzlies' squad -- that had been pummeled the night before by Phoenix and were 1-18 in the second game of back-to-back contests. Overall, they were 5-30 on the road. On top of all that, they were missing two of their three top scorers (Mike Miller and Chucky Atkins) and starting point guard Damon Stoudamire.
"You gotta play the games, right?" said interim coach Tony Barone. "That's how it works."
The night started as if it were simply going to be about idiosyncrasies ... the rare sight of three bald refs in Joe Crawford, Marc Davis and Gary Zielinski, a first half in which there were no more than the mandatory four timeouts taken and Lamar Odom going for a double-double in rebounds and assists while failing to score a point. (He had 12 boards and five assists in a scoreless first half. He finished with 16 rebounds, 11 assists and three points.) The Lakers led by 15 early in the second quarter and appeared to be on their way to a sixth consecutive victory.
Their energy reflected that. Out of desperation, the Grizzlies played a 2-3 zone or box-and-one for all except a half-dozen Lakers possessions -- "And those probably were by accident," Barone said -- and the Lakers looked for Bryant to repeat his previous 60-point outing against Memphis.
Only Bryant's shots were not falling. After making his first three he missed 17 of his next 18.
"Just flush it down the toilet and move on," Bryant said.
They have no choice now. But if their playoff berth is decided by a single game, look for this one to be the first to come gurgling back up.
-- Ric Bucher at Staples Center
The Spurs have now won 50 or more games for eight straight seasons. That's the fourth-longest streak in NBA history. The Lakers had 12 straight 50-win seasons from 1979-80 to 1990-91. Boston had a 10-season streak from 1958-59 to 1967-68 and a nine-season streak from 1979-80 to 1987-88.
Lakers lose at home to NBA's worst team
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Image
Tarence Kinsey, a rookie guard from South Carolina, scored a career-high 24 points as the Grizzlies topped the Lakers, 88-86.
Quote of the Day
For those dying to find a reason to pay attention to the Memphis Grizzlies for the remainder of this season, here's one: They may just have the next Kevin Martin.
Granted, the original Kevin Martin is barely out of the kiln, so finding the next one isn't quite on par with finding the next MJ or even the next Robin Ficker, for that matter. But if long, lanky guards whose funky strokes and pencil-thin physiques belie their quickness of foot and mind intrigue you, Grizzlies' rookie Tarence Kinsey should be on your watch list.
"You hit it on the head," said guard Chucky Atkins of the Martin comparison. "Real smart, knows how to play off the ball. Put some veteran guys around him and he'll be good."
Kinsey's teammates jokingly wrapped athletic tape around a bottle of blue Gatorade, wrote "Player of the Game" on it and presented it to him after he led all scorers (yes, even Kobe) with 24 points to upset the Lakers Tuesday night at the Staples Center. Kinsey's 10 of 18 shooting included a three-pointer with 54 seconds left that broke a 81-all tie and two free throws to push the lead to five with 13 seconds left.
Lakers guard Sasha Vujacic, asked what he knew about the 6-foot-6, 189-pound Kinsey going into the game, said, "Zero."
Presumably, once upon a time Kevin Martin inspired the same response.
--Ric Bucher at Staples Center
My buddy/tour guide refused to take me to the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans, telling me it looks exactly like what you see on TV: a wasteland of abandoned houses, debris piles and all-but-deserted streets.
"The people who used to live there were not the people to whom the Hornets were trying to sell tickets," he said, instead steering us to the former middle-class district of Lake View, near the 17th Street canal that ruptured during Hurricane Katrina, flooding a vast portion of the city.
Basically, the neighborhood is a wasteland, a place where life won't return to normal for at least a decade, if ever. It still reeked of mildew and mold. Signs of rebirth were few and far between. A few standard FEMA-issued trailers were parked outside the scattered homes being rebuilt. Well-manicured lawns were outnumbered 10-to-1 by weed-strewn, overgrown lots. The waterline from the flood was still visible on many of the empty homes, 7 feet high in some spots, rising to 8, 9, 10 feet as we drove steadily lower into the bowl of the city.
"Those people did move, but most of them moved 10 miles away, not 1,000," Hornets team president Hugh Weber told ESPN.com, "so we're trying to structure ticket packages for them that meet their needs. "
Kobe Bryant had an off night. He missed 19 of his 26 shot attempts against the Grizzlies and scored 23 points. Not only did he snap a streak of five consecutive games with at least 40 points, but the Lakers snapped a five-game win streak. This season the more Kobe scores, the better off are the Lakers.
-- Michael E. Jackson, ESPN Research