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Hello from STAPLES Center everybody … I know you can’t wait for your inactives:
Lakers: Chris Mihm, Sun Yue
Dallas: Josh Howard, Jerry Stackhouse
As you can see, for the first time this season, your inactives have changed due to Chris Mihm’s sprained ankle, suffered in practice the other day.
AND your starters:
L.A. Fish, Kobe, Vladi, Pau and Bynum
Dallas: Jason Kidd, Antoine Wright, Gerald Green*, Dirk Nowitzki and Erick Dampier
*Green’s starting for Dallas as Josh Howard was a late scratch. He was listed as probable, and looked good in warmups, but must have decided that his ankle wasn’t quite ready. Still, Dallas has won three of their five-straight games without Howard.
The first evidence that Bynum’s foot isn’t more than a little painful came near the 11:00 mark when he destroyed an Antoine Wright driving layup. Of course, the mere mention of Bynum having any kind of injury nearly incited an earthquake of panic amongst Lakers faithful, but the worry seems in vain. The thing is, with how big Bynum is, even the slightest awkwardness in a landing can cause an injury, where as you might see Fisher fall down repeatedly, but not necessarily injure himself because his body is so centered to the ground. Note to self: Ask Lakers trainer Gary Vitti about different body chemistry among players. OK. Bynum managed a game-high six points and an offensive rebound in the game’s first six minutes, which included an angry, two-handed and-1 dunk thanks to a slick pass from Gasol. While we won’t so much be able to tell if his foot’s bothering him when he’s on the floor, it certainly looked all right to start.
After falling behind 7-2 to start the game, L.A. used a 12-3 run – thanks largely to Bynum – to take a 14-10 game and force the evening’s first timeout. L.A. was able to get to the free throw line seven times, while Dallas lived by the jumper. You should also know that if I were electing an honorary guest for courtside tickets, I’d definitely choose Brian Westbrook, thanks to his four touchdowns on Thanksgiving (fantasy owners around the country just nodded their head a few times in agreement). By the way, Lamar Odom proudly told me that he did nothing but eat yesterday, with a broad smile and a “absolutely, 100 percent” to emphasize his point.
L.A.’s 12-3 run quickly became a 18-3 run when Bryant scored again in the lane (nice to see him hitting the basket, right?) and Vladi nailed another three. Turkey day didn’t mess with Radmanovic’s shooting flow, it would seem. Dallas, however, had an answer, scoring nine straight of its own thanks to a Jason Terry steal and dunk and a (former Laker) Devean George triple though Fisher’s pull-up three (the kind you hate until it goes in) put the Lakers back up four at 23-19.
Bryant and Kidd then traded triples as Ariza and Farmar joined Odom, Gasol and Bryant on the floor, before another George three canceled out a Gasol mini-hook on Dirk. In the final 30 seconds, Vujacic (who’d just checked in for Kobe) looked like he got hit on a three-point attempt but received no call, and Dallas drew within a point on a Jose Barea* layup. But with 3.7 seconds left, Jordan Farmar got the ball all the way up the floor to the NBA’s best-running bigman, and Gasol finished at the rim as the clock expired for a 30-27 edge. That gave Pau six points, while Bryant led the way with 10.
*Not sure why I know this, but last year Jose was called “Jose Juan Barea.” What’s up, Dallas? Why shorten your man’s name?
L.A.’s second unit usually, if ever, doesn’t get outplayed to start the second quarter, but it did on this day. Barea, Terry, Wright, Brandon Bass and DeSagana Diop took it to Farmar, Vujacic, Ariza, Odom and Bynum to the tune of a 10-4 open that made it 37-34 Mavericks. To be fair, the Lakers had three different shots just barely rim out on offense, but it was the lack of defense (Dallas shot 5-of-8) that failed to impress. Let’s blame it on turkey, stuffing and cranberry sauce.
At the 7:13 mark, Bynum grabbed his third and fourth offensive boards of the contest, then cashed in his fourth and fifth free throws to give him eight points and seven boards. Just wanted to share that.
OK, Jose Juan needs to settle down … His season-high heading into tonight’s contest was nine, but after three straight floaters in the lane (plus a first quarter bucket), Barea had already totaled eight points, helping the Mavs take a 48-44 lead into a Lakers timeout with 4:17 remaining. Barea, a Puerto Rican who played hoops at Northeastern in Boston for four years, is listed at 6-0 but seems more like 5-10, and is the opposite of slow. Yet and still, he was getting into the lane with far too much ease, just as Devin Harris did in the first half of Tuesday’s game.
Instrumental for the Lakers in cutting into what had been a six-point Mavs lead was Derek Fisher, who scored seven points in about two minutes first by nailing a three, then burying consecutive jumpers in the lane to make it a 52-51 game.
Yet the Mavs, who really played well for much of the half, got another triple from Wright (the sixth in 13 tries) and a pull-up J in transition from Terry to push the lead back to six rather quickly. Vladi then, oddly, badly missed an open three after a great pass from Bryant, to allow Dallas a 57-51 lead heading into the break. Two Fridays ago, coincidentally the last time the Lakers were on ESPN, L.A. trailed Detroit by nine at the half.
The one statistic that stands out most is that, like the Pistons, the Mavericks shot the heck out of the ball in the first half, hitting 24-of-41 (58.5 percent), while the Lakers struggled mightily, connecting on just 19-of-52 shots. Offensive rebounds (11) and free throw attempts (10) were what kept the Lakers in the game.
Where’d the Bench Go?
