PORTLAND -- With Ruben Patterson on the floor and Kobe Bryant failing to score 45 points for the first time in five games, the question was inevitable, if regrettable:
Kobe contained, sort of
How much did Patterson, the self-proclaimed Kobe Stopper, have to do with stopping Kobe?
Bryant's face scrunched up, raisin-like. "Is that a serious question? Zero. Are you serious?"
According to the reporter who asked the question -- don't look at me -- Patterson was in the other locker room, woofing that he helped hold Kobe to . . . 41.
Which, if true, is another piece of evidence that has led some to believe Ruben's toolshed is shy a few of the sharper implements.
Patterson was his usual emotional self, waving his arms for the ball to post up Kobe or whoever else at the offensive end and clawing at Kobe whenever they were matched up. But coach Nate McMillan wisely saved Ruben's energy for the second half, because he also quickly picked up five fouls checking Bryant.
Bryant did miss 16 of 29 shots, including a miserable 3-for-13 from 3-point range, but they were the same shots he drilled earlier in the week.
"Obviously if they're not going in, it's time to stop," said coach Phil Jackson. "Kobe was waiting for his hand to get hot, or we had situations where we tried to force it into him and it hurt us. As a result, we were standing flat-footed at the other end."
True dat. More than anything, the Blazers' 113-103 win hung on the Lakers' defense, which allowed the Portland backcourt of Juan Dixon and Steve Blake to combine for 46 points and 15 assists on 17-of-26 shooting with two total turnovers. The Blazers collectively shot 52 percent and broke 100 for only the second time all season.
"You play the worst defensive game of the year, you get beat," said Lamar Odom.
Blake also was matched up with Kobe as much or more than Ruben, but he declined to woof about his exploits at either end.
"I hope they continue not to guard me," he said. "Please leave me open every game."
New Sonics coach Bob Hill gets to voice displeasure to a familiar face, Dick Bavetta. The discussion came after Ray Allen and the Magic's Keyon Dooling were ejected for fighting. Seattle won, 113-104, in Hill's home debut.
Coming into Wednesday's game, Washington Wizards coach Eddie Jordan's team had lost five of its last six. They'd given up a whopping average of 111 points during that slide. That's a glaring stat.
Jordan, in his third year leading the Wiz, shook things up before their game with Atlanta.
The changes included inserting Calvin Booth and Michael Ruffin in the starting lineup. Additionally, seldom-used reserves Donell Taylor and rookie Andray Blatche got ample opportunities and made the most of them.
The result was a 103-72 win over Atlanta. Just what the doctor ordered for a struggling team. Dominating the boards (52-31) and making more steals (15-8 advantage) are signs of energy -- good signs for the Wizards.
Although it's just one game against the Hawks, I thought Taylor was tremendous. Sometimes when you're down, you get a chance to see a player who you might not have used, had you not been in this predicament. Taylor played well right away, made nice passes, and looked athletic and comfortable. And the teenage Blatche gave them good energy and production.
Despite his team's recent struggles, there's no question Jordan is the right coach for this team. One of the most difficult things to do is to get a team to buckle down and defend year after year. Nate McMillan was like that in Seattle; you push guys, but it's very difficult to get good performances by pushing year after year. That's the challenge for Jordan.
Part of their dilemma as a team is their star, Gilbert Arenas, obviously a major talent. He's a point guard, but not really a point guard. He's putting up big numbers, but is he making others around him better, or just making himself better? I don't have the answer.
Arenas and Hughes gave them some more flexibility as the backcourt last year. I think they're missing Juan Dixon and Steve Blake in certain roles, coming off the bench and playing what I would consider "team" basketball.
They don't really have a stable front line. Antawn Jamison has always been good as a sixth-man type. If they had a big time center, the Wizards would have more flexibility playing him at power forward. They don't.
The question now, what's going to carry over from tonight's game? Is the lineup going to stay the same? Can they do that over the next 10 games and be consistent?
As is stands now, Washington, Boston, Chicago or Orlando are teams not doing particularly well that could slide into the playoffs with improvement.
There are 49 games left for the Wizards. Jordan's proven he can turn a team around.
-- John Carroll, Scouts Inc.
Nets Need Jefferson In The Lineup
Five straight for the Knicks. They took the slow-starting Mavs in OT.
Knicks Win Fifth Straight
Allen Iverson and Chris Webber confer during a loss to Jazz, who topped the Sixers 110-102. Iverson's 46 points and nine dimes weren't enough.
Quote of the Day
"We've got some lethargic situations here that I've got to address. It's really disappointing. Just got to crack the whip a little bit."
-- Mavs coach Avery Johnson, after his team started slow and then lost to the Knicks in OT
Ron (Shrewsbury): With the number of injuries and his weight problems, can Shaq ever get back his dominate self, or his he hiding this by "letting" Flash be the focus of the O?
Bill Walton: Shaq, sadly at this point in his career, seems to be in decline. And, worse yet, appears to be losing interest with apparently the approach that they'll just take care of business during the playoffs. I did the game last week in Phoenix where we saw diverging currents of nba history. Will Shaq be able to turn it on once the playoffs arrive? His situation is very analogous to a great boxer at the end of his career.
It's always said about those great pugilists that they lose it in between the fights. The amount of preparation, sacrifice, commitment, etc to all the things necessary to get to where Shaq once was is going to have to be there again for the hope, dream and vision of what Pat Riley has put together. They brought in all of Shaq's friends. And I'm sure it's a great time! At the end of the day, maybe it will work, because while everyone talks about San An and Detroit being locks for another head-to-head confrontation, Miami and Phoenix are the most likely teams to disrupt your early summer travel plans.
While Shaq is not the player that he once was, I'm old enough to remember when the numbers for what Shaq puts up for a whole game these days used to be his first quarter numbers. I'm also old enough to know that if anyone can do it, Shaq is the one. Because, there is no one in this era who really has the stage presence of Shaquille O'Neal. That ability to combine all the elements of what it takes to win the toughest of games.
The Timberwolves beat Chicago as Kevin Garnett led Minnesota with 29 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists. It was the seventh game this season in which Garnett led his team in each of those categories, the most for any NBA player, ahead of Mehmet Okur and Paul Pierce (five times each). Okur did it for the fifth time this season in Utah's victory in Philadelphia on Wednesday.
• Elias Sports Bureau | More from Elias
Chris Sheridan looks ahead to the free-agent pool. Here's the second best player on the market: