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Friday, December 29, 2006

A.I. scores 44, Karl wins 800th- Denver Post

Allen Iverson continues to play perfect basketball as a member of the Denver Nuggets. At the same time, head coach George Karl was able to notch career win number 800.

Iverson scores a Denver season high in leading coach to milestone victory
By Marc J. Spears
Denver Post Staff Writer
Article Last Updated: 12/28/2006 11:59:47 PM MST

After losing his first nine games, rookie NBA coach George Karl won his first contest Nov. 15, 1984, when his Cleveland Cavaliers defeated Dominique Wilkins and the Atlanta Hawks.

Twenty-two years later, the 19-year coach reached a milestone against one of his old teams with the aid of newcomer Allen Iverson.

Karl landed his 800th career victory as a coach in the Nuggets' 112-98 victory Thursday over the Seattle SuperSonics at the Pepsi Center. The third-year Nuggets coach, who also coached at Golden State, Seattle and Milwaukee, is one of 12 coaches to reach 800 wins.

The milestone came against the team that didn't renew Karl's contract in 1998, just two years after he took them to the NBA Finals.

"It's for talk," said Karl of his historic mark. "Pure drinking talk in the summertime. That's all it is. The more I talk about it, the more I think it's about the coaches and the players and the places I've been."

Iverson earned a double-double of 44 points and 10 assists and presented Karl with a jersey with "800" on it after the game.

Iverson surpassed Carmelo Anthony's team season-high of 42 at Boston on Dec. 15. Nuggets reserve guard Earl Boykins added 24 points.

"I was just happy to be a part of something like that (Karl's milestone). It was an honor in my third game (with Denver)."

Seattle (12-18) was led by 26 points from Wilkins' nephew, Damien.

Denver (16-10) is 3-1 since suspensions were handed out after a Nov. 16 brawl with the Knicks.

Because of the suspensions and injuries, Denver played without any of its five starters from opening night

Looks like Renton for Sonics - The News Tribune

It appears that the struggling Sonics could be receiving a new arena and fortunately for them, the new project is not expected to drain their wallets.

Still, would it be a fiscally responsible decision by the legislatures in Washington state to raise an approximated $240 million for the new arena? I don't believe that the taxpayers in the state of Washington think so, but only time will tell if the expected investment was worth it.

FRANK HUGHES; The News Tribune
Published:December 27th, 2006 01:00 AM

When the Seattle SuperSonics announce in a week to 10 days the site for their proposed new arena, it is anticipated that the choice will be a plot of land in Renton, according to multiple sources.

Although nothing has been finalized and negotiations are ongoing, unless there are some last-minute concessions by Bellevue the team will choose a location on the south end of Lake Washington, according to the sources.

A primary reason is that Renton would give the land to the team at either no cost or at a significantly reduced rate, three sources with knowledge of the team’s approach said.

If things remain the same, the team is expected to ask the state Legislature for a public subsidy of approximately $300 million while contributing $100 million of its own money, the sources said.

There are continuing discussions among Sonics decision-makers about the best locale for what they say they want to be a world-class facility.

One argument is that Bellevue holds more allure because of the amount of money in the area and the corporate entities located there.

However, Sonics chairman Clay Bennett is leaning toward Renton, sources said, because Renton has more potential in terms of development.

“If you go to Renton, you are the piece around which everything else will be built,” one source said. “If you go to Bellevue, you are only icing on the cake.”

In the end, Renton is the likely choice because it might be the most sound business decision.

With Renton contributing the land at little or no cost, the cost of the project goes down from an estimated $500 million cost to $400 million.

The sources said the Bennett-led Professional Basketball Club would contribute $100 million, more than five times the amount than the team’s previous ownership group was going to contribute. That puts the cost needed to be covered by the state at about $300 million.

The Washington Restaurant Association said it would support leaving a 0.5 percent tax on restaurant bills in King County in place until 2015, which would raise an estimated $60 million toward a new arena, meaning the Sonics would have to convince the Legislature to raise an estimated $240 million.

It is unclear what revenue sources would generate the money, though the Sonics could again ask for an extension of hotel, motel and rental car taxes that are paying off Safeco Field.

The team is expected to argue that the state would get a new facility that would be the cornerstone of new development in the area for roughly the same price that the previous ownership group said it would pay for a renovation of KeyArena.

A new facility could attract national political conventions, sporting events and an NBA All-Star Game as well as serve as home to the NBA Sonics, the WNBA Storm and perhaps a National Hockey League team, generating far more tax revenue than a renovated KeyArena would be able to, the team is expected to argue.

The Renton site, close to where the Seattle Seahawks are building their new practice facility, also is gaining momentum because of proximity to highways, as well as to the South Sound. About 10 percent of Sonics season ticket-holders live south of Federal Way.

Fans could use Interstate 5, Interstate 405 or Highway 167 to get to games or events.

Bennett is expected to announce his choice of a site three or four days before the Jan. 8 start of the legislative session. He will then present his proposal to the Legislature in mid-January, about a week or 10 days after the start of the session.

Sen. Margarita Prentice, D-Renton, chairwoman of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, said she has been pointing out the advantages of a Renton site, particularly the benefits of being near a 46-acre retail and residential development called The Landing.

She said Tuesday that she hadn’t heard that Renton is now the preferred site.

Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, incoming chairman of the House Finance Committee, said, “I haven’t heard anything. They (Sonics) haven’t come talk to me. And I have not heard from a single (legislator) that they want to sponsor a bill, and I’m going to have to hear from members that they want to do this. There has to be a lot of interest in my caucus to do this.”

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Mike Fratello out as Grizzlies head coach

By David

After beginning the season 6-24, the Memphis Grizzlies were in store for a coaching change. Today, Grizzlies President Jerry West dismissed Fratello as their head coach.

In April, Fratello became the Grizzlies all- time winningest head coach and during his tenure he lead them to two postseason appearances.

Unfortunately, Memphis was hampered by injuries this season and most notably to their best player Pau Gasol who missed the teams first 22 games. When you coach in a win now league, starting 18 games under .500 is unacceptable.

Memphis currently sports the worst record in basketball and they have lost their last 9 out of 10 games. Their team is made up of several young players including Rudy Gay and Hakim Warrick, but when you have no consistent scorer besides Gasol it is hard pressed to win games. To add insult to injury, they play in an extremely competitive Western Conference and there is no chance that they can turn around their dismal season.

The search for an interim coach begins immediately and Jerry West will
most likely name a permenant head coach in the off season. It would be in West' best interest to hire a young coach who can balance the young players with the veterans.

Rumors around the league

By David

In recent days there have been many trade rumblings around the association.

