More cause for Lakers' concern

Updated: March 8, 2004, 1:39 PM ET
By Marc Stein |

Karl Malone will be in the building, whether he plays or not, for Lakers vs. Jazz at the Delta Center. So it's a game that must be watched, because inevitably something newsy will happen. There will also be a full building in Atlanta, of all places, but that's because Cavaliers at Hawks puts LeBron James on the Philips Arena marquee. Milwaukee at Philadelphia, meanwhile, sends Keith Van Horn into a hostile arena against one of his (many) former teams.
Boston at New York wouldn't have generated much anticipation a week or so ago. But with the Celtics suddenly rolling, they could pass the Knicks in the East standings with a victory ... and bring us one step closer to our dream first-round pairing of Knicks vs. Nets. San Antonio at Memphis is another good selection, in the wake of the Grizzlies' one-point escape at SBC Center last week, and Philadelphia at Chicago, if nothing else, gives Aaron McKie and Jerome Williams an up-close opportunity to see what they're missing out on after the teams discussed exchanging those players before the Feb. 19 deadline.
Denver at New Jersey could mark the return of Jason Kidd, which is the last thing the reeling Nuggets want to see. Clippers at Spurs could also mark the return of Tim Duncan, although San Antonio management undoubtedly prefers to hold Duncan out a little longer. Cleveland at Toronto pits LeBron against Vince Carter and also carries playoff implications, so it's a must-see matchup, and we can't ignore at least a mention of Lakers at Celtics, simply because it's the Lakers and Celtics.
Only two games on the schedule and TNT has them both: New Orleans at Houston finds the Hornets praying that a rare national TV appearance can spark them out of their recent funk, followed by Dallas at Sacramento in the nightcap. It's a rematch of the Mavericks' Christmas Day comeback at Arco Arena, but you shouldn't bank on a repeat the way Dallas is playing on the road these days.
Even if Kobe Bryant and Mailman don't play, Lakers at Timberwolves is always a must-watch. On a typically busy Friday, the other standouts are Denver at Milwaukee -- two surprise teams headed in opposite directions -- and New York at Philadelphia, in yet another game of great importance for the six clubs vying for the East's final three playoff slots.
Saturday's fare is on the tame side, apart from Memphis at Houston. Things perk up Sunday with an ABC doubleheader: Philadelphia at Detroit, followed by San Antonio at Sacramento in a battle of West heavyweights. There are actually lots of good games Sunday, as seen often this time of year, with Indiana at Cleveland and New Jersey at Miami providing two examples of an established East contender visiting an East fast-riser. Utah at Denver is a face-to-face confrontation in the race to secure the No. 8 in the West, and New York at Milwaukee is the Knicks' first look at Keith Van Horn since trading him away.
Karl Malone
How much of a grudge will Malone hold against the Jazz?

Just because baseball needs a salary cap doesn't mean those guys have it all wrong. You have to like what they do with their Hall of Fame entrants, mandating that they choose a cap on the way in so that they're identified with one of their former teams.

It's too bad the Basketball Hall of Fame doesn't have a similar mandate, to add a little intrigue.

If it did, Karl Malone would someday be forced to decide if he wants to enter the Hall as a representative of the Utah Jazz, with whom he spent 18 seasons. This hypothetical comes to mind Monday, with Malone returning to the Delta Center as a visitor for the first time, and after Mailman said he'll "never, ever forgive" the Jazz for an in-game skit in January that made a thinly veiled reference to Kobe Bryant's legal travails.

When it's his turn, Malone will simply enter basketball's Hall as a player, even if he did want to go in specifically as a Jazzman. Or as a Laker. Someone in Salt Lake City is bound to ask Monday what the choice would be if he did have to make it.

Of course, the Lakers have more pressing concerns than hypotheticals. With Malone still not quite convinced his knee is ready for a comeback, and with Bryant potentially sidelined for a month with a reaggravated shoulder injury, L.A. has to worry about several issues.

  • Playoff seeding. Can the Lakers maintain a top-four spot, and thus home-court advantage in the first round, without Bryant for an extended period?

  • The energy Shaquille O'Neal will have to expend before the playoffs start. Signing Malone and Gary Payton in the offseason was supposed to spread the burden and thus enable O'Neal to save a little something extra for the playoffs. Now Shaq and Payton have to carry the Lakers while Bryant's out.

  • Rhythm. If Bryant really does miss a month, that'll leave roughly two weeks for L.A. to re-establish some fluency going into the playoffs. That's not a lot of time for a time that hasn't had much rhythm since early December.

  • A third shoulder setback. Bryant has already injured his surgically repaired shoulder twice and admits he won't be fully healed until the summer when he can take time off. Thing is, even with four future Hall of Famers on the roster, Bryant is L.A.'s clear-cut closer. The Lakers can't reclaim their championship unless Bryant can play fearlessly and aggressively in the playoffs.

