5-on-5: Cavs-Lakers on Christmas
ESPN and ABC are serving up a five-course banquet of basketball on Christmas Day: Heat-Knicks, ESPN, 12 ET; Celtics-Magic, ABC, 2:30 ET; Cavs-Lakers, ABC, 5 ET; Clippers-Suns, ESPN, 8 ET; and Nuggets-Blazers, ESPN, 10:30 ET.
For this quintuple-header, we're playing 5-on-5: That's five writers on five questions on five games on Christmas Day.
1. Who's better: Kobe or LeBron?
J.A. Adande, ESPN.com: Kobe still has a greater variety of scoring threats. And if you foul him he's more likely to punish you at the free throw line. Somehow he has a more effective post game than LeBron, despite LeBron's physical advantage.
Kevin Arnovitz, TrueHoop: We're at the point where the answer to this question is largely a matter of taste. You want a beautifully structured wine or a powerful fruit bomb that will stay with you for days? You want to measure these guys statistically across the board, or examine the jewelry? Right now, LeBron does more to help his team, but his team's success demands that he do more.
Chris Broussard, ESPN The Magazine: I almost went with Kobe because of his incredible killer instinct, but then I did the old switcheroo: Would the Cavs be as good with Kobe instead of LeBron? No way. How good would the Lakers be with LeBron instead of Kobe? Oh my! They'd be absolutely, positively unbeatable. So I say LeBron.
Chris Sheridan, ESPN.com: I hate this question. I usually pick LeBron, because he is the most dominant player at his position whom I've ever seen, and he can do more than Kobe can do. But that is inherently disrespectful to Kobe, whose work ethic and accomplishments outweigh LBJ's.
Marc Stein, ESPN.com: Kobe is the game's consensus best player. To echo Bob Ryan from Sunday's "Sports Reporters," Kobe is the game's best two-way player and the NBA's modern-day Mr. Clutch. You would pick LeBron if you were starting a franchise because of the age difference, but that's the only reason you wouldn't select Bryant here.
2. Down 1, 10 seconds to play.
Who gets the ball: Kobe or LeBron?
Adande: Kobe gets the ball ahead of LeBron or anyone else because he can score no matter the circumstances. He's the best bad-shot maker in the game.
Arnovitz: LeBron James, because the numbers show that he converts in the clutch at a higher percentage, though Bryant's stats are still very impressive.
Broussard: Kobe. He's the most clutch player in the game.
Sheridan: I'll answer this question with another question: If double-teamed, which guy is more likely to pass to an open teammate? I'd say LeBron. Another question: Who would be more likely to hit the game winner at the buzzer? I'd say Kobe.
Stein: C'mon. Even LeBron would go for Kobe if you e-mailed him this survey. Not exactly breaking news to say that no one inspires last-second fear like No. 24.
3. Better claim on player of the decade: Shaq or Kobe?
Adande: Kobe, because he has sustained his level of excellence over the entire decade. He was right there, drafting behind Shaq for the first five years, then Kobe passed him over the past five (while Shaq hasn't won a playoff series in the past three years). Kobe also had a 4-1 record versus Tim Duncan in the playoffs this decade. And LeBron and Dwyane Wade were still in school while Kobe was winning three championships.
Arnovitz: Kobe Bryant, if for no other reason than his prime coincided with the 10 years in question, though my choice would be Tim Duncan.
Broussard: I have to say Shaq. Shaq was the most dominant player on three title teams. Kobe was most dominant on one.
Sheridan: Kobe's body of work over the decade is just as impressive as Shaq's, but he hasn't gone into decline as Shaq has the past three years, and his Team USA accomplishment in Beijing tips the scales in his favor even further.
Stein: My verbose explanation to back the selection of Kobe, which ran in last week's Weekend Dime, can be found here. In short: Kobe's journey from no rings when the decade began to four and "Biggest Name in the Game" status as we enter 2010 -- with all the stunning highs and lows along the way -- make him the player most synonymous with the first NBA decade of the new millennium.
4. If the Cavs are up 20 in L.A., should LeBron dance?
Adande: LeBron dance? Go ahead, LeBron, break out the moves. We need some holiday entertainment, especially those of us who couldn't make it to a performance of "The Nutcracker." If you're blowing out the Lakers in L.A., where they've won 11 consecutive games, you've earned the right to dance.
Arnovitz: Should he dance? I tend to value understatement: athletes like Barry Sanders who act like they've been in the end zone before. Then again, I'm a little priggish about these things.
Broussard: We've watched WRs dance for decades in the NFL -- and you know what? I like it. So I don't have a problem with LeBron cutting the rug. He's a major entertainer. But in Kobe's house? No way he does that. He may wiggle a bit after a dunk, but I don't see him on the baseline getting busy.
Sheridan: No. The only NBA players who should dance are Shaq and Mark Madsen. Memo to Boston or L.A.: Please sign Madsen solely for potential victory parade amusement purposes.
Stein: Can't say I'm a fan of the dancing, but I hate how old it makes me feel to complain about stuff like this. Also shouldn't complain because Joakim Noah's getting into it with LeBron about his dancing is great copy for media pests like me. So boogie away, LeBron. (Did I just date myself by using the word boogie?)
5. If they meet in June, who wins?
Adande: Lakers in six. They can key in on LeBron, while the Lakers can turn to the inside-outside big-man combo of Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum in addition to Kobe.
Arnovitz: A healthy Lakers squad is simply too versatile, too long, too skilled and too competent defensively to lose a seven-game series against this season's Cavs team.
Broussard: Lakers. They're the best team in basketball.
Sheridan: Lakers in five. But I don't see the Lakers playing the Cavs. I think it'll be the Celtics, with the series going seven games and the Game 7 home team winning the title.
Stein: Lakers, for sure. Assuming Artest makes it to the Finals incident-free, it's the potential matchups with Denver and Cleveland where his presence should be huge. With Artest serving as the primary LeBron defender -- along with all that long-armed help behind him and Kobe taking spot shifts -- L.A. would appear to be as well-stocked as any team that might face the Cavs. And Cleveland, as we all know, doesn't exactly have other options.
5-on-5: Heat-Knicks | Celtics-Magic | Cavs-Lakers | Clippers-Suns | Nuggets-Blazers