Front and center is the trade discussions between the Kings and Clippers. The deal would be a swap of forwards: Sacramento's Ron Artest for L.A.'s Corey Maggette. Obviously, the deal makes perfect sense for the Clippers who have been struggling this season and a great defensive presence would be greatly appreciated. For the Kings, why would you give up Ron Artest for a player who does not even start? According to the L.A. Times a deal is ''imminent'' and could come as quickly as tomorrow.

In related news, Kings guard Mike Bibby has reportedly been placed on the trading block. He might be struggling this season, but he is an intrical part of what the Kings do and I would be surprised to see him get dealt.

Staying on the West coast, Sonics big man Danny Fortson would be open to getting dealt. His playing time is greatly limited and a fresh start in a new city is probably the best thing for him. He has even said that "I'm not too excited."

Unfortunately, Mike Woodson's tenure as Hawks head coach could be coming to an end. He has only one real threat on his team in Joe Johnson and on top of that, Woodson is forced to coach the youngest team in the league. Atlanta might be 9-18, but all the blame should not be placed on their coach.

This is the latest in the rumor mill, but as the season progresses there will be more news to follow.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade square off in a Christmas showdown

By David

Today in Miami, the Lakers and Heat match up in a Christmas delight. Everyone will have the opportunity to see Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade face off against each other on national television[ABC].

Despite stumbling to a 12-14 record this season, the Heat continue to be a team that every opponent fears to play. Miami is without Shaquille O'Neal, but when he returns they will be a major force to reckon with in the weak Eastern Conference.

When you compare conferences, the East has only one team with a winning percentage of .600 or better and no team has yet to reach 20 wins. Over in the West[the dominant conference], 5 teams have a winning percentage of .600 or better and 3 teams have reached the 20 win mark.

Kobe Bryant's Lakers are thriving at 18-9 and they find themselves only a game back of the red hot Suns. That's very impressive that L.A. was able to remain on Phoenix's tail, despite the 15 game winning streak by the Suns.

Even without Lamar Odom, Kobe has his young Laker teammates playing great basketball and finally Bryant is showing that he can consistently win without Shaq.

This should be an excellent matchup between two of the best players in basketball this afternoon. Fortunately for both stars, their supporting casts are playing very well.

On a side note: Lakers head coach Phil Jackson can pass the late Red Auerbach for second all time on the list for most wins by a head coach on Christmas with a victory today.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A major blow to the New Jersey Nets

By David

Nets center Nenad Krstic suffered a torn ACL in his left knee during his teams loss last night at home against the Lakers.

Krstic will be out for the duration of the season and this leaves a major gap up front for the Nets. They will dearly miss his 16.4 PPG, 6.8 RPB and his 52.6% shooting from the field.

Even with the likes of Jason Kidd, Vince Carter and Richard Jefferson on their team, New Jersey has faltered to a disappointing 11 and 15 mark through the first 26 games. Luckily for them, they play in the Eastern Conference and most notably the Atlantic division, so reaching the playoffs will not be a problem.

Unfourtanetly, the aspirations of seriously contending in the East were crushed after Krstic's injury. Unless Rod Thorn makes a move by the trade deadline to acquire a scoring big man, Jason Kidd and the up tempo Nets will be silenced come playoff time.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Knicks epic win against the Charlotte Bobcats

By David

It took a game winning shot Monday night by Stephon Marbury to beat the Utah Jazz and Wednesday night it was David Lee's turn to hit the game winner. With .1 seconds remaining in double overtime, Lee tipped in a miraculous shot after receiving an alley-oop from teammate Jamal Crawford.

Apparently, adversity ignites the Knicks because after Saturday nights fight against the Nuggets they have won two straight. Last nights win might have come against the rebuilding Bobcats, but for a team that struggles to compete every night any victory is helpful. Currently, New York is 11-17 and they stand twelfth in the woeful Eastern Conference. Fortunately for them they are 5 and 5 in their last ten games.

With Michael Jordan in attendance last night the Knicks really increased their level of play and showed glimpses of team chemistry. Again, don't get too excited because we are talking about the Knicks[the laughing stock of the NBA], and not the Phoenix Suns. This is the team who's head coach finds pleasure in instigating fights, but thankfully this time Isiah Thomas utilized his great basketball knowledge to draw up the game winning play.

The hero of the night David Lee commented that it was a ''Great day in Knicks basketball'' and for the sake of all the Knicks fans who have stayed with their team through dire times, I hope that there will be many more great days in the Knicks future.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

The Suns-Nuggets game is postponed due to snow

By David

The Phoenix Suns will have to wait till Friday night against the Wizards to extend their league best 15 game winning streak because inclement weather postponed tonights matchup against the Nuggets.

At the same rate, Denver fans will have to wait two more days to see the debut of Allen Iverson in a Nugget uniform. It was highly unlikely that he was going to play anyway, but the blizzard that essentially closed down the entire city guaranteed that he would not be in uniform this evening.

Fortunately, the Nuggets have five out of their next six games at the Pepsi Center and this includes a January 2nd matchup against Iverson's former team the Philadelphia 76ers.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

76ers trade their disgruntled star to Denver

By David

The acquisition of superstar Allen Iverson could not have come at a better time for the Nuggets. After making a mockery of themselves at Madison Square Garden Saturday night, Denver seems to be back on the right path as they dealt for the premier scorer in the NBA.

Scoring is definitely what the Nuggets are in need of because they will be without the leagues leading scorer Carmelo Anthony until January 20th. That will be the day Melo will be eligible to return assuming his 15 game suspension is not reduced.

The defending Northwest champions will also be without guard J.R. Smith for the next nine games. If they had not acquired A.I., their playoff chances would have dwindled as fast as head coach George Karl's mouth has recently been running.

Still, it will take time for Iverson to get accustomed to the Nuggets style of play, but it was evident that after a decade in the city of brotherly love a change of venue was needed. By going to the Mile High city, Iverson will be along side a head coach in George Karl who is used to strong egos and personalities. It was evident by his recent comments about Knicks coach Isiah Thomas that he isn't afraid to put a person in their place when needed.

On the flip side, the 76ers pulled off a very favorable trade for their organization. Currently, the team is going no where and they are in a rebuilding process. By acquiring Andre Miller Philly receives a proven point guard who can help turn around a franchise that is currently in major disarray. Additionally, the two first round picks in next years draft could turn out to be very good players and most importantly they unloaded Iverson's hefty contract.

When Carmelo returns from his suspension the Nuggets will have one of the most feared offenses in all of basketball. At the present time, Denver is averaging 108.45 PPG and that will only multiply with the addition of Iverson. It's ironic that the leagues two highest scorers will now call the Pepsi Center home. When both players are clicking it will be hard pressed to stop them. Their combined scoring of 62.8 points per night will decrease, but the amount of W's that the Nuggets rack up will be sure to increase.

