Dec 26, 2013, 8:00 AM EDT
LOS ANGELES – The reason behind the NBA scheduling a Christmas Day marquee matchup between the Heat and the Lakers had nothing to do with the current fate of the respective franchises, and everything to do with potentially getting to see two of the game’s biggest stars competing in a rare head-to-head matchup.
A Finals rematch between Miami and San Antonio might have been more compelling in terms of how this season’s title might ultimately play out, but it’s hard to resist history by scheduling the game’s best player in LeBron James to face the best player of the previous generation in Kobe Bryant.
(It’s valid to argue that Tim Duncan was every bit as good as Bryant in the same era, but personally, I’ll take Kobe every day and twice on Christmas.)
Since LeBron and Kobe have played in separate conferences, the on-court meetings between two of the game’s all-time greats have perhaps been more rare than they should have been. The pair missed playing against one another yet again on Christmas Day, thanks to the recent knee bone fracture that has Bryant sidelined for up to six weeks.
“We understand how historic the franchise is, the Lakers, and what they mean to the league,” James said before his Heat took care of the Lakers on Wednesday. “You take the best player or the franchise player off their team, it speaks volumes. He’s meant so much to the league since he got here in ’96, and his five championships and the rest of his resume and what he’s been able to do for the league and his city, it means a lot. Especially games like today. In marquee games, you definitely want to have the best players out there, and it’s unfortunate that an injury will keep some guys out.”
Bryant and James going head-to-head will always be must-se TV, no matter the situation going on with the pair’s respective franchises. That’s why this matchup was featured in the prime slot on this holiday, one that marks the unofficial start to the NBA season for the majority of the league’s casual fans. But Bryant’s most recent injury prevented this particular meeting, no matter how benign it seemed when it initially took place.
“I was actually watching the game and I saw when it happened,” James said. “And I didn’t think he was going to return to that game. But he did, so I didn’t think too much more about it until I heard the news the next day. There’s a few guys in our league that can come back from anything, and obviously he’s one of them.”
Bryant met the L.A. media before the Christmas Day game tipped, and seemed as determined as ever to make it back. He seemed especially interested in seeing how his Lakers team would match up against the defending champs.
“This was a really big measuring stick,” Bryant said of the matchup against the Heat. “Because of their speed, their activity and their size. I was really looking forward to this game to be able to measure where I was physically, especially with the time frame I came back. I was really looking at this game to measure what I can do and what I can’t do.”
It wasn’t, however, meant to be. Just like the times when the two were so close to meeting on the game’s ultimate stage in the NBA Finals, circumstances intervened to prevent us from seeing one of the all-time great individual matchups.
“It definitely would have been great,” James said, when asked to consider what it would have been like to face Kobe in the Finals. “I think I wanted it, I think he wanted it. I didn’t do my part one year, lost to Orlando in the Conference Finals. So I didn’t do my part to meet him there, and I’m not quite sure what happened in ’07 with the Lakers, but I ended up facing San Antonio. It definitely would have been great to go against him in the Finals, but it never happened, and I don’t know whether it will happen or if it won’t. We’ll see.”
At this point, it would appear to be a long shot. James and the Heat are among the the league’s elite, while the Lakers (with or without Kobe) are merely treading water, hoping just to have a chance at a playoff berth while having no realistic expectations of coming anywhere close to the championship round in the immediate future.
Bryant’s injuries in this, his 18th professional season, have certainly played a part in that. But James, now at the height of his powers and playing in the midst of his prime, is focused on the present. And he isn’t willing to consider his NBA mortality just yet.
“The man above knows how much time he’s going to give me with this game,” James said. “Once he decides I don’t have any more time to give, then I’ll call it quits.”
