|(Illustration courtesy of Wang Tao)|
A couple spare thoughts:
Dwight Howard looks awful
For what it's worth, Howard should've had an easier matchup on Tuesday; Serge Ibaka karate-chopped Blake Griffin in the balls the other night, but wasn't suspended -- which is rather unbelievable, since you shouldn't be allowed to just hit someone in the balls and go to work the next day like nothing happened. But anyway, Howard did have to square off against Ibaka, and the younger, more athletic Ibaka ran circles around him and held him to 1-7 shooting.
Howard is leading the NBA in blocks and rebounding, but those are very deceptive numbers. Watching him last night, it struck me how little impact he had on the game. He can't stop defenders when they get in the lane and he can't overpower people on the block. In fact, Howard was moving so gingerly and so slowly that I thought to myself, "Has Dwight Howard shrunk?" His shoulder and back injuries are more than just nagging distractions that he's supposed to man up and play with; they're bad enough that he's essentially just a role player when he's on the floor now, like a slightly more rounded Ben Wallace. He's only 27 but he moved like he was 37 last night.
Kobe Bryant is the G.O.A.T.... at least in one respect
So much attention has been centered around LeBron James and how well he stacks up to Michael Jordan, and rightfully so -- LeBron is having a spectacular season. And when the dust clears, it's hard to think that LeBron James won't have more rings, more points, more everything than Kobe Bryant and will be seen as the better overall player. But there's one thing Kobe has on LeBron that he may have on every player in history: no one has ever hit more difficult shots.
I never got to see Jerry West or Oscar Robertson or Pete Maravich, but I did see Jordan, and as spectacular as Jordan was, he never attempted or made with such regularity the shots that Kobe makes -- the flailing, turn-around step-backs over a seven-footer, the 30-foot three-pointer with the shot clock running down. They're terrible shots to be sure, and I'll admit saying that Jordan never hit the crazy shots Kobe hit is somewhat of a false positive since Jordan was so good that he didn't need to take those crazy shots. Still, Kobe has stuck around this long because he's been able to hit outside shots that are downright unguardable.
Unfortunately, the more of them he resorts to taking, and occasionally making, the worse it means the Lakers are. When the Lakers traded Shaq to Miami, Kobe was a scoring machine, but the team had an incredibly weak supporting cast and the Lakers were mediocre despite him. The only time the Lakers have missed the playoffs since they drafted Kobe was in 2005, when they went 34-48. That year, Bryant averaged 27.6 points per game, and the Lakers' second-leading scorer was Caron Butler, who offered 15.5 points per game in his lone season with the Lake-show.
The situation is a little different in 2013; Kobe is having the best shooting season of his career, shooting 38 points better than he was in 2005. But his scoring average, 27.4 PPG, is almost identical to what it was in 2005, and even eerier is that the Lakers' second-leading scorer this year, Dwight Howard, is averaging 15.9 PPG, about the same as what Butler was averaging.
If the Lakers do miss the playoffs it'd be ironic, because for all the glitz and glamour and name power in Kobe, Howard, Steve Nash and Pau Gasol, and for as well as Kobe has played and for all the crazy shots he makes and takes, the Lakers will have only been slightly better than a 2005 Lakers unit that featured Lamar Odom, Chucky Atkins and Chris Mihm.