Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Starting too see a Kobe without Shaq

For a while, it appeared as though Kobe Bryant wouldn't make it out of the first quarter -- let alone come up with his most productive game of the season.

Bryant scored 48 points in 46 minutes after spraining his left shoulder, and the Los Angeles Lakers recorded a season high in points Tuesday night with a 117-99 victory over the Toronto Raptors.

``It couldn't have been that bad, because he scored 48,'' teammate Lamar Odom said. ``Kobe doesn't show signs of hurt. He won't let you know. And that's probably a weakness.''

Los Angeles got 18 points and nine rebounds from Caron Butler, who returned from a one-game suspension. Odom had 15 points and 13 rebounds despite early foul trouble.

Bryant's non-shooting shoulder took a beating in the first 5 1/2 minutes. First, he hit the deck after missing a spinning layup and falling over Eric Williams. He staggered off the court wincing again after driving the lane and getting the ball slapped out of his hands by rookie center Rafael Araujo.

Bryant, coming off a 42-point effort against Miami on Saturday, went to the dressing room after the second incident. But only seven seconds ticked off the clock before he reported back in -- the only time Bryant wasn't on the floor until the fourth quarter, when he spent the first two minutes on the bench.

``There were certain things that I could not do with it, but I could still raise my arm up and still move it from side to side,'' said Bryant, who was 14-for-26 from the field and 16-for-18 on free throws. ``Some of the movements I couldn't do -- like tying my shoe -- were not really important.''

The Lakers, primed for an emotional letdown following their 104-102 overtime loss to the Heat in Shaquille O'Neal's celebrity-studded return to Staples Center, beat Toronto for the sixth straight time. They were 13-for-25 from 3-point range after attempting a franchise-record 36 shots from 3-point range against Miami and making 14.

``We've got a confident group of guys when it comes to shooting the ball,'' Odom said. ``We've got guys 6-11 like Brian Cook who can step out and hit 3s. Jumaine Jones can really let it fly, and Kobe can hit shots from anywhere. But it can definitely come back and bite you. ... With the 3-pointer, you either live by it or die by it.''

Donyell Marshall made a 3-pointer and a dunk 21 seconds apart to give Toronto a six-point lead with 8:15 to play. But Bryant fueled a game-ending 32-8 run with 17 points, and the Lakers held the Raptors to just one field goal over the final 6:45.

``We're a team that doesn't give up, no matter what, and we just keep gnawing at you. But we've just got to protect the paint,'' Butler said.

``We'd be so great if we could do that, because then we could get into our running game more often. We've got guys like Lamar, Kobe, Chucky Atkins, and myself who look great on the break. But in order to get into our fast-break offense, we've got to stop people.''

It was the first time in 10 tries this season that the Lakers won a game they trailed after three quarters, and dropped the Raptors to 0-15 when they give up at least 100 points.

``We've got to play hard from beginning to end,'' Marshall said. ``We can't start off well and then try to come back. We have to play a good solid 48 minutes.''

The Lakers improved to 15-12 and finished their December schedule 6-6. It's their first month without a winning record since last January, when O'Neal missed 12 games with a strained right calf and they were 6-9.

Rafer Alston had 13 points and 11 assists for the Raptors, who had seven players in double digits while losing for the 11th time in 14 games and the ninth straight time on the road. Williams, making his third start since Jalen Rose was dropped from the starting lineup last Wednesday, had 12 points.

Toronto is 2-4 since trading Vince Carter to New Jersey for Williams, Alonzo Mourning, Aaron Williams and two first-round draft picks on Dec. 17. Mourning has yet to play for the Raptors because of injuries that landed him on the injured list Monday.

Araujo, who replaced Mourning on the active roster, had eight points in 19 minutes after missing five games with a lower back strain.

Although Kobe had a slow start, he really got things going in the 2nd quarter. He is really starting to show his leadership position that was given more of a load without Shaq. Lets hope the shoulder injury doesn't hold him back too much.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

Lakers Outlastted by Heat

Shaquille O'Neal received the loudest ovation before the game. Kobe Bryant came up short in his bid to earn the final cheers.

Bryant scored a season-high 42 points but missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer in overtime as the Los Angeles Lakers fell to the Miami Heat, 104-102, in a highly anticipated reunion with former teammate O'Neal.

It was Miami's 11th straight victory, tying a franchise record set from January 27-February 20, 1997.

O'Neal, who was greeted with a standing ovation during pregame introductions, collected 24 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in his first game against the Lakers -- whom he helped lead to three NBA titles and last season's Finals -- since being traded in the offseason.

Before the game, O'Neal and Bryant had a cold greeting at mid-court. O'Neal patted Bryant on the back and both players acknowledged each other with a nod.

O'Neal, who lobbied for a trade after he felt Bryant forced coach Phil Jackson's departure after losing to the Detroit Pistons in the Finals, said in the buildup to the game that he was "a brick wall" and Bryant "a Corvette," and that everybody knows what happens when a Corvette collides with a brick wall.

During the game, Bryant made a handful of drives to the basket but never was the recipient of an especially hard foul by O'Neal.

"I know there is a lot to talk about, the brick wall and all of that," Bryant said. "But I think that was just to hype the game. Ultimately (Shaq) is just going to come out here and play good basketball and that is what he did. The fans were treated to a good ballgame."

"I wanted to come in and get my team a win," O'Neal said. "I wasn't worried about doing anything crazy or out of my team's character. I would rather get a win every time."