  • Court proceedings. As if last week wasn't rough enough on the health front, Bryant also learned that courtroom obligations in Colorado might force him to miss at least one first-round playoff game. Which has the Lakers freaked without even mentioning the shoulder.

    The Lakers, you can be sure, will be one of the discussion topics during my weekly chat Monday at 3:30 p.m. We'll also dissect's NBA Power Rankings if the questions are good, with Indiana moving up to No. 2 representing the big story there.

    Team of the Week

    Indiana Pacers. Make no mistake: Indy's season will be rather meaningless if it loses in the first or even the second round of the playoffs. But make no mistake: The Pacers have been unerringly consistent and resilient all season, to the point that they might clinch the No. 1 seed in the East by the end of March. Team O' Week honors were earned in this instance by sweeping roadies at Golden State, L.A. (Clippers), Utah and Denver. That's not the best the West has to offer, but those wins also coincided with the earlier-than-expected return of Ron Artest. Now you know why the Pacers rose to No. 2.

    Male of the Week

    Joe 'Jelllybean' Bryant
    Joe "Jellybean" Bryant. Just a few days before his son Kobe suffered a shoulder injury that could keep him away from the Lakers for a month, Bryant Sr. made a comeback at age 49. Coach of the ABA's Las Vegas Rattlers, Bryant activated himself Tuesday with his team short on players and scored 18 points on 7-for-23 shooting in Las Vegas' 142-122 road loss to the Long Beach Jam. The elder Bryant wore his son's No. 8 and shared afterward that Kobe expected him to score at least 30. It was a newsy week for the barely-breathing ABA, which also announced that Dennis Rodman will rejoin the Long Beach squad for its championship game Tuesday against Kansas City.

    E-Mail of the Week

      I know you're an unabashed Cal State Fullerton booster, but come on. Please explain to me why you think the Big West in 1991 -- when UNLV ran the table -- was a more of a "real conference" than the current version of the Atlantic-10, as you claimed recently in bashing St. Joe's.
      David Simonton
      San Francisco, Calif.

    STEIN: I think you know the answer, David. It's right there in your question.

    Allen Iverson
    Speak of the Week

    "It might. It might not. God only knows."
     Philadelphia's Allen Iverson, speaking to ESPN's Jim Gray in response to Gray's suggestion that a trade away from the 76ers, at this point, might be better for both parties.

    Line of the Week

    Wednesday, March 3, Milwaukee at Orlando
    Player Min FGM-A 3PM-A FTM-A Off Reb Ast Stl Blk TO PF Pts
    Damon Jones 36 4-8 1-2 0-0 0 7 17 0 0 0 1 9
    There were some especially gaudy box-score lines over the past seven days and they generally received considerable attention. Boston's unheralded Mark Blount went for 28 points and 21 rebounds in a win over Orlando. Golden State's Mike Dunleavy totaled 24 points and 20 rebounds in a loss to Indiana. Miami's Lamar Odom, meanwhile, trumped them both Saturday with 30 points, 19 rebounds and 11 assists in the Heat's home victory over Sacramento. But there was another fine line that didn't get nearly as much notice as those three: Milwaukee's Jones had 17 assists without a turnover in Wednesday's victory over the Magic, along with nine points and seven rebounds. Which means Jones, who's proving to be more than a 3-point specialist, nearly posted a triple-double filling in for the injured T.J. Ford.

    Stat of the Week

    That's the record for points in a season debut for a player who plays his first game after the All-Star break. With 26 points Tuesday night in a home win over the L.A. Clippers, Sacramento's Chris Webber wasn't far away from the record, as the following chart indicates:

      Most Points, Season Debut After Break
      Points	Player, Team (Date)
      28	Dan Finn, Philadelphia (1/22/53)
      26	Derek Fisher, Lakers (3/13/01)
      26	Chris Webber, Sacramento (3/2/04)
      24	Cazzie Russell, Lakers (1/21/75)
      23	Lenny Wilkens, St. Louis (1/17/62)

    Stat of the Weak

    That was Allen Iverson's shooting percentage from the floor Wednesday night in a loss to New York, in which AI missed his final 18 shots. Amazingly, there have been four worse shooting performances in NBA history with at least 20 field-goal attempts, as listed here:

      Worst Field-Goal Percentage, Single Game (Minimum 20 Attempts, Shot-Clock Era)
      Pct.	Player, FG-FGA (Date)
      .045	Mike Newlin, 1-22 (1/31/73)
      .087	Truck Robinson, 2-23 (1/6/79)
      .091	Bob Cousy, 2-22 (12/4/60)
      .091	Kenny Sears, 2-22 (10/20/60)
      .095	Allen Iverson, 2-21 (3/3/04)

    Marc Stein is the senior NBA writer for To e-mail him, click here. Also, click here to send a question for possible use on ESPNEWS.

    Marc Stein | email

    Senior Writer,
    • Senior NBA writer for
    • Began covering the NBA in 1993-94
    • Also covered soccer, tennis and the Olympics