I don't envision both superstars having trouble co-existing and I see this recent trade as a match made in heaven for the city of Denver. The Mile High city is getting introduced to their QB of the future in Jay Cutler as he leads the Broncos to a playoff berth and they will quickly get introduced to the player who hopes to lead the Nuggets to an NBA title. Allen Iverson might not have been the answer in Philadelphia, but he will be in Denver.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

ESPN's Mark Stein On The Fight And It's Aftermath

Answering the hard questions after Garden brawl

By Marc Stein

You've undoubtedly got questions about Saturday night's fight at Madison Square Garden.

We've got the first batch of answers for what happens next to the New York Knicks and Denver Nuggets after a brawl that resulted in five ejections for each team and, at least for the moment, diverts some attention away from the Nuggets' front-runner status in the Allen Iverson Sweepstakes.

How long will the league's leading scorer be suspended?

A punch -- whether or not it connects -- gets you an automatic one-game suspension.

The severity of Carmelo Anthony's penalty from there, and for all the main players in this fracas, is a case-by-case call by NBA commissioner David Stern and VP Stu Jackson. Whether punches land, where they land and who's responsible for escalation all factor in, as does leaving the bench to join in.

The footage you've seen puts at least five players in unquestioned trouble.

1. New York's Mardy Collins took J.R. Smith down with the initial hard, two-handed foul that can't be pardoned no matter how frustrated the Knicks were with what they perceived as Denver intentionally running up the score.

2. New York's Nate Robinson was the first to escalate the situation by wildly confronting Smith and other Nuggets.

3. Smith went after Robinson and the ensuing tangle spilled into a fan section, not far from where Knicks chairman James Dolan sits.

4. Anthony became the other chief escalator by throwing a right hook at Collins ... a punch that came just when things appeared to be settling down.

5. New York's Jared Jeffries went so hard chasing after 'Melo in response to the punch that Jeffries fell down and still had to be restrained when he got up.

The best early estimates: A minimum of five games for Anthony and Robinson ... and possibly longer. Suspensions for Collins, Smith and Jeffries would appear to be in the range of 1-to-3 games.

Don't forget, though, that Stern has been exerting his authority more than ever since the infamous Detroit-Indiana brawl at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Nov. 19, 2004. Keeping that in mind, it wouldn't be a shocker to see all of those estimates fall short.

The Nuggets and Anthony, of course, stand to lose the most from a lengthy suspension. Denver, at 13-9, is clinging to seventh in the Western Conference with roughly one-fourth of the season gone. Given Anthony's importance to the Nuggets -- he's averaging a league-best 31.6 points -- they'd likely feel fortunate to win any game he misses.

For 'Melo himself, this episode is bound to take a chunk out of his newfound darling status ... just days after he donated $1.5 million to fund a youth development center in his hometown of Baltimore. After a variety of setbacks in his first three pro seasons, Anthony was widely regarded as the standout performer on a Team USA squad that finished a disappointing third in last summer's World Championships in Japan and has been hailed in recent weeks for the increasing maturity in his game in terms of shot selection and leadership.

How much harsher will the penalties be because the fight crossed into fan territory?

It's a factor for sure.

Comparisons will inevitably be drawn to the Palace brawl, but that's not a correct comparison. This wasn't even close to that.

Fans at Madison Square Garden, for starters, were innocent bystanders Saturday night. At no point did we see intentional interaction between players and fans.

However ...

Fans sitting along the baseline were endangered by the Robinson-Smith scrap, something the league office won't ignore.

For proof, we refer you to the better comparison, which was less than a year ago.

In Seattle, on Jan. 11, 2006, Orlando's Keyon Dooling and Seattle's Ray Allen wound up in the first row of seats along the sideline after fighting.

Dooling was suspended for five games for throwing a punch at Allen (which did not connect) and for what the league described as "attempting to confront [Allen] in the hallway following his ejection." Allen was suspended for three games.

How soon will the NBA announce the suspensions and fines?

Neither team plays Sunday and both have games Monday night. That gives Stern's staff a day-plus to conduct an investigation before the Knicks or Nuggets play again.

The inquiry will begin with NBA security personnel interviewing numerous players from both teams and include an extensive review of raw footage of the game from a variety of angles -- footage that wasn't seen on the game broadcast or initial TV news reports -- in an attempt to determine exactly who did what.

Yet as much as the league would undoubtedly love to release its ruling on Sunday, when much of the nation is preoccupied with the NFL, Monday is more likely given how much has to be examined.

How closely will the two head coaches be looked at?

You can accuse Denver's George Karl of leaving his starters in way too long ... but you can't punish him for it. That's not an NBA crime. Not even if he did so as a way to convey his contempt for Knicks coach Isiah Thomas, as fallout from the offseason firing of Karl's close friend Larry Brown.

Thomas, by contrast, might be facing more than accusations. You can be sure the league will investigate suggestions that Collins' hard foul on Smith came via mandate from the Knicks' bench.

That sort of directive would be difficult to prove, but's Chris Sheridan reported Saturday night that Thomas, according to a member of the Nuggets' organization, warned Anthony not to venture near the paint not long before Collins' foul.

Which could put Thomas under the microscope as well, if similar accounts are conveyed to league personnel during Sunday's interview process.

Can players be traded while serving a suspension?

This is a pertinent question given Denver's well-chronicled pursuit of Allen Iverson.

The answer?

It appears to be, in the words of one Western Conference executive reached Saturday night, "a gray area."

It's believed that there is no language in the NBA's operations manual that specifically deals with teams' ability to trade a suspended player. The teams would likely require special permission from the league office if a player suspended for his actions Saturday night is needed by the Nuggets to complete an Iverson trade in coming days.

Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for To e-mail him, click here.

New York Knicks v. Denver Nuggets Fight and Game - Video and ESPN

Did NY Coach Isiah Thomas start this with a foul order? Wow. This and Dallas Cowboys WR Terrell Owens spitting at Atlanta Falcons DB DeAngelo Hall on the same night.

Anthony may face stiffest penalty in wake of brawl

By Chris Sheridan

NEW YORK -- About a minute or two before the Knicks-Nuggets brawl erupted Saturday night in Madison Square Garden, New York coach Isiah Thomas mentioned to Denver star Carmelo Anthony that it wouldn't be a good idea to go anywhere near the paint, according to a member of the Denver Nuggets organization.

The message was unmistakable: A hard foul was coming. And when it came, the NBA had its first full-scale fight of the 2006-07 season.

As it tries to stay in the race in the Western Conference, Denver now has a huge question to ponder: How long will Anthony be suspended? That's in addition to that other question they've been dealing with for a week: Is Allen Iverson coming aboard?

