They tore it up on Broadway within the past week with performances that left the NBA awestruck yet again. Kobe Bryant lights up Madison Square Garden for 61 points on Monday. Two nights later, LeBron James takes center stage and scores 52 points in a near triple-double. Now comes an encore, of sorts.
They tore it up on Broadway within the past week with performances that left the NBA awestruck yet again.
Kobe Bryant lights up Madison Square Garden for 61 points on Monday. Two nights later, LeBron James takes center stage and scores 52 points in a near triple-double.
Now comes an encore, of sorts. James and the Cavaliers host Bryant and the Lakers today at Quicken Loans Arena. A national-television audience on ABC awaits a 3:30 game featuring the teams with the best records in the Eastern and Western conferences.
The Cavs are unbeaten at home, winners of 23 straight there. The Lakers are coming off a win in Boston, having snapped a 12-game winning streak by the Celtics.
“It’s a huge game whenever you’ve got LeBron and Kobe on the court at the same time coming off what they did last week in the Garden,” Cavs point guard Mo Williams said after practice Saturday. “It’s a huge game. ABC. Can’t get no better.”
The two headliners, as can be expected, downplayed their one-on-one matchup.
“We’re just going to go out there and play hard,” Bryant said before taking the practice floor late Saturday afternoon at Cleveland Clinic Courts. “I think above everything else, you’ve got two great teams going at it. So it’s pretty exciting.”
James didn’t talk Saturday, but did Friday.
“It’s scary to see how good he is now and how he gets better every year,” he said of Bryant. James added that he “enjoys the competition” against “one of the greats.”
When asked how they compare, James says they are two “totally” different players. He sees himself as “more of a facilitator” and Bryant as a scorer.
That’s more or less the view of Lakers coach Phil Jackson. He is impressed by James’ “passing mentality” mixed with his “size and strength.” Jackson gives Bryant the edge as a shooter and ball-handler.
“They’re both awful tough,” said Jackson, who owns nine championship rings as a coach.
NBA fans and media have spent the past few days arguing who had the better game at Madison Square Garden. James was initially credited with a triple-double, the first in a 50-point game since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1975. But the NBA took away a rebound from James after reviewing the game Friday, leaving him with just nine. Bryant’s 61 points are the most ever by an opponent at MSG.
The question of who’s game was better didn’t interest Bryant much. Jackson’s take?
“Well, you take a rebound away from LeBron, it’s Kobe, right?” he said jokingly.
As for who the better team is, the Lakers have one-up on the Cavs after beating them by 17 three weeks ago in L.A. It’s Cleveland’s worst loss of the season, but the Cavs did not have starters Delonte West and Zydrunas Ilgauskas. The Lakers dominated them inside minus the 7-foot-3 Ilgauskas, as L.A. 7-footers Paul Gasol and Andrew Bynum enjoyed big games.
“They kind of imposed their will on us,” Ilgauskas said. “I hope I make a difference.”
It’s now the Lakers who are short-handed up front. They lost Bynum for the rest of the regular season last week with a knee injury.
“The dynamics of the game are different,” Cavs head coach Mike Brown said. “But I still think we’re two very good ballclubs no matter who we’re missing.”
Consider Bryant impressed with Brown and the Cavs.
“I think they’re extremely well coached,” Bryant said. “They execute extremely well. They play with a great sense of purpose. Their defensive system is fantastic. So you have to give a lot of credit to that coaching staff.”
And Jackson knows how tough the Cavs must be to maintain a homecourt winning streak. His Bulls set an NBA record when they won their first 37 games at home in 1995-96.
“It wears on you after a while once you have to hold something like that up,” Jackson said. “I think the game that we lost that broke that streak, a 7-foot center (Matt) Geiger hit four or five 3-pointers. ... That was an unusual event. It created the loss. It takes a special effort when you have that kind of momentum, and it’s going to take a special effort for us to beat this team right now.”
The Repository (Canton, Ohio)