By Royce Webb
Kobe's initials on this KO
It was billed as a heavyweight fight: Larry vs. Phil. The Bench Battle of the Century. Love 'Em and Leave 'Em Larry vs. the Zen Master.
But instead of LB vs. PJ, the real deal was the duel between LB and KB.
And the winner by KO: Kobe Bryant.
As Los Angeles polished off New York 97-92, Kobe was, by the end of the night, everything he strives to be: dominant, self-reliant, spectacular ... and vindicated.
Took a while, though.
For 24 minutes, Larry was living large. Lakers coach Phil Jackson might have been the philosopher king with nine rings on the court, but it was Knicks boss Larry Brown's coaching philosophy that ruled the first half.
At Brown's prodding, the Knicks played what seemed to be a perfect "Pound for Pound" half on the offensive end. They moved the ball with unusual precision and unselfishness, finishing the half with an amazing 18 assists, highlighted by a second-quarter sequence between point guard Stephon Marbury and rookie forward David Lee that went like this: Marbury drives and dishes to Lee, who drives and dishes to Marbury, who makes a move and feeds Lee for a dunk. Three passes, one basket ... and one fine example of playing the Larry way.
And, while dropping those 18 dimes, the Knicks made only six turnovers in the half, solving, for a spell anyway, their usual carelessness with the ball.
Still, somehow, they trailed the Lakers, despite a rather ugly 5-for-18 half by Bryant. The score: 49-47. And that was as close as Kobe let Larry get.
Early in the third quarter, the Mamba (that's his nickname, folks -- just ask him) struck the Knicks with two quick baskets, then two free throws ... and then he got rolling: two FTs, layup, jumper, jumper, layup, two more FTs. When he was done with his 18-point barrage, the Lakers led 76-62.
Kobe loves to take his own temperature, so he started the fourth quarter with two more made jumpers, and then the heat check really went into effect: another (missed) jumper, and then, with the shot clock ticking down, a crazy 28-foot jumper that might have felt good but missed badly.
But wait, there's more: Two made FTs and a runner that hit bottom gave Kobe eight points and eight shot attempts (six FGA, two FGA) before a single other player on the court -- for either team -- scored a point in the quarter.
By this time the score was 86-70, and the game was over with 7:54 remaining.
Kobe's final count: 15-for-36 shooting, 42 points.
In case you didn't get the message, here's Kobe's memo to us all, including Phil and Larry: No matter how tightly coaches try to button down their teams, it's ultimately a players' league (a point Jackson's detractors never tire of making).
For Brown, this was just another school day. Sure, his team is 2-6, but in a way Brown likes that: After all, that's when the challenge is toughest and the teaching matters most. The events of the last six months make it clear he's happier -- if that's the word -- providing remedial instruction to a losing team than presiding over a title contender.
Meanwhile, Jackson, it appears, has hooked his wagon to his star, whether he likes him or not, and as we found out again last night, on any given Wednesday, that's enough to beat a road-weary team that's doubly tired from trying to learn to play the right way.
AP Photo/Adrian Wyld
Sixers guard Allen Iverson eludes Raptors forward Matt Bonner. Raptors coach Sam Mitchell smashed his clipboard during the game, won by the 76ers 121-115 on the power of Iverson's 60th career 40-point game (he had 42, to be exact).
Jorge (Des Moines): John, will Rick Adelman be the first coach canned this season? If so, how much more loafing and lethargy do the Maloofs tolerate before they issue the pink slip?
John Hollinger: Adelman is getting plenty of competition from Bob Weiss and Sam Mitchell for this honor. He's earned a long rope based on his stellar track record, but the Kings vets may be weary of hearing the same voice for so long. It won't be next week, but if they're still struggling by Christmas, I wouldn't be surprised to see Petrie make a move.
Bob Weiss (Thin Ice, Seattle, WA): John, even if Wally Walker fires me, who's going to take my place? Jim O'Brien?
Thomas Admits Roster Is Flawed
"Isiah Thomas said he took no offense to Larry Brown's rant last week the roster was flawed and imbalanced. 'Not at all,' Thomas said. 'We understand it's not a perfect roster. Our goal is to win the NBA championship. I never promised you guys in two years I'd put together the perfect team and win the championship. We want to continue to upgrade the roster until we have the pieces to win the NBA championship'" --- New York Post
Odom May Switch Positions
"Allen Iverson offered his assessment the other night of why teammate John Salmons has been such a pleasant surprise for the 76ers and coach Maurice Cheeks two weeks into the new NBA season. 'For the first time in his career, he doesn't have someone just screaming his name every second he's in the game,' said Iverson. Cheeks has allowed Salmons to bring out the aggressiveness in his game, and the results have been more than satisfying." --- Philadelphia Inquirer • More NBA Intelligence
AP Photo/Kevork Djansezian
Kobe Bryant, guarded here by Knicks' Trevor Ariza, hoisted 36 shots Wednesday night, scoring 42 points in a 97-92 win.
Quote of the Night
-- Andrew Ayres
One of the most impressive stats of the Pistons' fast start is that the "offensively challenged" Ben Wallace is now averaging a double double.
Finally, the Pistons are getting love from the national media. I'm going to enjoy it now because I know once the streak is over and Shaq is back all we are going to here about is Miami. Its seems like nobody remembers the fact that the Pistons were minutes away from winning back-to-back championships. I don't mind though, because to me it seems as though the 'Stones thrive on the lack of respect they recieve. The "me against the world" mentality suits this blue-collar group of selfless hard workers perfectly.
For the record, I have all the respect in the world for the Pistons; they're a great basketball team and their start shows it. However, it's a bit premature to even TALK about 15-0. The teams they've beaten have a combined 19-29 record, and only one of them has a winning record. I'd say this upcoming road trip, especially games against Houston, Dallas, New Jersey, Milwaukee, and Washington, will give us a much better assessment of how good the Pistons are than anything we've seen thus far.
It's a detriment to the game to glorify an ankle-breaking move, especially if it didn't result in a basket or it was made by a player on the losing team -- but sometimes it can't be helped.
Warriors guard Baron Davis shook Bucks guard T.J. Ford so hard on one crossover in the first quarter last night that, for a moment, they weren't in the same frame. It was literally like this: "OK, there's T.J. and . . . oh, there's Baron. Over there."
Now Davis waltzed to the rim only to miss the easy lay-up, on his way to a 4-for-21 night (11 points) and a 90-87 loss. Ford had the better night, if only marginally, with nine points and 13 assists. As he said afterward, "He made a good move, but I made a few good ones myself."
But his real feelings about Davis' juke were revealed to his teammates as they walked into the locker room at halftime. "I thought Baron was making an And One Mix Tape on me," he muttered.
-- Ric Bucher in Oakland
Larry (Boston): What do you think of Mark Blount? He is scoring in double figures almost every game, but he is averaging just 3.4 boards a game and almost 4 turnovers. That's awful for a big man.
Jim O'Brien: Mark Blount never has been a great rebounder. He works as hard as anyone I have ever coached all year round but he just doesn't seem to have rebounding instincts.
A few years back we asked C.M. Newton, the former athletic director at Kentucky, to study Mark and figure out why he wasn't grabbing more rebounds. He did a great job, but Mark just couldn't consistently apply it. That being said, Mark is welcome to be on any team I coach.
So the Raptors fell to 0-8 by losing to the Sixers on Wednesday. And they may very well grab defeat from the jaws of victory many times this season. But it's not over. Nor are you done, 0-7 Hawks. Here's some snail starters that made the playoffs.
-- ESPN Research