My first guess was that Anthony would be suspended for four games, a prediction I related to Denver coach George Karl after he reviewed a tape of the fight.

"I'll take the over," he said.

Anthony is likely to be penalized the hardest because he threw the punch everyone is going to see over and over again, a roundhouse right that decked Knicks rookie Mardy Collins -- the player who initiated the fracas with an egregiously hard flagrant foul against J.R. Smith on a breakaway with 1:15 remaining.

Fight Clubs

Here are the players ejected from Saturday's Nuggets-Knicks brawl, which will likely lead to suspensions and big fines for their actions:
N.Y. Knicks Denver Nuggets
Mardy Collins Carmelo Anthony
Channing Frye Andre Miller
Jared Jeffries Eduardo Najera
David Lee J.R. Smith
Nate Robinson Marcus Camby

The Knicks were angry the Nuggets still had their starters in the game in the final two minutes despite a double-digit lead, including a 119-100 advantage when Collins committed his foul.

"They were sticking it to us pretty good, really giving it to us. J.R. had one dunk where he reversed and spun in the air, and Mardy didn't want to see that happen again in front of our fans," Thomas said.

Smith immediately jumped up and challenged Collins, and the fracas escalated when Knicks guard Nate Robinson ran into the fray. About 15 seconds after the initial foul, as players from both teams were clustered along the baseline just a few feet from Garden owner James Dolan's seat, Anthony threw what appeared to be a sucker punch at Collins, decking him.

Anthony backpedaled downcourt after the punch, with Jared Jeffries nearly coming out of his shirt as he tried to chase Anthony down, and various people tried to stop Jeffries. All 10 players who were on the court -- including all of Denver's starters except Nene -- were ejected.

"From what they did, keeping their guys on the court, I knew a foul was going to come. It was a good, clean, hard foul, and after that things went down from there," Robinson said. "I've never seen a team up 20 keep their starters in. They wanted to embarrass us, and it was a slap in the face to us as a team and a franchise."

Robinson is certain to draw a suspension for his part in escalating the brawl, and likewise Collins for the part his flagrant foul played. The league might come down hard on Thomas, too, if it finds him culpable for instigating the fracas by ordering a hard foul.

But the biggest penalty likely will go to Anthony, who began the night as the league's leading scorer and was just 75 seconds away from wrapping up a 2-3 road trip on a positive note.

Now, he might be out until Christmas, and he might even have Iverson as a teammate by the next time he plays, although Karl didn't sound too positive about that possible development, either.

"I spoke to [general manager] Mark [Warkentien] yesterday, and he said it seemed like it was dying down. I didn't even bother calling him today," Karl told me before heading out the locker room door for the flight back to Denver, facing an immediate future without Iverson or Anthony ... and sounding convinced things are going to stay that way for a while.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Kobe Scores 53, Lakers Beat Rockets in Double-OT- AP

Kobe Bryant continued to show the world why he is one of the very elite in the NBA as he shinned on national television in the Lakers double overtime win over the Rockets. Bryant torched Houston for 53 points and improved his team to 16 and 7 on the season.

By BETH HARRIS, AP Sports Writer
Posted Dec 16 2006 3:07AM

Lakers 112, Rockets 101 (2OT)

LOS ANGELES, Dec 15 (AP) -- Down 21 points after poor shooting and 13 turnovers in the first half, Kobe Bryant still believed the Los Angeles Lakers could win.

It just took longer than he expected.

Bryant scored a season-high 53 points in a 112-101 double-overtime victory over the Houston Rockets on Friday night.

The Lakers trailed until the final 1+ minutes of regulation, then squeaked out a back-and-forth first overtime before scoring the first nine points of the second OT to pull away.

``I felt like the game was ours, as funny as that sounds,'' Bryant said. ``When I have that type of sensation, you kind of fall into a trap, kind of sit back a little too much because you feel like you're never out of it.''

Bryant got it going, resulting in his 13th career game of 50 or more points. This one came against Yao Ming, who led the Rockets with 35 points, 15 rebounds and a career-high eight blocked shots.
``I don't know about if he imposed his will,'' Rockets coach Jeff Van Gundy said about Bryant. ``He imposed his skill, I know that.''

Bryant made 14 of 16 free throws, added 10 rebounds and eight assists in the Lakers' first overtime game of the season.

``We had a couple baskets here and there from other guys as we went along, but I had to go to Kobe to get accomplished what we had to do in a win,'' Lakers coach Phil Jackson said.

Smush Parker added 17 points for the Lakers, including two consecutive baskets on assists from Bryant that helped force the first overtime.

``We buckled down and played some defense. That's all it took,'' Parker said. ``It's a big victory for us, fighting from 21 points down without one of our best players on the team.''

Tuesday night, the Lakers blew most of a 27-point lead before handing the Rockets their second home loss of the season, 102-94. Lamar Odom sprained his knee in that game and will be out at least a month.

Rafer Alston had 19 points and 10 assists for Houston, which was without Tracy McGrady for the third consecutive game because of back spasms. The Rockets are 0-3 since he went out.

Bryant's first basket of the second overtime was a driving, one-handed dunk over the 7-foot-6 Yao, then Parker hit a 3-pointer and the Lakers led 104-99.

``It felt great for me,'' said Bryant, who sprained his right ankle recently. ``It confirmed for me that my legs are back because that's in the second overtime. Playing long minutes, I'm still able to get to the basket and explode.''

Bryant added three more points in the 9-0 spurt for a 108-99 lead before Alston scored Houston's lone basket in the final 5 minutes.

``No matter how many points Kobe Bryant scored, we killed ourselves by turning the ball over, missing help on defense and missing defensive assignments,'' Alston said. ``The quality of shots we started to take at times was uncharacteristic of us.''

The Rockets dissolved in misses and miscues trying to salvage a game they led by 21 points in the first half. Alston had two turnovers and Yao was scoreless as Bryant kept hitting right to the end of his game-high 54-minute performance.

Still, Bryant was impressed with Yao.

``He's really come of age,'' he said. ``There's not too many big guys that can shoot the ball. He can turn both shoulders and get off a good shot, an incredible free-throw shooter, defensively, he had eight blocks. He's something.''

Yao picked up his fifth foul in the first overtime, and later complained about the officiating after getting to the free throw line six times in the game.

``They (the referees) were letting their big guys keep pushing me. I would say Kwame Brown and Andrew Bynum fouled me 10 times. That's not fair,'' he said.

``I know I'm big, but that's not my fault. They let them have two hands pushing on my back and keep pushing while I'm shooting the ball. I wish the league or somebody can help with this and look at the film. They don't let me do that, so why do they let them do it?''

The teams traded baskets in the first five-minute overtime. Yao answered Bryant's running jumper with a short one of his own for a tie at 99 with 56 seconds left.

