It’s easy to look at LeBron James’ stat line this season and not think much of it anymore. It’s LeBron James after all. He’s a beast, we’re all used to it and we’ve all gotten over it. But take a closer look, it was bound to happen eventually so it’s no real surprise, but James, halfway through the 2007-08 season, is leading the entire league in points per game. Impressive enough at first glance, but this is LBJ we’re talking about, the kid with the complete game. The kid with the assists (eighth in the NBA), the steals (seventh in the NBA) and the rebounds (38th in the NBA but second amongst guards if you consider him one) is getting kind of greedy don’t you think?
In typical Kobe Bryant fashion, number 24 has been relatively quiet early on. He’s still doing his duties on the defensive end, but it’s the combined genius of Lamar Odom and – believe it or not – Kwame Brown that has the Lakers on top by five at the 5:43 mark. Speaking of Odom, the 6′9″ forward truly does look like a slightly-blown out of proportion point guard out there. On one possession Odom showed why his ball control is perhaps the best amongst players taller than 6′7″ when he found himself juking Larry Hughes out of his pants on the left side of the free throw line extended. Odom caught Hughes making a move on the ball, awkwardly tucked his elbows into his gangly praying mantis body, and spun into the paint for a layup.
Big game delay here with three minutes left in the first quarter, the roof is leaking!
At the end of the first quarter Bryant started to get his offense going and finished the frame with eight points on 4-4 shooting, numbers identical to those of Lamar Odom. If Bryant and Odom can both stay on their games today I really don’t think the Cavs have a shot. These two teams have very similar rosters, but the difference maker is Lamar Odom. Odom has the potential to be the clear cut third best player on the court, which, when paired with Kobe Bryant trumps LeBron on his own. Nothing against Zydrunas Ilgauskas, I just don’t think any of the remaining supporting casts have the potential to impact games like LO does.
Watching LeBron James drive into the key is like watching one of those When Animals Attack videos. The ones where they show the parade elephants getting spooked and trampling the crowd, or those bulls that freak out and stampede down the cobblestone streets of a tiny little village. And it works for him. I’m sure I’m not the only one who would rather get hit by a golf cart than a LeBron James driving shoulder. He finished the first half with 21 points.
Kobe Bryant looked to attack more in the second quarter and at half time has a respectable stat line of 13 points on 6-6 shooting, seven rebounds and five assists. While LeBron James is busy pummeling his way into the key, Kobe takes a much more selectively nimble approach. Watching these two players go at it is like watching a souped-up Dodge Charger play game of one-on-one against a Lamborghini.
I don’t know if he trims it or not, but I really wish Drew Gooden would let his mustache run as free as he let’s his chin.
Ira Newble just crowned Lamar Odom with a forced two-hander in a crowded scrum. It’s easy to forget about players like Newble but then when you least expect it they jump out of the pack like Newble just did on Odom, reminding those of us watching from home that just about every player in this league was at one point the one of the best players in their home state.
The thing I like about Kobe this game is that he started off slowly and worked his way into the game with patience. We’ve all seen Bryant get off to a modest start in the past, only to try and force possessions once the second and third quarters rolled around, but not tonight. Even as the Lakers fell behind by as many as ten points Kobe resisted the urge to take everything on by himself. The sense of urgency that was there as recently as Friday night against the Dallas Mavericks is gone and as a result the Lakers have slowly come back to tie the Cavs halfway through the third.
Ay carumba, Anderson Varejao just owned his left ankle. That absolutely has to be a sprain at least. It’s a shame to see anybody go down with an injury as YouTube-worthy as that, but even more so considering Varejao’s season has pretty much just begun. Trailing a LeBron James circus shot, AV took off for insurance on the offensive glass, but before he could clear the ground his ankle turned the wrong way and got squashed under all 240 pounds of his Brazilian body. The scariest part? He still got at least twelve inches of air off the wrong side of his foot.
An uncharacteristic brain fart by LeBron James cost the Cavs one final shot at the end of the third quarter. After a Lamar Odom foul with four seconds left, the ball was inbounded at center court to James. Whether he forgot, or just didn’t look at the clock, LeBron ended up dribbling away the remaining seconds before firing off a useless pass at the buzzer. The reason I’m even mentioning it is because it’s so much of a surprise.
So the Lakers just cashed in on their largest lead of the game with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter. Sometimes that’s enough to confidently predict the winner of the game, but not on an afternoon like this where the league’s two most talented players are desperate to come out on top. Five minutes after I write this the Lakers lead is down to one.
LeBron James can completely manhandle Kobe Bryant if he wants to, and he has, on more than one occasion. In terms of size or strength, Kobe, despite being six years older, is no match for the burly James. That being said I can find no reason to believe Mamba won’t find a way to even the playing field.
Kobe Bryant misses a pair of free throws with four minutes left in the contest and the Lakers down by four but his error is quickly forgotten as Luke Walton strips the King on the following possession. Just as LeBron surveyed the Lakers defense to gauge his next move, Walton was able to reach around James and bat the ball back into the hands of Kobe Bryant, who then found Walton as he took off down the court on an uncontested break.
Without questioning Mike Brown’s abilities as a coach, I’ll just say, for the second time tonight, the Cavs have been unprepared heading into a critical inbound situation – this time on the defensive end. A relatively basic inbound formation under the Cavaliers basket saw Kobe break free from the pack steps ahead of the defending James. The jumper, which Kobe nailed, tied the game at 92 with two minutes left on the clock.
With the Cavs up one and 35 seconds remaining on the clock, LeBron James took control of the ball heading down the court. As anyone on the planet could have guessed, it was Kobe Bryant who took the responsibility of matching up. Whether Kobe had expected a possible drive, or LeBron James just opened up enough space for himself with a step back, the eventual game winner went fairly uncontested. The jumper gave the Cavs their 96th point and that’s all it would take for them to seal the win.