1. Kobe Bryant Feels Gasol's Pain. Dwight's? No
NEW YORK -- Kobe Bryant faced two crises Tuesday night, one short-term and one long-term. He dealt with both the same way, in the only way you would expect of the five-time champion and ruthless competitor -- with unfettered aggression.
Dwight Howard was in a suit, Metta World Peace was suspended and Pau Gasol had limped to the locker room. The Los Angeles Lakers were down two points late in the fourth quarter against the Brooklyn Nets and were playing Earl Clark way out of position at center against Brook Lopez, who was crushing them on the way to 30 points.
Bryant took the ball with the shot clock running out and seemed to peel back a year off his legs with every step, as he split three Net defenders and exploded to the rim for a dunk. Kris Humphries and Gerald Wallace literally high-fived mid-air, both whiffing on the block attempt as Bryant whipped it through, his lower jaw jutting outward in his classic display of adrenaline overdrive.
"I think everyone has been drinking the Kobe pass Kool-Aid so they kind of stayed on the perimeter like the Red Sea," Bryant said. "I felt a little like Moses."
That play energized the Lakers at a time when they were absorbing the reality that they'd probably just sustained another significant injury. Clark made a few plays down the stretch but it was Bryant's move that established the tide as the Lakers took it 92-83, their sixth win in seven games.
Considering the circumstances, it was one of their biggest victories of the season. It was the kind of game they're going to have to get if they hope to climb out of the doldrums to make the playoffs.
But within a few minutes, it faded away.
"I'm very, very concerned, to say the least," Bryant said, the glow of the win swallowed quickly by the news the team got on Gasol. "It feels good to be able to pull out a win like this but now reality sets in."
Gasol had been battling plantar fasciitis in his right foot for much of the season, just as he has managed tendinitis in his knees. It was especially bothering him Tuesday and when he pushed off his toes to try for a block in the fourth quarter. "I felt a pop in the bottom of my foot," Gasol said. "I've strained [the plantar fascia] before but this is different."
There will be an MRI but it certainly seemed as if Gasol feared he'd torn the tissue. In the grand scheme, that can be considered a good thing. A torn plantar fascia is better than an inflamed one because a torn one heals much quicker. But you can't play through it and it's a weeks-long recovery process.
It was a night that summed up the Lakers' season. A gutty win, a hot streak in progress, hope that the "new" team-centric mood was putting down roots ... then another injury blow.
Before the team could even grasp it, Bryant was already working on his next move. Just like that monstrous drive and dunk, he was not treading lightly.
After the game, he challenged Howard to play through the shoulder injury that's caused him to miss the past three games on this Lakers road trip. With Gasol likely on the shelf again, Bryant knows the Lakers need Howard. He made it clear he thinks Howard could be and maybe should be playing through the pain in his shoulder.
The Lakers and Howard didn't seem to be on the same page Tuesday about his status. In the morning, coach Mike D'Antoni hoped Howard would be recovered enough from platelet-rich plasma therapy he got last week to play. But Howard, his shoulder encased in ice after shootaround, said he was most definitely out.
"He's probably worried about the damage in his shoulder," Bryant said. "I don't think he's ever had to play through injuries in his career. I think it's a new experience for him."
Howard tore his right labrum last month. He will probably need surgery to fix it after the season. In the meantime, he has twice aggravated the injury and gone to see doctors to make sure there hasn't been more damage. The doctors can treat it, such as the blooding-spinning procedure he had, but they can't make it pain-free.
But Howard can play, even though he'll have to deal with setbacks, as long as he's up to it. For the last few games, he hasn't been.
Bryant, who has an extensive résumé of putting off surgeries until offseasons and playing through daily discomfort, is putting the public pressure squarely on Howard to do the same. Gasol limped out of the Barclays Center on crutches Tuesday night. Bryant, talking about reality, gave Howard his preferred dose of it.
"When I was growing up, going through high school and middle school, unfortunately but fortunately I dealt with injuries," Bryant said. "Not injuries that were debilitating but injuries you have to play through where you have to manage the pain. When you go through those things you learn your body and what you can push through.
"But Dwight has never been hurt. The [back injury last season] was debilitating and he couldn't play. When you have an injury that hurts you but you can play through it that's something you have to balance out and manage and he's never really had to do that."
The message was blunt: suck it up.
Evaluating other people's injuries is a delicate process. No one really knows what another player is going through. Bryant only knows what he's gone through and, famously, his tolerance for everything from pain to losing to simple idle conversation is on a different plane than his teammates' through the years.
Right now, Bryant is dealing with a sore right elbow. He got electric stim treatment on it before the game. When he threw down the dunk, he said pain shot up his arm.
"After a play like that you can't grab your arm, it messes up the swag of the moment," Bryant said. "You've got to suck it up."
The swag of this Laker team has been devastated by injuries. They will probably never be as healthy as they envisioned themselves when they were assembled as a super team last summer. But there is only so much Bryant can do.
"How much more assertive do you want me to be?" Bryant said. "We have to figure it out."