Alston lost control of the ball in the backcourt, but regained it and got it upcourt to Yao, who missed a 14-footer with 2 seconds left.

On the Lakers' final play, Luke Walton inbounded to Bryant, who also missed a 14-footer at the buzzer, forcing the second overtime.

As good as the Lakers were in the third quarter - outscoring Houston 25-13 to get within six - they were erratic in the fourth, getting close, then missing shots that would have put them in front.

Houston went on a 9-0 run, including five in a row by Bonzi Wells, that boosted its lead to 13 points.

The Lakers closed to 81-74 on a three-point play by Parker and Bryant's basket, then Bryant missed on two straight possessions. They trailed 81-78 before Brown missed three consecutive free throws and Yao ran off four in a row.

``We got upset with ourselves, but we never panicked,'' Walton said. ``We got guys that don't give up on this team.''

Yao fouled Bryant, who made both for an 85-81 deficit with 3 minutes remaining. Bryant went to the line again, made both and fed Parker for a 3-pointer from the right corner that gave the Lakers their first lead, 86-85 with 1:34 remaining.

Luther Head's reverse layup put the Rockets back in front before Bryant assisted on Parker's layup, then went to the line in place of Brown and hit a free throw for an 89-87 lead.

Yao tied the game on a turnaround jumper with 28 seconds to go.

Bryant missed a 15-footer from the right side with 4 seconds left. Brown fouled Head and Houston got the ball out of bounds. Shane Battier inbounded, but Alston turned the ball over and Brown stole it, putting up a desperation shot that missed at the buzzer to force the first overtime.

Bryant scored 17 points in the second quarter, but he couldn't help the Lakers avoid season lows for points in a half (35) and field-goal percentage (34.2). They trailed 53-35 at the break.

``We didn't have any rhythm. It was gross,'' Walton said.

The Lakers scored a season-worst 10 points in the first quarter, when they committed nine turnovers and shot 20 percent.

Notes: The Lakers are 10-3 when Bryant scores 50 or more points. He had 52 against Utah on Nov. 30. ... The Rockets fell to 9-33 overall without McGrady in the lineup. He remained at the team hotel to receive treatment, but is expected to play sometime during the road trip that ends next Friday in San Antonio, a team spokesman said.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Dunleavy signs contract extension with Clippers- AP

Clippers head coach Mike Dunleavy became tremendously richer this week as he signed an extension to stay in L.A. Since taking over the Clippers , Dunleavy has done a magical job in resurrecting a team who not too long ago was regarded as the laughing stock of the NBA. Still, I don't feel that Dunleavy or any other coach should be making $5.5 million per season.

By JOHN NADEL, AP Sports Writer
December 13, 2006

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- Coach Mike Dunleavy has agreed to terms of a four-year, $22 million contract extension with the Los Angeles Clippers, making him one of the higher-paid coaches in the NBA.

Dunleavy, in the final year of a four-year, $10 million contract, led the Clippers to a 47-35 record last season -- the second-best in franchise history. The team went on to beat Denver for its first playoff series victory in 30 years before losing to Phoenix in the second round.

"I'm excited about getting it over with. I wanted to be here, I think everybody wanted this to happen," Dunleavy said before Wednesday night's game against the Utah Jazz. "Everything was handled in a professional way. I'm pleased with how it went and I'm pleased with the direction of our team."

The 52-year-old Dunleavy ranks second on the Clippers' career victory list with 122, and entered the season in ninth place among active NBA coaches. He earned his 500th career win last March.

Previously, he coached the Los Angeles Lakers, Milwaukee Bucks and Portland Trail Blazers following an 11-year playing career.

"Mike has done an outstanding job with the club," Clippers general manager Elgin Baylor said. "The players have responded very well to Mike. We really work well together.

"There's no doubt in my mind Mike is the right guy for this team."

The Clippers improved their record in each of Dunleavy's first three seasons. They entered Wednesday night's game with a 10-10 record this season and a 122-144 mark under the former South Carolina star.

"It's good for all of us to know he's going to be the guy running the show," said Clippers center Chris Kaman, who signed a five-year contract extension before the season. "It's good for Mike and the team, for everybody. I'm glad he's here."

Andy Roeser, the Clippers' executive vice president, said terms of the extension will place Dunleavy among the five highest-paid coaches in the NBA.

"It's a much bigger agreement than the last one," Roeser said. "We're trying to make this franchise as successful as we can."

Dunleavy said the Clippers aren't among the elite teams in the NBA quite yet.

"It's all about health and a little good luck," he said. "We can be extremely competitive and give ourselves a chance to win. We're not playing at the same level physically as we were last season. I have a lot of confidence in our guys' ability to bounce back."

Utah coach Jerry Sloan, who became the fifth coach in NBA history to reach the 1,000-win plateau earlier this week, said he believes Dunleavy has done a terrific job with the Clippers.

"The most important thing is that they've kept one guy here, so they can have continuity and he can have a chance to coach the team and do what he wants to do," Sloan said. "He's been up and down in this business and knows what it's all about. He's turned it around over there.

"He's very difficult to play against with his team. They take advantage of about every situation they have, so you better be ready to play against them. That's the thing I've always known about Mike -- he's very clever with what's going on."

Updated on Wednesday, Dec 13, 2006 9:50 pm EST

Monday, December 11, 2006

NBA to go back to old ball- AP

It's about time the NBA listened to their players and switched back to the leather ball.

By BRIAN MAHONEY, AP Basketball Writer
December 11, 2006

NEW YORK (AP) -- Turnover, NBA.

The NBA will scrap its new microfiber composite ball and bring back the old leather one beginning Jan. 1.

The league sent a memo to its teams Monday, telling them that the change would be made for the remainder of the 2006-07 season. In the memo, NBA president Joel Litvin said that Spalding had 450 new leather balls on hand for use.

"Our players' response to this particular composite ball has been overwhelmingly negative and we are acting accordingly," NBA commissioner David Stern said in a statement. "Although testing performed by Spalding and the NBA demonstrated that the new composite basketball was more consistent than leather, and statistically there has been an improvement in shooting, scoring, and ball-related turnovers, the most important statistic is the view of our players."

Players have complained about the new ball since training camp, saying that it bounced differently than the old one -- both off the floor and the rim. They also said the synthetic material cut their hands.

"For the league to be successful, obviously the players have to be happy. The basketball is the most important thing to us," said a smiling LeBron James, one of several NBA All-Stars who criticized the new ball.

"Like I said before, you can change the dress code, you can make our shorts shorter, but when you take our basketball away from us, that's not a transition we handle."

Stern told The New York Times last week the league should have sought more input from players before introducing the new ball. He also said he would address the players' criticisms with Spalding, the manufacturer.