Rewarding Rick Carlisle for his decision to start Barea in the second half (with Green on the bench), Jose Juan sparked a 7-2 run to begin the period. Taking advantage of his quickness over Fisher, Barea drew attention away from Wright before feeding Antoine for a triple, then nailed a 19-foot jumper to give Dallas its biggest lead at 64-53. Who knew I’d type “Barea” seven times already in this running diary? Seriously?
Back-to-back jumpers from Fisher and Bryant were answered by a Dirk and-1, who was promptly answered at the other end by consecutive Ariza buckets around the rim, the first of which was a fierce put-back slam. After Gasol’s shot rimmed out, Ariza threw it back in with the speed of a 1980s Nolan Ryan fastball (by the way, this is random, but remember when he beat down Robin Ventura?)
With the crowd as loud as it’d been all evening, Dallas then turned the ball over, and Bynum dropped in a pretty pass from Gasol to cut what had been a 12-point lead in half. But as they’d done all evening, the Mavs answered promptly with a five-point Dirk run. It’s almost like L.A. was playing Connect Four, and worked some magic to get three reds in a row, but then Dallas dropped in a black chip. That’s not very nice.
I should mention what a great group of fans the Lakers have here tonight … It’s loud in here. Very loud. Even as Dallas continued to counter punch, the Laker fans simply cheered louder and louder, nearly exploding after a Fisher three at the 2:08 mark that followed a Bryant bucket in the lane to cut the lead to 78-74. The veteran Kidd, sensing a moment, took a three from the corner that, I swear, was in the hoop before the noise from the building reverberated off the floor and pushed it out and into the waiting hands of Bynum. And if you thought Kobe was going to miss a 17-foot jumper to cut it to two, your name is Mark Cuban. Two-point game.
What came next was an Odom steal, full-court push and a gorgeous alley-oop pass to Gasol that tied things up. Seconds later, the crowd nearly lost its mind as Gasol tipped in his own miss, and I thought about climbing under the table in front of me to protect myself from a riot. Add it all up, and that was a 13-0 Lakers run to close the third quarter, and a 23-9 run after Nowitzki’s and-1. Can we chalk up the crowd’s energy to a bunch of full stomachs after Turkey Day, thus producing unseen amounts of energy? Is Flava Flav running around section by section propelling people into a fervor? Did Barak Obama enter the building? Or did the Lakers just play some fantastic basketball?
If Dallas were looking to calm the crowd down, allowing a massive jam from Bynum (18 and 10 so far) was not the way to do it. On top of that, Bynum was called for a technical foul after hanging on the rim, which only further increased the crowd’s energy – plus Terry missed the free throw. After another tough shot went down for L.A. as Ariza converted in the lane for a 84-78 lead, it’s fair to say that it’s going to be very, very difficult for Dallas to reverse the momentum. But with Kidd and Nowitzki, no one’s counting them out.
Bench Boost: Remember how L.A.’s bench didn’t do anything in the first half? Six points, three assists, two steals and three rebounds? Turn that into 16 points (10 from Ariza), nine boards (six from Odom), seven dimes and five steals with eight minutes and change in the fourth. That’s more like it.
Kobe and Pau checked back in at the 7:46 mark to close the game, with Bryant promptly making a 20-foot jumper (24 points) followed by a Farmar pull-up in the lane off glass for a nine-point lead. Kidd managed a three for the Mavs, but Bryant then exploded down the baseline to make it 98-90. But Kidd, who’s never been a great shooter, then hit another triple … only to be answered by an Ariza jumper from 21-feet … and after a Dirk missed three … a 25-foot three-pointer from Trevor. That made it 103-93, with 5:15 to play. Got all that?
What did we learn there? Well, remember when the Lakers were getting answered by Dallas (with the lame Connect Four reference)? Flip the script on that. Let’s also substitute a better game, like Monopoly. It’s like Dallas got Park Place (Kidd’s threes), but then went around the board and missed Boardwalk by one space. Then the Lakers landed on Boardwalk on the next turn (Kobe’s baseline bucket). Then L.A. put two hotels there (Ariza’s 21- and 25-foot jumpers).
If you haven’t stopped reading due to that random board game reference, I did like what Dallas’ coach Carlisle just offered, even though the game was probably over after Bryant hit three straight free throws to make it 106-95 with 3:48 left. The first free throw came courtesy of a Carlisle technical after the refs didn’t call a foul as Bryant stripped Dirk to create the fastbreak resulting in his other two foul shots. Even though it wasn’t the best idea to give up an extra point, Carlisle showed his team, and Dirk specifically, that he was going to fight for them. That’s the kind of thing that can fire a squad up a lil’ bit.
Back on the floor, anyone else notice that Terry never misses when he’s open? So, his three from the corner without a Laker in sight was no surprise, nor was his second three in 30 seconds after a Gasol make. But it was too little too late, as Bryant came back to score, and Dallas was in no kind of shape to trade baskets. But they’d do it again when Terry laid in, and Bryant somehow got a high-arching floater to go down for his 33rd point, and a 112-105 lead with 34.3 remaining.
The Mavs really couldn’t get a stop all half, especially when the really needed one. It was like Michael Scott going back to HR to compliment Toby … He wanted to, he tried really hard, but he just couldn’t do it. His eagerness to verbally assault Toby (Kobe’s eagerness to drop daggers) was too great.
In the final seconds, meaningless J’s from Bryant and Gerald Green went down, and that was that.
Final score: 114-107, and the Lakers are 13-1.