2. Around the Association
MVP: Paul George had 11 of his 29 points in the third quarter as the Pacers extended their lead to 11 heading into the fourth.
LVP:Kyle Korver shot just 2-of-9 from 3-point land and turned the ball over three times. Korver grabbed one rebound and couldn't contain George on the defensive end.
That was ... remarkable: Indiana extended its home winning streak to 15 games with the win over Atlanta. The Pacers also took sole possession of the Central Division, breaking a tie with Chicago.
MVP: On the unofficial anniversary of "Linsanity," Jeremy Lin had his best shooting game as a Rocket. He finished 10 of 16 from the floor (5 of 8 from behind the 3-point line) for a game-high 28 points. (He also registered nine assists in 32 minutes of ferociousness attacking the basket.)
That was ... lame: With less than a minute to go and Houston needing just one more 3-pointer to break the NBA record, Warriors coach Mark Jackson ordered his team to foul intentionally the rest of the way, preventing any memorable moments from taking place.
Defining moment: Do all 23 of Houston's NBA record-tying 3-pointers qualify as a "defining moment?" The Rockets simply couldn't miss from behind the arc, going 23 of 40 from downtown on their way to an insane 140-point effort.
MVP: Goran Dragic played poorly to start, but his electric fourth quarter pushed Phoenix over the top. Dragic had 17 points, 3 rebounds and 4 assists in just 24 minutes -- including an assist or a score on 20 of the Suns' last 22 points.
X factor: Dragic was the main catalyst, but the Suns wouldn't have sniffed a win if Jermaine O'Neal and Marcin Gortat hadn't completely bullied the Memphis frontline. The duo combined for 34 points on 13-of-17 shooting.
That was ... lethargic: Memphis was sleepwalking Tuesday night. Only Zach Randolph, Tayshaun Prince and Jerryd Bayless had anything going -- everyone else was disinterested (11-for-29 overall shooting). This is the NBA: 30-loss teams WILL beat you if you don't show up.
MVP: Earl Clark. The unheralded fourth-year forward posted 14 points on 6-for-9 shooting from the field and also pulled down 12 rebounds. The Lakers needed his efficient scoring in a game where Kobe Bryant shot 9-for-24 and turned it over five times and Pau Gasol left with an injury late.
That was ... a wasted effort: Brook Lopez was just about the only Net who could be said to have played well. He went for 30 points and 11 rebounds, blocked three shots and played mostly good defense.
X factor: Cold Nets shooting. Brooklyn connected on just 13 of its 60 shots from outside the restricted area. The Nets missed open shots, contested shots, pull-ups, fadeaways, catch-and-shoots, everything. They shot 34.8 percent overall.
MVP: Samuel Dalembert. Dalembert started off an astonishing 16 for 17 from the field. Sure, after that, Milwaukee's backup center only went 1 of 4 in the losing effort, but take it all together, and Dalembert had 35 points off the bench in 27 minutes on 21 shots.
Defining moment: Milwaukee and Denver were pretty much even for the game in the turnover battle. But in the game's last 4:16, the Bucks had six deadly turnovers and Denver closed the game on a 19-4 run.
X factor: Sometimes the biggest factors in a game are the ones you don't see. Monta Ellis and Brandon Jennings combined for 11 for 36 shooting, 9 turnovers and 16 assists. Not quite invisible, but impossibly far from a star backcourt.
3. Tuesday's Best
Rockets' red glare:
Houston tied an NBA record with 23 3-pointers in a 140-109 win over Golden State. Jeremy Lin sank five 3-pointers, a career high, and Chandler Parsons and James Harden hit four apiece. Nine different Rockets made 3-pointers. Big men Omer Asik and Greg Smith were the only ones who didn't hoist a trey.
4. Tuesday's Worst
Warriors' party poopers:
With Rockets reserve Patrick Beverley taking aim at the all-time team 3-point record for a single game, he got a hard foul from Draymond Green. Soon both were ejected. With one more chance at the mark, Golden State intentionally fouled Houston rather than let them try for the mark. Clearly, Warriors coach Mark Jackson would never have pitched to Barry Bonds.
5. NBA Video Channel
6. Tweet Of The Night
7. Quote Of The Night
"I think everyone has been drinking the Kobe pass Kool-Aid so they kind of stayed on the perimeter like the Red Sea. I felt a little like Moses."
-- Kobe Bryant, on his drive for a thunderous dunk on the Nets.
8. Haitian Sensation
9. Stat Check
Samuel Dalembert scored 35 points on 17 for 21 shooting, plus a free throw, in Milwaukee's loss in Denver on Tuesday. That was Dalembert's most points in any of his 754 regular-season games in the NBA; his previous best was 27, for Sacramento in 2010. No other player in NBA history has even gone 600 regular-season games into his career before his first 30-point game. The next-highest total is 584 games, by Fred Roberts, on Apr. 2, 1991, also for the Bucks. (Roberts did have a 30-point game in the 1989 playoffs.)
Only three other active players have scored a regular-season career-high in points at least 750 games into their career: Chauncey Billups, Andre Miller and Ray Allen.See more from Elias