Spalding president and CEO Scott Creelman said in a statement that his company "will work closely with the NBA to ensure a smooth transition and to determine the best product going forward."

The lack of player input about the new ball prompted one of the two unfair labor practice charges filed Dec. 1 by the union with the National Labor Relations Board.

Two-time league MVP Steve Nash, who had said the new ball cut up his hands, wasn't looking forward to the change to the old one.

"After playing with an authentic leather ball your whole life and going to a composite was very difficult, but after playing with it every day you become used to it," Nash said. "It's going to be another arduous time for us to adjust back."

The timing will certainly be strange for the Boston Celtics, the league's only team that plays Dec. 31 and Jan. 1. Since most NBA teams don't hold shootarounds on the morning of the second game of a back-to-back, they will have little time to adjust to the change.

"One day we're going to play with one ball and the next day we're going to play with another one," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "It's just like the park. That's what it's going to feel like. Whoever brings the ball on Jan. 1, that's the one we're going to play with."

The NBA made the first change to its game ball in more than 35 years in June. Stern joked at the news conference then that he liked it better because his name appeared on it twice.

But it's been no laughing matter.

Shaquille O'Neal compared it to one of those "cheap balls that you buy at the toy store, indoor-outdoor balls" when the Miami Heat opened camp.

"I'm very excited," James said Monday after the switch. "You see my smile, right? If we've got practice tomorrow, I'll be shooting with that (old) ball tomorrow."

The ball was used in events at the last two All-Star games and was tested in summer league and Development League play. It also is used at the amateur levels, so most players grow up using it.

But the league and the players differed on the way the new ball handled. Though both sides agreed it was stickier when dry, the NBA and Spalding said it gripped better when wet. Players said they had more trouble gripping it when it became moist.

"The players, it was just tough on them because I think (the NBA) kind of just sprung the ball on the players instead of giving them fair warning," said Celtics All-Star Paul Pierce, who participated in the news conference introducing the ball.

"When you're playing with something for so long and then it's time for change, it's hard to accept."

Though many players favored the old ball, the switch during the season could be a difficult adjustment. Leather balls need time to be broken in, while all the synthetic balls were the same and ready for immediate use -- which Stern had cited as a strength.

And though players were happy that Stern reacted to their concerns, there was still criticism from Dallas owner Mark Cuban, who said he learned of the change through news reports.

"They scrapped it?" Cuban said in an e-mail. "I guess if I have to hear about a final decision in the media that says it all. I guess I missed the class where they were discussing the pros and cons of the new ball and the impact of making a change midseason."

AP Sports Writers Jaime Aron in Dallas and Murray Evans in Oklahoma City and Associated Press Writer Travis Reed in Orlando contributed to this report.

Updated on Monday, Dec 11, 2006 10:26 pm EST

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Nelson Wins NO. 1.200- AP

Last nights game was not about the recent struggles of the Golden St. Warriors, but rather an opportunity to celebrate head coach Don Nelson's accomplishment. By defeating the New Orleans Hornets 101-80, Nelson became only the second coach all time to reach 1200 career wins. This is a great achievement for Nellie who is in his second go around with the Warriors and he has seen his team post a 10 and 10 record so far this season.

OAKLAND, Calif. Dec 9 (AP) -- Don Nelson's players gathered around him as soon as the game ended to pose for a picture and give their coach the game ball to commemorate his 1,200th win.

After failing in his first four attempts to reach that milestone, it was more of a relief than a celebration.

``The pressure was starting to mount,'' Nelson said. ``It's good to get it out of the way.''

Mickael Pietrus scored 22 points and keyed a run that broke the game open early in the fourth quarter to help the Warriors snap their four-game skid with a 101-80 victory over the New Orleans Hornets on Saturday night.

With the win, Nelson joined Lenny Wilkens (1,332) as the only coaches with at least 1,200. Nelson wants to get the game ball signed by Wilkens when the Warriors play at Seattle on Sunday night. Wilkens, who led SuperSonics to the NBA title in 1979, is now a team executive.

Despite the enthusiasm from his players, Nelson downplayed the accomplishment, noting that he also has 890 losses in 28 seasons as a head coach.

``It just means that I've been around a long time,'' he said. ``Look and see who is one of the top guys who's lost games and I'm right there, too. I've been fortunate to be able to do this a long time.''

After watching his team lose consecutive games by a combined 68 points in San Antonio and Houston to extend a losing streak to four games, Nelson convened a two-day minicamp to reinforce defensive fundamentals to his struggling team.

The lessons paid off as the Warriors held an opponent under 100 points for just the second time in 10 games, holding New Orleans to 12-for-34 shooting in the second half.

``We just needed to get back to doing the little things,'' forward Andris Biedrins said. ``In the two days during the minicamp, we really just stuck to the same things we did during training camp and it really helped.''

It also helped that Golden State was matched up against a New Orleans team missing three of its five leading scorers.

The Hornets were also playing the second half of back-to-back games following a 20-point loss at Seattle that prompted coach Byron Scott to rip his players for their lack of effort and focus. Scott said his team's effort was better this game but the poor shooting doomed the Hornets.

``Guys are getting wide-open shots and missing,'' Scott said. ``On the other end, we're contesting shots and they're making them. So right now if you look at our team, we're not a very good basketball team.''

New Orleans was dealt another blow when Desmond Mason missed most of the third quarter with a loose filling. Mason scored 22 of his team-high 24 points in the first half for the Hornets, who have lost seven of eight.

The Warriors took advantage of Mason's absence to break open the game. Pietrus hit the first two baskets after halftime, and Golden State scored the first six points of the quarter to break a tie score and cap an 18-3 run.

Davis stole an outlet pass from Rasual Butler and converted a three-point play to give Golden State a 73-62 lead with 32.6 seconds to go in the quarter.

``In the second half we started to turn the ball over a little bit,'' Mason said. ``We had some good looks and we missed some shots.''

Golden State scored the last five points in the third quarter before opening the fourth on a 9-2 run, capped by a 3-pointer and emphatic two-handed jam by Pietrus that made it 82-64.

Monta Ellis, who sprained his left foot in practice Friday, scored 17 points for Golden State. Biedrins added 17 points and 13 rebounds, and Davis finished with 16 points, 10 assists and nine rebounds.

Jannero Pargo had 15 points and 12 rebounds despite shooting 4-for-15 for New Orleans. Butler had 13 points on 5-of-17 shooting and Chris Paul scored 11 on 4-of-12 shooting as the Hornets struggled against Golden State's 3-2 zone.

Mason's 9-for-9 first-half shooting helped New Orleans break out to 42-33 lead. But the Warriors then went on a run, getting back-to-back breakaway dunks by Ellis in the final minute of the half to cap a 12-1 spurt. Mason hit two free throws in the final seconds of the second quarter to tie it at 45.