I generally am not of huge fan of Reggie Miller the analyst but he summed up the mood on twitter after Blake Griffin got ejected for a second technical, when in both cases a Warriors player instigated a flagrant foul on him. No way Griffin should have been tossed (frankly the Andrew Bogut flagrant was really nothing, let alone Griffin’s Tech). It felt like the refs wanted to get control of a game that was in no way out of control. – Kurt Helin
Bulls 95, Nets 78: Ugh, the Nets. This game was close for two and a half quarters, but when Deron Williams left in the third quarter after tweaking his ankle the Bulls went on a run and were soon up 23. Chicago had a balanced attack with six guys in double figures, led by Taj Gibson’s 20, but you couldn’t watch this game and think anything other than the Nets just are not playing with any real passion or fight right now. — KH
Thunder 123, Knicks 94: Carmelo Anthony was out and with that this game pretty much followed the form we all expected. Kevin Durant started the game 6-of-6 shooting, hitting step-back threes and finishing alley-oops, on his way to 29 points (and he got to rest the fourth). J.R. Smith had 20 points for the Knicks but needed 22 shots to get there, This loss was the worst home loss any team has suffered on Christmas Day in NBA history. — KH
Miami 101, Lakers 95: The banged-up Lakers were actually on top through much of the first half here, going on an 11-0 run and getting 10 first half points from Jodie Meeks. Eventually Miami responded — Chris Bosh had 13 points in the second quarter and the Heat pushed into the lead. LeBron James finished with 19 and Dwyane Wade 23… but the Heat could never fully shake the Lakers. Credit Nick Young and his 20 off the bench, but the Lakers stayed within 10 pretty much the whole way and made the Heat work for it. The Lakers get a nice moral victory, the Heat the actual win. — KH
Rockets 111, Spurs 98: Houston never trailed in this game — they scored the first 6 points, had a 13-0 run later in the first quarter and dropped 40 on the Spurs in the first quarter (Chandler Parsons had 13 of his 21 in the quarter to lead the way). But the spurs chipped away at it as they tend to do, Manu Ginobili being the big spark with 22 points. The Spurs got the Rockets lead down to 5 in the fourth, then James Harden came in and hit four straight shots, scoring 11 in a row and 16 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter to squelch any Spurs comebacks. — KH
Warriors 105, Clippers 103: This game got a little feisty and featured a ridiculous ejection of Blake Griffin, but in the end the Warriors made plays to come from behind in this one. Klay Thompson had 23 points in this one plus a key block on Chris Paul late. David Lee added 23 and 13 rebounds. Chris Paul had 26 for the Clippers but a couple shots at the end to tie and just could not make the plays. Good win for a Warriors team trying to find its groove again. — KH
Mar 14, 2014, 3:16 AM EDT
Our quick look around the NBA, or what you missed while applying for maybe the best journalism job out there…. Mike Dunleavy, Chicago Bulls. Don’t make Mike Dunleavy angry. You wouldn’t like him when he’s angry. Dunleavy had no points in the first half before Chandler Parsons caught Dunleavy just above the eye with an…
Mar 14, 2014, 12:55 AM EDT
The rest of this game went pretty much like this play. This steal and slam was the first two of Russell Westbrook‘s 11 first quarter points as the Thunder raced out to a 14 point first quarter lead. Then they really opened it up in the third quarter, making it a 24-point lead and it…
Mar 13, 2014, 10:36 PM EDT
The Rockets came into Thursday night’s contest in Chicago with the league’s best record since Jan. 1, a 23-7 mark that included a record of 15-3 over the team’s last 18 games. But it’s difficult to bring the necessary energy on a nightly basis, and especially against a fiery Bulls team playing at home, not…
Mar 13, 2014, 9:31 PM EDT
Midway through the second quarter of Thursday night’s contest between the Rockets and the Bulls, Mike Dunleavy set up to try and take a charge against Houston’s Chandler Parsons. It turned out to be not the greatest of ideas, as Parsons inadvertently caught Dunleavy with an elbow above the eye that caused a whole lot…
Mar 13, 2014, 8:23 PM EDT
Andrew Bynum looked strong in his Pacers debut on Tuesday, scoring eight points and grabbing 10 rebounds in just 15 minutes of action against an undersized Celtics front line. Even with three days off before his team’s next game, however, Bynum is going to be held out on Friday — a game that’ll be played…
Mar 13, 2014, 7:03 PM EDT
The Rockets are in Chicago to face the Bulls in a nationally televised contest on Thursday, and Houston head coach Kevin McHale paid the highest of compliments to the best active player on the opposing team, Joakim Noah. That part wasn’t unusual, as head coaches will often times dole out honest and well-deserved praise to…
Mar 13, 2014, 4:55 PM EDT
“I didn’t touch him. All he did was scream. The ref gave him calls all night because he was screaming.” That was from John Wall talking about Kemba Walker after the Bobcats beat the Wizards Wednesday night. The league is not fond of people questioning their officials’ integrity (regardless of cause) and on Thursday came down…
Mar 13, 2014, 4:09 PM EDT
Coaches are micromanagers almost by nature. They want control, they want to set things up. So in crunch time, when their team needs a bucket, they almost inevitably call a timeout to set up a play. Of course, that also lets the defense make substitutions and set themselves up as well, but coaches want that…
Mar 13, 2014, 2:46 PM EDT
LaMarcus Aldridge is out at least a couple games after a nasty fall, but it looked a lot worse.
