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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Nowitzki is Too Much for the Odom-less Lakers

Dirk Nowitzki had 23 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists as the Dallas Mavericks beat the L.A. Lakers, 110-101, in the second half of ESPN's Wednesday night doubleheader. The Lakers, playing without power forward Lamar Odom--who may be sidelined for a month with a sprained knee--were outrebounded 39-31 and had no answer for Nowitzki's all around game; they also did not do a great defensive job against Jason Terry (26 points, nine assists, five rebounds) and Josh Howard (29 points). Kobe Bryant had a game-high 33 points, tied for the team lead with seven rebounds, had a team-high four assists, tied for the team lead with two steals and had the Lakers' only blocked shot--in other words, there will be a dozen articles written saying that he tried to do too much and another dozen articles written saying that he did not do enough. Bryant shot 9-18 from the field and 14-17 from the free throw line, while the rest of the Lakers shot just 23-55 from the field (.418). Dallas shot 39-65 from the field (.600).

The Mavericks attacked the undermanned Lakers immediately, taking an 8-0 lead. Bryant scored the Lakers' first two points at the 8:56 mark when he snagged a defensive rebound and dribbled coast to coast for a layup. He spent most of the quarter trying to get his teammates involved, though--and they spent most of the quarter missing shots, resulting in a 33-21 Dallas lead. Howard (12) and Nowitzki (11) combined for 23 points on 10-13 shooting.

Bryant continued to try to create for his teammates in the second quarter. Rookie guard Jordan Farmar responded with 10 points on 4-5 shooting and Vladimir Radmanovic scored seven points but Dallas outscored L.A. 26-23 and held a 56-47 halftime advantage. Howard (18), Nowitzki (14) and Terry (13) all played aggressively, while Bryant had just five points on 2-6 shooting.

Other than during some stretches in last year's playoff series versus Phoenix, I have yet to see the Lakers do better with Bryant "deferring"--and the playoffs were a unique situation in which Coach Phil Jackson developed an "Inside Man" strategy that was specifically tailored to Phoenix' weakness in the paint. Bryant stopped "deferring" in the third quarter and promptly brought the Lakers back into the game. He scored 10 points in the first 7:09, culminating with a steal and slam dunk that pulled the Lakers to within 70-67. Bryant fell and took a blow to his "funny bone" at the 3:31 mark but shook off the injury (literally shaking his hand until the feeling came back) and made both free throws to cut the Dallas lead to 72-71. Bryant's three pointer with 3:06 remaining tied the game for the first time, 74-74; he scored nine straight Lakers points in a little over two minutes and finished with 17 points in the quarter. The Lakers only trailed 83-81 going into the fourth quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, with the score tied 83-83, Devin Harris raced to the hoop for a sure two points, only to have his shot swatted from behind by Bryant, a play reminiscent of Bryant's spectacular rejection of Utah's Deron Williams earlier in the season. Bryant kept the ball in bounds, but Farmar was almost immediately stripped and Harris ended up scoring a layup anyway. Soon after that, Dallas went on an 8-0 run and never looked back.

Late in the fourth quarter, ESPN's Mark Jones summed it up nicely: "Kobe Bryant really has not gotten much support from his teammates tonight." Tom Tolbert concurred, "I was just going to say that. They have to step up...if he's going to defer to you, you have to step up and make shots--especially the easy ones." Jones revisited that point again after Bryant made back to back jumpers: "It's easy to criticize Kobe for taking charge offensively and to criticize him for taking a lot of shots but that lies with his teammates--they've got to be engaged and involved offensively." Tolbert agreed, adding, "There's no question. When he goes to you--I'm not going to say that you have to finish every time, but you have to be fairly consistent and they haven't been in the fourth quarter."

posted by David Friedman @ 3:29 AM


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