With O'Neal having fouled out late in the fourth quarter, Dwyane Wade took over down the stretch for the Heat, scoring four of his 29 points in overtime, including a leaner in the paint with 2:08 left that opened a 104-99 cushion.

"We played just like every game when we had Shaq," Wade said. "And that's what this team does. We've all got each other's back. I just tried to be aggressive and make good passes and just try to make plays."

Los Angeles pulled within 104-102 on a 3-pointer by Lamar Odom, who contributed 24 points and 11 rebounds, with 1:11 to play in the extra session, but did not score again.

With 27 seconds to play, Lakers guard Chucky Atkins was called for charging, but Miami did not get a shot off before the 24-second clock expired, giving Los Angeles the ball back with 3.4 seconds to play.

The ball was worked to Bryant, who got a clean look at a 3-pointer from near the left hash mark but only could hit the front of the rim.

"I had a pretty good look," Bryant said of the final shot. "I did not get the balance that I would have liked to on the shot and as a consequence the shot went left."

The Lakers had trouble scoring in the fourth quarter, too, failing to make a basket after a banked jumper by Bryant gave them an 86-82 edge with 5:42 remaining.

"We dug in defensively and got some stops," Wade said. "We constantly talked about making them take tough shots because they were shooting the ball unbelievable in the first quarter. At the end we had to make them take tough shots, and I think we did a good job of that."

O'Neal fouled out with 2:15 left in regulation after bumping Bryant on a drive down the lane. Bryant sank the pair of free throws to give the Lakers a 93-91 lead but did not score thereafter.

"Shaq said to me to just go ahead and get this one for me," Wade said of O'Neal's departure. "And I said, 'I got you.'"

The game was tied, 94-94, when Wade missed a jumper with 23 seconds left. Heat forward Christian Laettner tapped the rebound back to his teammates, but Wade front-rimmed a jumper just before the buzzer, sending the game into overtime.

Despite the loss, the Lakers set a franchise record with 14 3-pointers, attempting 36.

"It was disappointing but it is a good learning experience for us," Bryant said. "We have been in so many of these games, about three or four of them against the top teams in the league, but have not been able to close them down. The more the season goes on, in January and February, you are going to see us winning these games. We are close."

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

Lewis scores 37 as Seattle improves to 18-4

This was supposed to be a battle between Ray Allen and Kobe Bryant, meeting on the court for the first time since trading preseason barbs in the press.

Nobody told Rashard Lewis he wasn't invited to the show.

Lewis scored a season-high 37 points and had seven rebounds as the Seattle SuperSonics improved to 18-4 with a 108-93 win over the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.

Lewis made 13 of 22 shots, including seven 3-pointers.

"We know what kind of threat Rashard is. He is extremely versatile," Bryant said. "He just hurt us tonight from all over the court."

When guarded by a smaller player, Lewis went inside and used his height advantage. When a bigger player tried to slow down Seattle's small forward, Lewis stepped out and drained 3-pointers.

"Too much focus was on Ray Allen tonight and I got a lot of open shots and I took advantage," Lewis said. "Even though it was Ray and Kobe ... I felt like Kobe was talking to us as a team. We're a team and we're going to back each other up."

It's Seattle's best start since beginning the 1993-94 season 20-2 on the way to 63 wins. The SuperSonics have the second-best record in the NBA and will host league-leading Phoenix on Friday night.

Bryant led the Lakers with 35 points and Allen scored 26 points for Seattle, in a matchup anticipated since the preseason.

On Oct. 13, the day after the Lakers and SuperSonics met to open the preseason, Allen questioned Bryant's ability to lead the Lakers, wondering if the superstar's attitude would allow him to take a backseat some nights and let his teammates develop their games.

Bryant responded, telling a reporter not to put Allen's name in the same breath with his. During a later preseason game which Allen sat out, Bryant told Allen he would see him again.

Before Tuesday's game, Bryant said he took Allen's words as an attack on his team and he hoped they would respond.

Bryant's supporting cast did little to back him up.

Caron Butler added 16 points for Los Angeles, but aside from Bryant's 12-for-23 shooting performance, the Lakers made just 20-of-58 shots.

"We ran into a team that has been playing great basketball," Lakers coach Rudy Tomjanovich said. "They shot the ball so well. We tried three different methods of trying to play them and they had answers for everything."

Lewis scored 17 points in the first quarter and had 22 in the first half as Seattle built a 10-point lead at the break.

Seattle was also unselfish with the ball, with 28 assists on 42 field goals. Luke Ridnour tied a season-high with 11 assists.

"Rashard was the guy at the other end of the floor for us that kept us in the game and allowed us to take control," Allen said. "I don't know if teams have respected him yet to where they have to take him out of the offense."

Seattle took control in the second quarter as the Lakers struggled to make a shot. The SuperSonics went on a 17-5 run, highlighted by fast break dunks from Lewis and Jerome James, to take a 51-33 lead.

Los Angeles missed 13 of 14 shots during the nearly seven-minute span as they struggled against a zone defense by Seattle. The Lakers' only points were a long jumper from Bryant and free throws from Bryant and Chris Mihm.

The Lakers got no closer than eight in the second half.

"I thought our zone did a good job of getting them out of their comfort zone and forcing them to play against a defense that you don't see a lot of in the NBA," Seattle coach Nate McMillan said. "I thought that slowed them down just enough for us to get some stops and create some offense for ourselves."

Los Angeles fell to 8-9 on the season when Bryant leads the Lakers in scoring.