Mar 13, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
Steve Nash is honest — yes, he wanted that last year and $9 million. Nash also says the obvious — every one of the people commenting on this site or calling talk shows saying he should not have played 10 games this season (too many to get a medial retirement), that Nash should have walked…
Mar 13, 2014, 1:31 PM EDT
Portland has lost four in a row and is 7-9 in their last 16 games. In a tight Western Conference, that is trouble — gone is home court advantage in the first round as the hot Clippers and Rockets shot past them. Portland is now the five seed with Golden State just 1.5 games back.…
Mar 13, 2014, 12:52 PM EDT
J.J. Redick has missed more than a month and counting with a bulging disc in his back. He’s a strong shooter and underrated defender – the type of role player the Clippers surely want for their playoff run. Or not? The Orange County Register (hat tip: Matt Moore of Eye on Basketball): The team will…
Mar 13, 2014, 12:15 PM EDT
Underrated moment at the the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference: Celtics owner Wyc Grousbeck and Kings owner Vivek Ranadive were on a panel together, and Ranadive basically accused Boston of tanking. “And what are you doing?” Grousbeck jabbed back. Tanking doesn’t exist (says Adam Silver), but if it did (it does), Grousbeck is having a…
Mar 13, 2014, 11:45 AM EDT
With the Bobcats clinging to a three-point lead over the Wizards midway through the fourth quarter Wednesday, Kemba Walker rose for a corner 3-pointer. John Wall appeared to contest the shot cleanly, but the refs called a foul. Why? Wall, via J. Michael of CSN Washington: “I didn’t touch him. All he did was scream,”…
Mar 13, 2014, 11:15 AM EDT
Evan Turner played his way out of the NBA cellar before the trade deadline. Apparently, the only question was which championship contender he’d join. The Pacers traded for Turner, but reportedly he could have been a Spur. Marc Stein of ESPN: It emerged shortly after trade deadline that San Antonio tried hard to make deadline-day…
Mar 13, 2014, 10:44 AM EDT
A month and a half ago, Magic Johnson pledged to stop complaining about the Lakers. He’s almost kind of sort of barely maybe trying to live up to that. Magic: I love Jim & Jeanie Buss, but we need Phil Jackson to be the face of our great organization, the Los Angeles Lakers.— Earvin Magic…
Mar 13, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT
The Warriors and Clippers don’t like each other, but it seems the Warriors particularly dislike Blake Griffin. Draymond Green and Andrew Bogut went after Griffin in December, and they successfully got the Clippers star ejected. Bogut even made a point not to apologize. Add Jermaine O’Neal to the list of Warriors who’ve feuded with Griffin.…
Mar 13, 2014, 9:44 AM EDT
No word on when Aldridge will return.
Mar 13, 2014, 9:13 AM EDT
To quote Cartman: Respect my authoritah. Blake Griffin basically said that with this dunk. He has broadened his game this season, adding a far more consistent jump shot to go with handles and improved defense (which he showed off all night on the pick-and-roll against Stephen Curry), but the man can still dunk. With authoritah. As…
- Thursday NBA grades: Don’t make Mike Dunleavy angry 0
- Rockets don’t bring the energy, so Bulls bring the pain in securing a 24-point blowout victory 5
- Interesting stat: Teams score better in crunch time when they don’t call timeout 12
- Blake Griffin with as powerful a putback dunk as you’ll see (VIDEO) 12
- PBT Podcast: What is with the slumps of Miami, Indiana? Plus of course Phil Jackson talk. 5