Updated: Jan. 17, 2007, 12:00 AM ET

Two contenders looking sharp

The first time Kobe Bryant and Dwyane Wade met this season, it was a thrashing in favor of the Heat. But Monday night's game featured two players squaring off in a see-saw 124-118 overtime game that saw members of each team's ensemble cast elevate their play.

Rolling out a few answers to questions about Kobe-Wade II:

Did we just get our Kobe-Wade showdown Christmas present on Martin Luther King Day instead?

Seems that way. As good as the individual matchup was, it was the performances from the other guys that make it seem -- as much of a long shot as it may appear -- that these two teams could meet in the NBA Finals.

How much is Brian Cook (25 points, 10 rebounds) a key to such hopes for the Lakers?

He can be a little bit of an enigma. He's not necessarily a 25-10 guy, but he's a guy who should be a significant contributor on most nights.

When Wade was trying to gain control at the end, who was there to stop him?

Kobe. It's important to remember that defense is the foundation of all team sport success. He can guard your best player, like the job he did on Wade. He accepts the challenge.

Kobe looks to be about 75 percent -- he doesn't have his quickness, but he has the smarts, and trusts his teammates, and is now doing the kind of things MVPs do. By doing less this season, he's getting more.

Speaking of more, Heat vets Antoine Walker and James Posey, who were recently deactivated for failing to meet conditioning requirements, played energetically and effectively. Pat Riley motivation at work?

That's not motivation. That's accountability. And it's Riley's job to enforce it, and those guys are responding to what they should have been doing at the beginning of the season.

The Heat went 4-2 on their road trip sans Shaq. Impressed?

They showed a lot. And they almost got another win against the Lakers in a thoroughly well-played game, a good defensive game -- this was a high caliber of play, if not one necessarily of playoff intensity.

One of the Lakers' main rivals, the Suns, put up 137 on a Grizzlies team that dared to run with Phoenix. Wasn't that like trying to beat Kobayashi in a hot dog eating contest?

Memphis is now trying to play a game that their talent is more suited for -- I never saw their talent as the kind suited for a half-court team. And the NBA game is evolving into a different style. Tony Barone envisions how they have to play to be effective -- they're not going to beat the best running team at this now, but they're making some good progress.

Miami seems rejuvenated. But Detroit's upping the ante with Chris Webber. Good move?

I think you can see it play out like it did when Rasheed Wallace came in three years ago and Detroit became a championship team. This move could be the coup of the Eastern Conference -- especially now that Miami's getting its swagger back and getting Shaq back -- this is going to enhance the Pistons.

This could be the big move we look back on at the end of the season when Detroit's No. 1 again. I don't see any downside, if he remains healthy.

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Agent Zero Stops At Nothing
Zero
Mitchell Layton/NBAE via Getty Images)
Look who's a hero again. It's Gilbert Arenas, whose 3-pointer gave the Wiz a 114-111 win over Utah.


Artest: Nothing Brewing, Really

Assuming they haven't traded him by the time they play Chris Webber and the Pistons on Saturday, it'll be Ron Artest's first trip back to The Palace since the infamous brawl in November 2004. It will not, however, be Artest's first trip back to Michigan or his first interaction with Detroit fans. Last summer, when he was performing community service in Michigan, Artest attended a Tigers baseball game and was treated warmly by fans, a few of whom actually asked if they could buy him a beer.

It was a tossed beer, lest we forget, that triggered Artest's charge into the stands during The Palace brawl, and although I'm sure security will be extra tight for Artest's return Saturday night, I'm not so certain there isn't some knucklehead out there right now wondering what Artest would do if he was hit by another beer.

So I asked Artest that very question: "What if someone tosses a beer at you again?"

"I can't see that happening again. I just think that was a once-in-a-lifetime thing," he said.

OK, Ron, but if the people in Detroit know that's what you're thinking, it just might encourage someone to make it a twice-in-a-lifetime thing just to see what happens, no?

"I just don't see that happening again," Artest replied.

