Preview and Chat: The Cleveland Cavs

Reed —  January 19, 2009

(First, Happy Martin Luther King Jr. day. It seems to mean a bit more this year.)

Lakers: 31-8 (1st in West), Cleveland (1st in East, by % points over Orlando)
Offensive Rating: Lakers: 110.4 (1st), Cleveland: 110.0 (2nd)
Defensive Rating: Lakers: 102.0 (5th), Cleveland: 96.2 (1st)
Rebound Rate: Lakers: 51.6 (5th), Cleveland: 52.1 (3rd)
Pace: Lakers: 97.5 (4th), Cleveland: 91.8 (25th)
Projected Lineups: Lakers: Fisher, Kobe, Radman, Gasol, Bynum
Cleveland: Williams, Pavlovic, Lebron, Wallace, Varejao

Lakers Coming In:

When the schedule came out over the summer, a few stretches stuck out as extra important – in which the team would be tested and revealed as true title contenders or needing improvement. We are in the midst of one of those stretches right now, and it is not going particularly smoothly. This game finishes off a brutal four game gauntlet: at Houston and San Antonio back to back, followed by Orlando and the Cavs at home. I’m not particularly worried about the consecutive losses. We were missing key players in both, having to play unnatural lineups to compensate for the total lack of guard depth off the bench. The Spurs game was the second night of a back to back on the road against a team that was playing possessed. Despite having all three of their stars bring their “A” game (all had 20+ points), and shooting at a scorching rate (57% from the field and 50% from three), the Spurs needed a lucky last minute shot, foul, and non-foul to beat us by one. Sometimes that just happens. I’m confident that if we played them 10 times they’d only play that well once. The Orlando game also showed us how hard it is to beat a great team firing on all cylinders – Howard went off for 25/20, Nelson had 28/8, and all five starters scored in double figures. They couldn’t miss down the stretch and we couldn’t make. Again, sometimes this happens.

Yet, all of this begs the question: why are teams playing so well against us? There are some recurring red flags. Our last seven opponents all scored over 100 points (even with our increased pace, that’s a bad sign). Houston and SA both shot over 53%, an alarming rate. Houston and Orlando both destroyed us on the boards (Orlando by +14, with 15 offensive rebounds). SA and Orlando both made more than 10 threes at over 42%. Too often, our defense seems to be lost in its rotations – the slightest bit of penetration off a pick and roll or otherwise leads to massive over-help in the lane, with other teammates either not helping the helper, or doing so very slowly. The result is too many open three pointers and poor positioning on the rebounds when shots go up. I don’t think the loss of Farmar, Sasha, or Walton explains any of this. Or a fundamental weakness in our personnel. It’s simply a failure to execute our defensive schemes and play smartly. This must change.

Walton might play tonight, but I wouldn’t expect him to get many minutes with Lebron the opposing small forward. Ditto Radmanovic. When Lebron is at the 3, I suspect we’ll see a lot of Ariza, as Radmanovic and Walton simply have no chance against him (unless Kobe surprises me and guards him heavy minutes, which I don’t think would be good). When Lebron slides down to the 4, then we’ll probably put Odom on him. I look for many of our key players to have fresher legs given the two days off. Fisher has played 36+ minutes in seven straight games; Kobe has been over 40 the last three and over 37 in seven straight. Sasha is back to spell both. This could help as our guards really seemed worn down at the end of the Orlando game (Kobe just ran out of gas and started throwing up impossible threes).

Cleveland Coming In:

The Cavs are also banged up, but you wouldn’t know it from their play. Even though they lost to Chicago on Thursday, they rebounded the next night and throttled New Orleans. Last week, they destroyed Boston. That said, I do not think we will see their best side. First, Ilgauskas and Delonte West are both out, arguably their second and third best players (West is second in +/- and Z third; both figure in Cleveland’s most effective 5 man lineup by point differential). Despite the continued parade of victories in his absence, Z has been missed. He’s always been underrated and is having another solid season: 21st in PER (21.15, ahead of Garnett, Billups, Joe Johnson, David West, Alridge, Carter, Durant, etc.), spreads the floor for Lebron on offense with his perimeter shooting at the center position, and is part of perhaps the best rebounding front line in the league. Despite all the buzz about Mo Williams, West has been the better player, making more threes at a much higher %, playing better defense, and sporting almost double the assist to turnover ratio. Williams arrival has influenced the Cavs rise, but maybe not as much as West’s improvement. With him out, everyone slides up a notch: Pavlovic starts, and Wally and Gibson get more time. All can shoot lights out from distance, as well as Williams, so things are always set up for you to get drilled if you help too much on Lebron. Varejao and Wallace are first rate rebounders and defenders (both on and off the ball), so they will make life difficult for Drew and Pau. Really, the team has no discernable weakness: 2nd in offense, 1st in defense, 3rd in rebounding, guards who shoot lights out from 3, bigs who defend and rebound, and . . . some guy named Lebron.

