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Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Answer Debuts for Denver, Kobe Overcomes the Flu and Yao Leaves the Spurs Yearning for Rasho Nesterovic

The NBA delivered plenty of action on Friday night in addition to Gilbert Arenas' 54 messages to Mike D'Antoni. Here are brief comments about a few other notable games/performances:

***The Allen Iverson era for the Denver Nuggets began with a 101-96 loss to the Sacramento Kings. Iverson came off the bench after sitting out the first 8:35 and played for the rest of the game, finishing with 22 points and 10 assists while shooting 9-15 from the field, an unusually small number of attempts and high rate of accuracy for him. The Nuggets used only eight players and were missing the services of starters Marcus Camby (broken finger), Carmelo Anthony (suspended by the NBA) and J.R. Smith (suspended by the NBA). Earl Boykins led the Nuggets with 25 points but shot 8-23 from the field; the Nuggets shot .371 as a team. Brad Miller and John Salmons topped the Kings with 21 points each.

*** Kobe Bryant had 21 points, 11 assists and six rebounds as the Lakers beat the Nets, 99-95. Bryant battled the flu and a gritty Nets' defense that was determined to force other players to make shots. Of his illness, Bryant said, "It's a struggle. I'm looking forward to going back to the room and getting some rest. I have been struggling with it right before we came out on the road trip. I've been trying to fight it off. Last night it caught up to me."

The Nets' philosophy against Bryant is to swarm him and make him give up the ball. Bryant has no problem doing that: "(The Nets are) one of those teams that is absolutely bent on me not scoring. They throw everything but the kitchen sink. The challenge I have is to make teams see that I can just be as big a threat passing the ball."

Bryant shot just 4-13 from the field, uncharacteristically low numbers for him in terms of attempts and field goal percentage. He shot 11-12 from the free throw line and was the highest scoring of six Lakers who reached double figures in points. Vince Carter led the Nets with 33 points but shot just 13-30 from the field and missed a three pointer that could have tied the game with two seconds left.

***Last year, the Houston Rockets could barely win a game when Tracy McGrady did not play. Couple that with the fact that the Rockets had lost 17 straight games in San Antonio and their chances on Friday night did not look good. THAT, Chris Berman would intone, is why they play the games. Yao Ming had 22 points--including 18 in the first half when Houston built a 53-36 lead--and the Rockets soundly defeated the Spurs, 97-78. The Spurs' center tandem of Francisco Elson and Fabricio Oberto is not able to deal with Yao, so the task of guarding him falls to power forward Tim Duncan. After the game, ESPN's Greg Anthony said that this assignment wore Duncan down and took away from his rhythm on offense (Duncan finished with 14 points on 4-13 shooting, adding 11 rebounds, four assists, five steals and two blocked shots). Then Anthony uttered words that would surely cause Stephen A. Smith to pass out: Anthony said that the Spurs miss Nazr Mohammed and Smith's favorite whipping boy, the much maligned Rasho Nesterovic. Anthony pointed out that those two players provided a legitimate defensive post presence alongside Duncan that the Spurs are lacking now.

Another key factor for Houston was the play of Bonzi Wells, who scored a season-hihg 15 points. He shot 6-11 from the field as the Rockets shot .514 from the field overall, a very high percentage against the Spurs, a team that always ranks among the leaders in defensive field goal percentage. Manu Ginobili led the Spurs with 23 points.

posted by David Friedman @ 3:06 AM



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