Notes: The Hornets were without swingman Peja Stojakovic (back spasms), forward David West (strained right forearm) and guard Bobby Jackson (cracked left rib), who account for 46.1 points and 16.6 rebounds per game. ... The Hornets committed 21 turnovers, giving them 48 the past two games.

Golden State Warriors, Oracle, Stadium Naming Rights, And Corporate Responsibilty

Oracle, who's name now graces the Oakland Arena, and Monster Cable, which placed its name on the stadium where the San Francisco 49ers play, have got themselves into a big mess.

Now that both companies have their names on publically-owned stadium, they're discovering they can't get away with treating the public poorly.

This Oakland Tribune article tells the story:

Naming rights not all companies get
Oracle, others find monikers on arenas bring community expectations

By Barbara Grady, BUSINESS WRITER - Oakland Tribune Article Last Updated:12/10/2006 02:50:10 AM PST
A cheerleading squad from an inner city Oakland high school and their parents are angry with Oracle Corp. ever since the company -- whose name is emblazoned on the arena of the Golden State Warriors -- turned the students away from an Oracle trade show.

A San Francisco neighborhood of immigrants and members of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors are upset with Monster Cable Products Inc. because the Brisbane company -- whose name is all over the 49ers football stadium -- has laid off 120 employees who have scant chances of finding new jobs.

What Oracle and Monster Cable are learning -- the hard way -- is that with the naming rights to big professional sports stadiums comes higher expectations about how the companies will behave in the community. Redwood Shores-based Oracle, one of the world's largest software companies, is paying about $3 million a year for Oracle Arena to be the name of the Warriors' home. Huge red Oracle signs are not only highly visible to every driver on Interstate 880, every pedestrian in the neighborhood and every basketball fan coming to the arena for games, but Oracle's name also appears in newspaper, magazine and online accounts of games played at the arena.

Monster, paying $6 million over four years for naming rights to the 49ers stadium, gets the same huge publicity benefit by having its name on the former Candlestick Park not far from Highway 101.

So when the Oracle signs piqued the interest of the cheerleaders from Castlemont High School, the coach, a parent and squad members decided one October afternoon to visit the huge Oracle OpenWorld trade show in San Francisco.

To their hurt and dismay, the students were turned away from the show. "They didn't have to act that way to teenagers," said Lillian Foster, coach of the Castlemont cheerleading squad. "They asked us not to come in because they thought all we wanted to do was pass out fliers."

Said Ethel Davis, grandmother to one student, "You have these kids trying to go to learn about computers and people are shunning them."

Strike one for Oracle community relations in the hometown of its arena. Oracle officials did not know about the visit and said contracted security guards, not Oracle employees, turned the students away.

"We would have gladly welcomed the students if we knew" in advance of their interest, said Bob Wynne, chief spokesman at Oracle. The squad later was hosted at a Warriors' basketball game and is in discussions with Oracle about a donation.

Still -- like Monster Cable -- Oracle learned a lesson. "Getting the naming rights has put more expectations on Monster to explain our actions as a business," said Daniel Graham, spokesman for Monster Cable.

Citing pressure from overseas competitors, Monster laid off 120 employees from its Brisbane plant in late October. Almost all of them were longtime employees of immigrant background and limited English skills, said San Francisco Supervisor Jake McGoldrick, who represents the district in which many laid-off workers live.

Now Monster Cable faces threats of losing naming rights to the 49ers stadium because of community anger over layoffs.

"He should take the letters M-O-N-S-T-E-R off the walls of that ballpark and we will gladly release him from the contract. He can use the money to help the workers," McGoldrick said of Monster Chief Executive Noel Lee. Lee founded the company 27 years ago in the Richmond district, which McGoldrick rep resents.

When Monster moved to Brisbane, many workers followed him. Monster gave four weeks severance pay and four weeks extended health benefits to the laid-off workers. But the workers want the same severance that Monster gave to previously laid-off workers, which is four weeks plus one week for every year an employee worked at Monster, according to McGoldrick and an association representing the workers.

"The City and County of San Francisco shares a special connection with your company since your name is attached to the stadium at Candlestick Point," Supervisors Aaron Peskin, McGoldrick and Ross Mirkarimi wrote to Monster Cable. "We have seriousÊconcerns about the layoffs. As a major employer in the Bay Area, Monster Cable's mass layoffs will be felt throughout the City and County."

Lee responded in a letter to the supervisors that four weeks of severance pay is more than what other manufacturers often do and that "we are one of the highest-paying employers in the local manufacturing industry" by paying $12 to $25 an hour. "To imply that we do not treat our people well is uninformed."

But sports marketing consultant Zennie Abraham, chief executive of Sports Business Simulations of Oakland, said the high public exposure a company gets from a sports stadium naming contract puts a higher obligation on that company to act on behalf of the community.

"The name is in the public's face and because that company is associated with a good organization -- for example, the Warriors -- the general expectation from the community is that the company is going to be good," Abraham said.

"Only a big company has enough money to demand that its name is placed on a facility, but they do it because they know they are going to get enormous marketing benefits," Abraham said. With that publicity, "it's absolutely inherent in naming-rights contracts (that) they open themselves up to community concerns."

In some stadium naming contracts, such as ones crafted by American Airlines in Dallas and FedEx in Landover, Md., the naming-rights contract comes with agreements to sponsor community programs in the city, he said. The most infamous mistake involving naming rights might have been Enron Park in Houston. After the Enron scandal erupted, the Astros quickly bought out the 30-year, $100 million naming-rights deal with Enron and found a new, more palatable sponsor, Minute Maid.

Bye Bye A.I.

By David

The end of an era has arrived in the city of brotherly love as Allen Iverson has demanded a trade from the 76ers. Since coming out of Georgetown in 1996 Iverson has enjoyed great success as a member of the Sixers, but he has long battled with Philly management.

There's no questioning that Iverson is one of the best players in basketball and up until this week was the 76ers franchise player. He is averaging 28.1 PPG for his career and has averaged at least 30 PPG 5 times in his career. He has also won NBA Rookie of the Year in 1997, NBA All Star Game MVP in 2001 and 2005, league MVP in 2001 and made the NBA finals during the 2001 season.

Unfourtanately, the negatives in Iverson's case out weigh all the positives he has done for the city of Philadelphia. Even though he has brought great electricity to the city and has played extremely diligently, he has ostracized many coaches and has been a great distraction to the 76er team. Iverson is an overly selfish player and when he's not winning he can get very volatile.

The 76ers poor play on the court has been well documented and Iverson has brought his frustration straight to management. Despite saying ''I truly want to retire a 76er'', Iverson has asked on numerous occasions to be dealt. Finally, last week chairman Ed Snider confirmed that ''We're going to trade him."

