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 31, 2015, 6:29 PM EDT
It’s impossible to ever really define and entire large city in one bit of writing. But this story comes as close to defining the intricate relationship of San Antonio with the Spurs as you are going to see.
Mar 31, 2015, 5:38 PM EDT
Redick, who once looked like a bust given oversized expectations, playing big role for surging Clippers
Mar 31, 2015, 4:56 PM EDT
This was fun frustration
Mar 31, 2015, 3:44 PM EDT
Knicks fans should be patient with this season. Optimistic… that’s a tough sell.
Mar 31, 2015, 2:59 PM EDT
LeBron names his three, and says after that he has ‘a bunch of teammates.’
Mar 31, 2015, 2:00 PM EDT
It had been hoped that Beverley might be available to return later in the postseason.
Mar 31, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT
Mar 31, 2015, 12:40 PM EDT
We already knew Durant was done for the season, but the Thunder have updated his status.
Mar 31, 2015, 12:00 PM EDT
Green is trying to downplay rivalry with Clippers coach, and is dealing with inflammation in his shins.
Kyrie Irving on his relationship with LeBron James: ‘I don’t want to say it’s not been rocky at all’
Mar 31, 2015, 11:20 AM EDT
Things are clicking now in Cleveland, but it wasn’t that way at the beginning of the season.
Flip Saunders (sort of) makes up with Jazz broadcaster after ripping him for saying Timberwolves were tanking
Mar 31, 2015, 10:40 AM EDT
Interaction ended with a handshake, but it seemed evident Saunders remained displeased.
Mar 31, 2015, 10:00 AM EDT
Hornets were fighting for a playoff spot, but their big free agent acquisition sat on the bench.
Mar 31, 2015, 9:20 AM EDT
Team has nothing left to play for, and Cousins has some nagging injuries.
Mar 31, 2015, 8:40 AM EDT
Great win — except for the fact that it may help cost the Lakers their draft pick this summer.
Mar 31, 2015, 8:00 AM EDT
In a season where Kyle Korver’s three point shooting has at times seemed inhuman this may be his best shooting display.
Mar 31, 2015, 1:38 AM EDT
Also, is Kyle Korver human?
Mar 31, 2015, 12:30 AM EDT
He won’t replace Wesley Matthews, but he’s another body.
Mar 30, 2015, 11:45 PM EDT
A much-needed win for the Raptors.
Mar 30, 2015, 11:00 PM EDT
Gobert wouldn’t let it stand and blocked him right after.
Mar 30, 2015, 10:15 PM EDT
It was a frightening display of strength.
- Stop judging J.J. Redick by his Duke days if you haven’t already 0
- Thunder say Kevin Durant underwent successful bone graft surgery, will return in 4-6 months 4
- Five Things We Learned in NBA Monday: DeMar DeRozan went Harden on Harden 11
- Derrick Rose returns to full-contact practice, Bulls return date still unknown 13
- Report: Sacramento consultant Chris Mullin to take St. John’s head coaching job 4
- PBT Extra: Taking twitter questions on Clippers, Michael Carter-Williams, more 7
- PBT’s NBA Power Rankings: Cream rising to top as playoffs near 27
- Report: Patrick Beverley out for rest of season, including playoffs 8