Updated: March 16, 2007, 1:34 PM ET

Notes from a witch hunt

Pick up a basketball. Go on, do it.

Go down to your gym, court or driveway and get involved in a game.

And then try Kobe Bryant's style of claiming personal space, the post-shot arm extension swing that earned him two separate one-game suspensions.

When you're done extending your hand into the mug of some schmoe following your brick, just hope he doesn't kick you with his sweet Size 15 Starbury shoes. Because he will, once he finds his two front teeth.

Make sense now why No. 24 is causing a problem?

Thank goodness we've probably seen the last of this wacky habit. If this dangerous practice didn't come to an end with a flurry of unwanted NBA home office attention, then perhaps it would have ended Thursday anyway.

Because these moves seem to come a little bit out of exasperation. However, Bryant should be less under the gun in the days ahead after the return from injury of two polished and proven colleagues during Thursday's 113-86 rout at the hands of the Denver Nuggets.

With Lamar Odom and Luke Walton back, that weight of carrying a woefully out of synch team should be lifted from Kobe's shoulders. But the ship isn't righted quite yet -- the Lakers still lost, victims of a cohesive Nuggets effort, not to mention the unstoppable Linas Kleiza. It was the Lakers seventh straight loss, dropping them to the seventh in the Western Conference playoff seedings.

This defeat came after Phil Jackson got into the act, decrying the NBA disciplinarian's pursuit of Bryant, including the retroactive penalty on a blow to Kyle Korver. He called it a "witch hunt." He got a $50,000 fine from the NBA.

Whoa. Let's just ratchet this crisis down a notch. Everybody, put down the pitchforks and back away from the microphone.

Let's just play ball, huh?

Despite this loss, the Lakers (33-32) could return to their good early season form in the days ahead. Home games with Portland and Minnesota, followed by road games at Memphis and Oklahoma City, give them a winnable stretch to right the ship.

When the regular season ends next month, barring continued arm-swinging or a widespread return to ill health, the Lakers should once again be a formidable playoff foe that should make a first-round match with the Spurs or Suns competitive.

At that time, Bryant should have returned to playing the game with his unmatched skill, style and intensity. And for you young players, and not-so-young ones, copying Kobe's moves on the court (however impossible that might be) will once again remain a good idea.

Just stay off the swings, OK?

Andrew Ayres is an NBA editor for ESPN.com

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Winning Debut
Bucks Bench
AP Photo/Jeffery Phelps
New Bucks head coach Larry Krystkowiak, center, talks strategy with Mo Williams at the start of his team's 101-90 win over the Spurs. Mo's third-quarter ejection probably wasn't on the agenda.


Daily Dish: Rose City Questions
dish

Trail Blazers interim GM Tod Leiweke tells Chad Ford how the search for a new president and GM is going.

Daily Dish



Dirty Deed Doers? Diesel Mulls . . .
Stotts

I stopped Shaquille O'Neal in the visiting locker room Thursday at the Meadowlands to ask him to take a couple softball questions, then I quickly hit him with the changeup and asked him to name his All-Time Top 5 Dirtiest Players.

I half-expected him to blow off the question and half-expected him to put Kobe Bryant on it, but instead he spent a good 45 seconds trying to come up with the right names.

I suggested he begin the list with Bill Laimbeer, and Shaq agreed (their careers overlapped by two years in the early '90s).

Dirty is "not just physical. Dirty to me means to foul you and try to break something," O'Neal said.

O'Neal also came up with this doozy when asked about whether anyone would ever duplicate his style of play:

"I'm unemulatable. I took the files and deleted them, ate 'em, used 'em in the bathroom, flushed it, went through the sewage plant and blew the sewage plant up. So there's no way that my style can be copied. It's gone, forever. There's a new big guy style, Dirk Nowitzki style, guys stepping out and shooting jumpers, shooting 3s. So that style will be here for a while, but my style is gone, forever."

Complete Chris Sheridan blog


Records At A Glance



Eighth Straight For Heat

Heat have longest active win streak now


Lion Shares
Kobe
AP Photo/David Zalubowski
Nuggets team mascot Rocky the Mountain Lion gives Lakers guard Kobe Bryant a pregame rubdown. Bryant picked up three fouls in a 90-second span in the third quarter Thursday while the Nuggets, who closed the first half on a 13-2 run, were pulling away.




Extreme Behavior
Lynn Greer

Thursday's Best
Bucks guard Lynn Greer: When you score a career high, it's a good night. But when your 14 points all come in the fourth quarter, and you snap the Spurs' 13-game win streak, well, that's impressive. With Mo Williams ejected in the third, Greer lit up the Spurs. Linas Kleiza's big night for Denver was a close second for nightly best honors.

Smush Parker

Thursday's Worst:
Lakers guard Smush Parker: The spiral continues. Bags just 1 of 8 shots. Lakers lose seventh straight, falling 113-86. Not smooth days for Smush.

Quote of the Day
"I thought you only get fined for criticizing the officiating. They're the sacred cows. But I find out somebody else has a sacred cow somewhere else."
-- Lakers coach Phil Jackson, after getting a $50,000 fine for describing punishment of Kobe Bryant as a "witch hunt."

Complete line score for every player

Playoff matchups if season ended now

Chad Ford's Lottery + Mock Draft

-- Andrew Ayres



Coach K's Opener
Krystkowiak

Larry Krystkowiak picked a great time to coach his first NBA game. Not only did the Bucks team he took over lose 26 of 33 games since Jan. 1, but Milwaukee had to face the hottest team in the NBA. The San Antonio Spurs had won 13 straight games and limited opponents to 82.4 PPG during that span.

None of that mattered on Thursday. The Bucks shot over 53 percent from the field and defeated the Spurs 101-90. Krystkowiak becomes the first coach in NBA history to have his debut win come against a team with a double-digit win streak.

Debut Is A Snap
Date Coach Foe Games
Mar. 2007 Larry Krystkowiak, Mil Spurs 13
Nov. 1981 Pat Riley, LA Spurs 7
Dec. 2002 Terry Stotts, ATL Spurs 4
Nov. 2000 N. McMillan, SEA Blazers 4
Dec. 1966 Gene Shue, BAL Warriors 4

-- Michael E. Jackson, ESPN Research




In Case You Missed It
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ESPN Classic will air the Suns-Mavericks double-OT thriller on Friday at 4 p.m. ET as an Instant Classic.



Thanks Red
classic

The Lakers' loss to the Nuggets was the seventh straight for the Lakers, giving Phil Jackson the first seven-game losing streak in his career as an NBA head coach. That leaves Red Auerbach as the only head coach in NBA history to never lose seven straight games in a career spanning at least 800 games.

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