Updated: Nov. 22, 2006, 12:07 PM ET

Renewing the Kobe watch

That right knee looks fine.

If there were any doubts that Kobe Bryant was ready to come in and take over a game, he answered that emphatically Tuesday night at the Staples Center.

Kobe had 20 in the first quarter alone and finished with a season-high 40, leading his team to a 105-101 win Tuesday over the Los Angeles Clippers.

Now the Lakers are off to an 8-3 start, and it's shaping up to be a good season in store for both the purple and gold and No. 24.

No worrying that he's not explosive. No worrying that he's just going to camp out and shoot jumpers. No worrying that letting him just take over is the best way to playoff success.

Well, maybe worrying about that isn't at an end.

What is clear is a season of fruitful Kobe watching is at hand.

This winter pastime heated up the hoop world last season when Kobe outscored the Mavs over three quarters and then dropped 81 on the Raptors. Just remarkable.

His Lakers have some good matchups coming up. Here's a look at some of them to be played before the New Year dawns:

Friday -- The next game for the Lakers is in Salt Lake City. Could we be looking at the 3-6 seeding in the West playoffs? Or is that even shortchanging these two?

That would be a great step for two teams that were on the fringe of qualifying last year, with the Jazz nudged out for the final playoff spot. Biggest test might not be for Kobe, but how Andrew Bynum and Kwame Brown match up with the Jazz.

Nov. 30 -- The Jazz come to Staples Center. As a side note, LA and Salt Lake City don't have much in common, other than Karl Malone.

Dec. 2 -- The Clippers face the Lakers for a second time. Clips get to put down their floor for this one. That must count for something.

Dec. 10 -- Their first date of the season with their old pals, the Spurs. In case your forgot, the champs of 2003 and 2005 are due for a title in 2007.

Dec. 13. -- The Mavs are back on track. Kobe's always competitive, but it's especially fun to see him ratchet it up against an excellent team.

Dec. 25 -- Christmas in Miami, and Shaq will be sidelined, in all probability.

Their last holiday game (on MLK Day) was the scene of healing the rift between a feuding Kobe and Shaq last year. Physical healing is the order of the day now.

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Slamming The Champs
Cedric Simmons
Gregory Shamus/NBAE via Getty Images
Hornets forward Cedric Simmons goes for a dunk against Dwyane Wade. The Hornets beat the Shaq-less champs 101-86 before a crowd of 19,329, the second-largest ever for a Hornets game at the Ford Center.


Observation Deck: Care Package
Chris Kaman

COOL KAMAN: My old dictionary defines the word "dispassionate" this way:-adjective; free from or unaffected by passion; devoid of personal feeling; calm. If you have a new version, look up the word. You may see a picture of Chris Kaman. Even when he is slightly productive, he exhibits no fire. -- David Thorpe

SHAUN AND ON: I tried to reserve the url "www.shaunlivingstonisabust.com", but it's already taken. In fact, your 2007 dictionary may include his smiling face next to Kaman's. Two players drafted as high as they were just have to be more productive. -- Thorpe

GATOR BAIT: Right now, if you held a game featuring only the starting 5 for the Heat vs. the starters for the Florida Gators, I think the score would be pretty darn close. And the Gators may have the edge at the 1, 3, and 5 positions right now, mostly due to the difference in intensity those players play with. -- Thorpe

WAITING GAME: Chicago did not show enough patience against Denver. The Nuggets switched screens most of the night, including "little/big" action, but the Bulls rarely looked for the matchup advantage after the switches. Patience and an emphasis on recognition are keys to offensive success, even in uptempo systems. -- Thorpe



Tracking Miami's Vices

Yes, Miami is in trouble.

That in itself doesn't really qualify as news. With Shaquille O'Neal out several weeks and the Heat off to a 4-5 start, it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that the first half of the season could be bumpy.

What might be newsworthy, however, is the extent of the trouble. I get the impression most view the Heat's troubles as a temporary thing -- they'll have a rocky first half, get better in the second half and still easily win the SouthLeast Division. To these folks, the trouble is that Miami might get a poor playoff seed that will prove costly in the postseason.

But the trouble is much more severe than that. Although Miami's 4-5 record appears quasi-respectable, it disguises a much uglier reality.

This was a team that lost its first game by 44 points, at home, to a team that is 3-7 and still looking for its second road win. The Heat have lost three home games by 20 or more points, including a 24-point pounding by the Knicks that will provide about 75 percent of the material for New York's postseason highlight video.

Wait, it gets worse. The Heat have the league's worst scoring margin, even though they've played only three road games and only one of their first nine opponents has a winning record. According to USA Today computer guru Jeff Sagarin's "predictor" rating, they've been the league's worst team through Monday's games.

See the full John Hollinger column Insider




Kobe busts out

Kobe Bryant leads the Lakers over the Clippers in the Battle of Los Angeles.



The Mavs Are Now 7-4
Nash and Biedrins
Rocky Widner//NBAE via Getty Images
Jason Terry (18 points) helped the Mavs to their seventh straight win, topping the Wizards 107-80.



Extreme Behavior
Kobe Bryant

Tuesday's Best
Lakers guard Kobe Bryant: What knee? He's looking pretty good now, scoring a season-high 40 points in the 105-101 win over the rival Clippers. Bryant went 12-of-23 from the field and 15-of-18 from the line.

Rudy Gay

Tuesday's Worst
Grizzlies forward Rudy Gay: Rookies have their ups and downs. Count this one the latter, with five misses and zero points in a 97-94 loss to the Cavs. To think he dropped 23 on the Mavs last Saturday.

Quote of the Day
"We tried to run them out of the gym in the first half, but it backfired."
-- Wiz guard Gilbert Arenas, whose team was tied with the Mavs at halftime but then proceeded to lose by 27.

See how all 143 who played stacked up

-- Andrew Ayres



Tinkering With The Bulls

Romey South Bend, Indiana: What in the heck is wrong with the Bulls? And should I be hitting the panic button? Do we have any chance of landing Paul Pierce, Allen Iverson, or KG by trade deadline? We need someone who can put the ball in the basket.

Marc Stein: Panic button? Relax. They've started poorly -- and flatly -- but the schedule is a factor, too. And, as I seem to repeat every week, Chicago will be at the front of the line for any superstar made available. If they want to be.

See the full Marc Stein chat Insider



4 Out Of 5 Dentists Back AI
Allen Iverson

With Allen Iverson sidelined following oral surgery, the 76ers fell to the Pistons 97-87. During Iverson's 11 seasons with the team, the Sixers have posted a 41-66 (.383) record in games that he has missed, scoring an average of 86.7 points per game. Philadelphia has a winning record in games that Iverson played (354-337), averaging 96.2 points.

Elias Says Insider



From The Daily Dime Mailbag
Kirk Hinrich

How could you put Kirk Hinrich as Sunday's worst? He was tagged with the most bogus foul calls. Those blockhead referees kept him out of the game. I felt like smashing the TV when I saw the replays. As if Smush Parker actually dunking, over Ben Wallace (almost but not really), isn't bad enough. If you can say something good about Darko Milicic, who can't even play for four quarters, you can say something good about Hinrich too.

-- Joseph (Chicago)

 

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