Remember back when Andrew Bynum got injured and everyone said the Lakers were doomed to fall apart without their man in the middle? Well, that was 24 games ago and since then all Los Angeles has done is surge to the top of the West by winning 14 of their last 16 games, including Sunday’s 108-104 overtime victory against the Mavericks. Kobe Bryant tallied his 22nd game with at least 50 points by scoring 52 on the anniversary of Wilt Chamberlain’s 100-point outing. Bryant was unstoppable down the stretch, racking up 30 points in the fourth quarter and overtime. Los Angeles could have avoided the extra period altogether had it not been for Dirk Nowitzki’s game-tying 3-pointer with two seconds left in the game. Nowitzki finished with 30 points, including nine in OT, while Jason Kidd put up 15 points, 11 assists and six rebounds in his seventh game as a Maverick. The Lakers are now just percentage points behind San Antonio for the best record in the conference.
2. Rockets boosters
Remember back when Yao Ming got injured and everyone said the Rockets were doomed to fall apart without their man in the middle? Well, that was three games ago and since then all Houston has done is win three consecutive games, including a 103-89 win over the Nuggets, bringing their winning streak up to 15 straight, the longest successful stretch by anyone in the NBA this season. Tracy McGrady scored 22 points to go with six assists and six rebounds as his club rushed out to an early lead and never relinquished any ground, leading by 19 points at one time. While McGrady is responsible for carrying Houston to the postseason, nobody is more currently more important to the team than Dikembe Mutombo who finished with just two points, five rebounds and three blocks, but remains the Rockets’ only true defensive threat down low. Denver’s dynamic duo was rather dull in the showdown. Carmelo Anthony scored 19 points on 7-of-17 shooting while Allen Iverson put up 17 on 7-of-22 from the field.
3. Familiar faces
Not even a midseason trade can get the helpless Bulls rolling. After combining to swap 11 payers back on February 21, Chicago and Cleveland got together with their new look lineups for the first time on Sunday and the Cavaliers walked away with bragging rights; after all, they didn’t trade away LeBron James. The league’s top-scorer finished with 37 points, six assists and six rebounds while newbie Ben Wallace grabbed eight rebounds and Wally Szczerbiak scored 17 off the bench to give Cleveland a 95-86 home win over the Bulls. Drew Gooden put together a double-double (11 pts, 10 reb) for his new club while Larry Hughes scored a team-high 23 points in defeat. The Cavaliers were able to survive a horrible night at the charity stripe where they missed 10 freebies (16-26). Of course, they’ll need to get used to such performances with Big Ben’s struggles from the line; on Sunday Wallace shot 3-of-8 from the free throw line.
Sunday’s Player of the Day: Kobe Bryant vs. Dallas 51 min, 52 pts (FG: 15-27, 3FG: 2-3, FT: 20-27), 11 reb, 4 ast, 1 stl, 2 blk
Monday’s Game to Watch: Dallas (39-21) @ Utah (38-22)
Despite obtaining one of the league’s best point guards before the trade deadline, Dallas has yet to prove it was the right move. Sure, the Mavs have won more than they’ve lost (4-3) since acquiring Jason Kidd from New Jersey, but they can’t seem to beat the best in the West. Big D has road losses to New Orleans, San Antonio and the Lakers since making the move and their wins are against sub-subpar competition (Mem, Min, Chi and Sac). The task doesn’t get any easier tonight in Salt Lake City where the Jazz are 25-3, including their current 15-game home winning streak.
Buzzer Beater: As we’ve mentioned, Kobe Bryant torched the Mavericks on Sunday to the tune of 52 points. Dallas coach Avery Johnson had this to say about Bryant’s latest scoring outburst.
We gave him a single look, then we double-teamed him, then we gave him a triple-team and he split the triple-team and scored,” Johnson said. “We tried to zone him, we tried to funnel him in the trap for a zone and he went the other way. He didn’t cooperate on any of our defenses.
“Obviously he milked the free throw line on us and he just had it all going.