So we'll have to just wait and see if Artest behaves himself or goes after someone else at The Palace. But with the way things are going for Sacramento, don't discount the possibility of Artest somehow confronting a teammate, or maybe even his coach. Because I don't see the Kings' situation getting any better, and I don't think there are truly any once-in-a-lifetime events -- be they trades, brawls, tirades, meltdowns or unsuccessful rap projects -- when it comes to Artest.

Read Chris Sheridan's full blog Insider



News And Notes

• Clippers G Shaun Livingston left the Warriors' game in the third quarter with a sprained right ankle.

• Tim Thomas missed the game for the L.A. Clippers with an ear infection.

• The Clippers are 1-15 when allowing at least 100 points this season.

• Bobcats F Gerald Wallace is still experiencing pain in his right shoulder and missed his sixth straight game.

• The Bulls beat the Spurs at home for the first time since Dec. 28, 2000. Before Monday, Chicago had lost five straight at home to the Spurs.

• The 76 first-half points for Phoenix was its biggest output in any half this season.

-- The Associated Press


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Don't Mess With Fire

Grizzlies can't beat Suns at their game


Michigan Homecoming
Chris Webber
D. Lippitt/Einstein/NBAE via Getty Images
Chris Webber was greeted warmly Monday in Detroit, taking in the Pistons' loss to the Timberwolves.




Extreme Behavior
Gilbert Arenas

Monday's Best
Wizards guard Gilbert Arenas: He had suggested to a teammate he'd hit the game-winner. He did, the final three of his 51 points delivering a 114-111 win over the Utah Jazz.

Tony Parker

Monday's Worst
Spurs guard Tony Parker: Weren't you once unstoppable in the lane? Even if Kirk Hinrich is a tough defender, six points and two assists in a 99-87 loss to the Bulls makes us want to toss out a lame and gratuitous Eva Longoria mention. Fortunately, we will refrain. You're welcome.

Quote of the Day
"Right now, Steve Nash is above everybody. You have to really do something dramatic in this league. If Kobe averages 35 with an 81 and he didn't get it, you have to do something else in this league to overtake what Steve Nash has done."
-- Gilbert Arenas, addressing MVP chants after his winning shot.

See how all 216 who played stacked up

-- Andrew Ayres



The Webber Move

So what is the downside of this signing? Chris Webber is a slow, disinterested defender who will burden any man-to-man defense. But even this has a bright side. Flip Saunders has had a lot of success playing a matchup zone. The coaching staff would prefer it to be a high-energy, pressure-type zone, but it can hide the weaknesses that are the baggage of Webber's defensive indifference and ailing legs.

When I coached Webber, after we traded for him in Philly, we did not have a zone, nor do I believe in zones as a steady diet, so Webber was exposed at that end of the court. The big fellow will like playing for Saunders more than for me.

If Saunders can make his team really buy into becoming a good matchup zone team, and limit the temptation players have to just stand around when a coach calls for the zone, the Pistons again could be the team heading to the NBA Finals from the Eastern Conference.

Read Jim O'Brien's full story Insider



Arenas: From 2 To 50 In 15 Flat

Gilbert Arenas has always played with a chip on his shoulder, especially since he was a first-round snub in the 2001 NBA draft. Lately he's torched everything in his path and the Jazz were his latest victims. He scored 51 points, marking the third time he's had at least 50 in his last 15 games. Only two other non-first-round picks have more 50-point games than Arenas since the end of the NBA's territorial draft in 1966.

Most 50-Point Games, Non 1st-Round Picks
Player 50s Gamespan
George Gervin 5 296
Nate Archibald 4 73
Gilbert Arenas 3 15
Alex English 2 293
Phil Smith 2 70

-- Michael E. Jackson, ESPN Research



Shades Of Bird, Erving

Phoenix joins Dallas as the second team this season with multiple 10-game win streaks. This marks just the second time in NBA history that two teams had multiple 10-game win streaks before Feb. 1. In the 1980-81 season, the Celtics and 76ers both had multiple 10-game win streaks (Philly had three). Boston went on to win the NBA title.

2006-07
Dallas Mavericks: 12 games, 13 games
Phoenix Suns: 15, 10

1980-81
Boston Celtics: 12, 13
Philadelphia 76ers: 12, 10, 10

-- Michael E. Jackson, ESPN Research

 

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