Answering a few questions after Clippers guard Sam Cassell returned to action and rallied his team from a 17-point deficit to overcome Kobe Bryant's 50 points and pump up the volume in the Western Conference playoff race with a 118-110 win Thursday ...
Cassell saves the day
Bryant owned the first three quarters, but Cassell ruled the fourth.
This game shows you the value he has to his team, demonstrating how much the Clippers missed Cassell. He gave them their personality during last season's breakthrough year. You've got to have a lot of respect for Sam. He's out of game shape, then suddenly steps on court after missing several games in what is almost a do-or-die situation -- and then delivers like that.
Was this a must-win for the Clippers?
If they had lost this one, they would be a full game behind the Warriors for the final West playoff spot. And if that happens, I don't think they could catch Golden State. The Warriors are still my pick to make the playoffs. But with a healthy Cassell, it's a different story. They are now in charge of their own destiny (holding the tiebreaker) and their hopes rest squarely on Cassell. If he can continue to play at the level he did in fourth, the Clippers will make the playoffs.
Is it now possible the Lakers don't?
Yes, the Lakers now are in danger of dropping out. They're 1 1/2 games ahead of both the Clippers and Warriors. A week ago, they were solidly in sixth. Now they've lost 7 of 9. And they're not playing good basketball.
What's their problem?
Their defense only comes in spurts, and they rely so much on Kobe to be spectacular. I think the fourth quarter of this game demonstrates their problem of being overly dependent on one guy.
Everybody looks to him to carry the team, and the tendency when you have a great player is to stand and watch. That was problem with Michael Jordan before he had great players alongside him, and it was a problem with the Laker teams that just had Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the lone option.
Did Kobe run out of gas?
For three quarters he was making everything. Then he wasn't. The Lakers wanted to put pressure on the Clippers' point guard early on, so we saw Kobe pressuring full court. It looks like his legs got tired when you see his shots come up short in the fourth. And you've got to credit the Clippers' defense, too.
Cassell wasn't exactly fresh as a daisy, having missed four games because of back spasms, but he scored eight of his 12 points in the fourth quarter. And that included leaving Smush Parker in the dust on a drive to the hoop.
This is what he did all of last year, showing he had a ton of confidence at the end of the game. Then he faced the Lakers, having not played much for the last 10-11 games, and he didn't play particularly well for first three quarters of this one. A lesser player would have folded -- most would hide in the corner. But Cassell's never shy when it comes to confidence.
A reasonable viewer would have clicked this one off with the Lakers up by 17.
I almost did.
How about the scoring of Corey Maggette (39 points) and Elton Brand (32) that combined outdid Kobe (50) and Parker (19 points)?
Brand had some great clutch shots and super defense, really tough in the middle. And Maggette was big, getting to the line 24 times, making 17.
Now the Lakers face the Suns on Friday. Another loss put them at .500. How's this one look?
An extremely tough game, but not a huge game for Suns, who look too hard for the Spurs to catch. A much more important one for the Lakers, who can ill afford to fall lower. They're not playing good ball, they don't have great interior defense, so they have to play with great energy. And Kobe can't do everything. They have to find another weapon.
ESPN analyst Kiki Vandeweghe is a regular contributor to The Daily Dime. Questions above posed by ESPN.com editor Andrew Ayres.
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David Liam Kyle/NBAE via Getty Images
Cavs center Zydrunas Ilgauskas knocks the ball away from Nets guard Jason Kidd (eight points, eight assists, 11 rebounds) during Cleveland's 94-76 win.
• Lakers C Kwame Brown missed his fifth game with a bone bruise in his left ankle. It's unclear when he'll return, although Lakers coach Phil Jackson expressed the hope that it will be before the regular season ends next Wednesday.
• Lakers F Vladimir Radmanovic played for the first time since separating his right shoulder during the All-Star break, and went scoreless in 2 minutes.
-- The Associated Press
Kobe Bryant scored 50 points in the Lakers' 118-110 loss to the Clippers. It was Bryant's ninth 50-point game this season, equaling the third-highest single-season total in NBA history. Wilt Chamberlain was the only other player with as many as nine 50-point games in one season, and he did it four times: 45 in 1961-62, 30 in 1962-63; and nine in 1963-64 and 1964-65.
Kobe nets 50 in clinching win over Sonics
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images
Kobe Bryant's ninth 50-point game this season came Thursday against the Clips. Bryant shot 17-of-33 from the floor and made all 15 of his free throws. He also had nine rebounds. But the Lakers lost.
Quote of the Day:
-- Andrew Ayres
The draft lottery, teams tanking, Grizzlies head coach. Things that need changing, according to Memphis' Jerry West.
DJ (DC): I'm tired of all this endless whining about tanking. As far as I can tell, only four teams can even be accused of such a thing - Boston, Milwaukee, Minnesota (for good reason), and Memphis (also for good reason). At the same time, teams like the Sixers, Blazers, and Hornets have been playing their butts off, despite no shot at the playoffs. Please show some sanity and hit me with an amen.
Chad Ford: I think if you're David Stern ... even one or two teams is too many. Remember NBA fans still pay full price to watch their favorite players sit on the bench with "injuries" I think there's been more out right tanking this year than I've ever seen ... but I think I'd exclude Memphis from that equation. Last I checked, Pau Gasol was still playing serious minutes for them. They truly have been ravaged by injuries. Boston? Tanking. Milwaukee? Tanking. Now that the Wolves are eliminated from the playoffs? I think they are too (If they don't get a Top 10 pick, their pick goes to the Clippers). I agree with you that the Sixers, Blazer, Bobcats and Hornets have all been trying to win. Good for them.
Frank, Hampton, Va.: Is there any way at all that Denver can beat any of the top 3 west teams in a seven-game series?
Chad Ford: I'd say they're the one team that has a shot at upsetting a team like San Antonio or Phoenix in round 1. It's a slim shot ... but I do think when healthy, they are very, very dangerous.
Nate (Madison): If Oden comes out and he goes to the Bucks, what do they do with Bogut?
Chad Ford: Trade Bogut.
Can someone explain to me why EVERYONE at ESPN talks like it has to be the Pistons or the Heat to win the East? The Bulls (my team) are 3-1 against both of those teams this year. Throw in wins against Dallas, San Antonio, and Phoenix, and I don't understand how the experts can summarily dismiss them as a legitimate contender for the East title. Recent playoff history?