It''s sad that a player so publized like Iverson can't take a lesson from fellow superstar Kevin Garnett and learn to keep his mouth shut when his team isn't playing well. The 76ers have currently lost seven straight and stand in last place at a despicable 5-14.

I feel sorry for what ever team ends up trading for A.I. because they will be forced to deal with another headache and a player who finds it much too difficult to get along with the front office. ''The Answer'' was not the solution in Philadelphia and will not be the solution for his new team.

In a positive gesture 76ers chairman Ed Snider said ''He's one of the greatest basketball players of all time, he has incredible talent, he's done a lot of great things for this organization and we wish him well."

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Bryant's sprained ankle improved- AP

Kobe Bryant and the Lakers continue to fly high as they are a top the Pacific division at 12 and 5. Unfourtanetly, a sudden road block was thrown Bryant's way as he suffered a sprained right ankle in last nights win over the Pacers. The fact that the Lakers were able to cruise to victory without Kobe's services in the fourth quater shows how solid of a team L.A. is.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. (AP) -- Kobe Bryant's sprained right ankle has improved and the Los Angeles Lakers' star might play Wednesday night against the New Orleans Hornets.

Team spokesman John Black said on Tuesday it would probably be a game-time decision.

"The ankle was better today, he showed some nice improvement," Black said. "The swelling has come down. We're still going to list him as day-to-day."

Bryant was injured early in the third quarter of Monday night's 101-87 victory over Indiana when he got an offensive rebound and missed an off-balance shot before landing on Pacers center Jeff Foster's right foot. Bryant scored 21 points before getting hurt.

Bryant received treatment at the Lakers' training facility on Tuesday, and didn't practice. Black said the treatment would continue for the next couple of days.

"He said he didn't sleep last night, stayed up all night doing therapy and exercises," Black said. "He got a nice nap in today while receiving treatment on a training table."

Following Monday night's game, Lakers coach Phil Jackson described the injury as a moderate sprain.

Bryant, who led the NBA in scoring last season with a 35.4-point average, missed the first two games this year while recovering from offseason knee surgery. His 52-point performance against Utah last Thursday night showed his knee is at or close to being 100 percent.

The Pacific Division-leading Lakers (12-5) bring a three-game winning streak into their game Wednesday night. The Hornets (8-8) have lost five in a row.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Kobe Bryant Scores 52 Points - ESPN

He's back! And don't look now, but the LA Lakers are 10 and 5 at this point.

Kobe sends 52 messages

By Ric Bucher
ESPN The Magazine

Assigned to run point on the Daily Dime, I went in hoping to write about something or someone other than Kobe Bryant. Before tipoff, I thought maybe I'd look at the Jazz's oddball Andrei Kirilenko-Mehmet Okur-Carlos Boozer front line and how it's still not an ideal configuration, no matter how many games they won out of the gate. (And how their 2-3 record since Kirilenko returned from injury is an indication.)

Or maybe I'd write about Derek Fisher and how he really didn't want to go to Utah because his wife had just had twins at the time of the trade and he didn't know if he'd be buried on the bench behind Deron Williams and Dee Brown.

But then the Lakers got a head of steam and under a semi-directive to write about the winning team, I thought maybe I'd go with Luke Walton, who airballed an early J and next touch buried a 3, something he couldn't or wouldn't have done a year ago. Or put the spotlight on Maurice Evans outhustling the NBA's Charlie Hustle, Matt Harpring, and what a quietly terrific draft-night deal that was getting him for a second-round pick from Detroit. Or go the combo route, looking at how GM Mitch Kupchak is routinely skewered and yet looks like a Executive of the Year candidate for acquiring a host of role players in Evans, Ronny Turiaf, Vladimir Radmanovic and Jordan Farmar that suddenly makes the idea of dealing a few pieces for Kevin Garnett less of a strip-mine operation.

But then Kobe went and dropped 52 points Thursday in a 132-102 win on the team with the NBA's best record -- as opposed to the NBA's best team -- including crushing two dunks on the entire Jazz defense and did it all in a way that wasn't the least bit forced. I even enjoyed watching Phil Jackson irritably clean his glasses in the midst of Kobe's 30-point third quarter, going 9 for 9 from the floor and 10 for 10 from the line, as if the thought bubble over the Zenmaster's head was: "Yeah, yeah, I know you've got all that, but what about the triangle? Work the triangle, damn it. What about the ballhandling skills I put the team through? How am I going to get any love when you're pulling up and hitting bottoms from 25 feet? Show-off."

Actually, Kobe didn't just break the half-century mark on the scoreboard. He also switched onto Kirilenko when he started to heat up on Walton and kept him scoreless until the game got out of hand. Which, combined with Kobe's 15 free-throw attempts, is why all the talk of anyone being a better player is laughable. Only Steve Nash understands how to get his teammates going and yet take every big shot as well as Kobe does within the context of the game. And Nash simply doesn't have the physical tools to play defense the way Kobe can.

I understand. He doesn't do funny commercials. He seemed to be channeling all of MJ's mannerisms his first few years while denying any similarity. He has a nasty edge that he sometimes inflicts on people who meant him no harm. He doesn't have Shaq's seal of approval. The list of reasons those who don't like him is long and varied. But how many times does one man have to drop iodine tablets into the same village well to make it potable? How many times must Kobe demonstrate that no one in the league -- and I mean no one -- has his combination of skill, tenacity, understanding of time and score, killer instinct and ability to control the game at the both ends? And how many times must I be the one taking the flag and waving it?

Trust me, if you're sick of me sticking up for Kobe, I'm equally sick of having to do it. It shouldn't be this difficult to have the man recognized as the league's all-around best player. OK, so you don't like him. I'm good with that. But not respect him? Not give him his due? Anoint anyone who hasn't accomplished half of what he has as The King or The One or The Whatever? Ignore what every player in the league will tell you, even those who consider him arrogant and a little bit evil, that he's the best?

You in the back with the Raja Bell jersey -- you want to know why we didn't see this in the third quarter against the Suns in Game 7 last year? Answer: Because Kobe was playing on the knee that required offseason surgery. Because, unlike Game 7, the rest of the Lakers contributed at both ends from the get, which opened the door for Kobe to go off. There's no getting 52 against a good team (exempting last year's Raptors) unless your teammates are keeping the opposition honest. Otherwise, they're going to run double and triple teams at you with impunity -- something the Suns did and the Jazz didn't.

No doubt someone will poke some holes in his performance against the Jazz. Phil may even provide some ammo for it. All I can say is, you better get started now. This one won't be easy to ventilate. Or as a Cuban philosopher once exclaimed: "You got some 'splainin' to do, Lucy."