Lebron vs. Kobe

Which, brings us to the subplot we care about most (or, better said, The Plot): Kobe vs. Lebron. They are widely recognized as the game’s best two players, they lead perhaps its two best teams, they spearheaded the Redeem Team to gold, they are the league’s preeminent marketing personalities. A favorite nba pastime is to debate this vs. that star’s merits. For the last season or two, that debate has often centered on Lebron and Kobe. A word about that.

First, I’m an unabashed Kobe homer. I have researched and argued the technicalities of certain provisions of the Colorado criminal code. Last week, I was teaching my two year old girl how to write letters for the first time and led with, “think of a word you really like, some person or thing you love and I’ll write that word.” Her immediate reply, unprovoked: “Kobe.” I’ve advocated for him endless times in mvp debates, his place among the greats of all time, his feud with Shaq, etc., etc. Yet, in this current debate, I must give way to clear reason and cry uncle. As a basketball player, Lebron is better. Than Kobe has ever been.

Random Lebron points:

• His PER this season is 32.0. That would be the best mark . . . ever. Jordan’s high was 31.7, Wilt’s 31.8, Magic’s 27.0, Bird’s 26.3, Kareem’s 29.9, Shaq’s 30.6, Duncan’s 27.1, and Kobe’s 28.0 (24.7 this year).
• To put his PER in perspective, Lebron uses 33.16 possessions a game. Those possessions result in 42.5 points. That means that if Lebron used all of his team’s possessions, they would end up with an offensive rating of 128.3 (LA leads the league at 110.4). Kobe uses 31.51 possessions a game and those result in 37.9 points, leading to an all Kobe offensive rating of 120.2. Both are off the charts, but the gap between the offense Lebron and Kobe create is huge.
• Lebron is more efficient in scoring the ball because he shoots a better percentage, which is primarily the result of both getting to the basket more and finishing at a higher rate when there. Lebron shoots 40% of his shots inside at a 74% clip; Kobe shoots 23% inside at 65%. Kobe shoots better on jump shots, but only by 5%.
• Lebron shoots 2.1% higher in true shooting %, assists on 5% more of his possessions, and rebounds at a 3% higher rate. He simply creates much more offense, more efficiently than Kobe, and uses the ball at about the same rate. And, remember, all of this comes in Kobe’s preeminent year in terms of scoring efficiency.
• Whatever the difference is between them on offense, it is bigger on defense. When Lebron is on the court, other teams score 97.9 points per 100 possessions; when he sits they score 105.9. When Kobe is on the court, other teams score 104.9 per 100; when he sits they score 104.2. Lebron makes his team 8.0 points per 100 better on defense; Kobe makes his team 0.7 worse. As a result, Lebron is 4th at individual defensive rating and second in defensive win shares. Lebron is the anchor of the league’s best defense. Kobe is a significant component of a strong, but far worse defense.

To me, these individual stats from Lebron reveal why Cleveland is so dominant as a team. When you first look at the team around Lebron, you see a lot of solid players, but nothing overwhelming. None of his teammates will be all stars this year, even in the weaker East; none will compete for all nba or all defensive honors; the bench is okay, but nothing like LA’s. Is Cleveland’s second best player (probably Ilgauskas) as good as LA or Boston’s fourth? Yet, Cleveland leads the league by a wide margin in both point and efficiency differential. They are having a historic season on both fronts. The reason is Lebron. Whatever you think of PER, he is having one of the single best seasons that any player has ever had – at both ends of the court – and is doing so in a way that directly translates to team dominance. And that’s not a point to glide past. He is putting up all time dominant individual numbers and helping all of his teammates have career years themselves. He is one part Michael and one part Magic. And he’s only 24.

Now, none of that is to discount Kobe. He will go down as one of the ten best players of all time, the second best shooting guard, perhaps the all time scoring leader, and owner of multiple rings. Beyond all of that, Kobe brings something to the table that Lebron does not. Kobe captures our attention and imagination in a way that Lebron has not, and probably could not. Lebron is like Shaq in the sense that his success is almost entirely physical – with Shaq an unparalleled combination of size and power, and Lebron adding speed and skill to the equation. As with Shaq, there has never been someone with Lebron’s physical gifts before, and there may never be again. He simply is bigger, faster, stronger, and jumps higher than everyone else. This is not the case with Kobe. There have been endless players with his physical traits that have not made it, or that have not made it like him. (Put another way: if Lebron had Kobe’s body would he still be a superstar? what if Kobe had Lebron’s body?).

Kobe’s success, much like Jordan’s, comes through mastery of detail, mental dominance, and unbounded intensity, will, and ambition. He is, and always has been, obsessed with the nuances of the game. His entire focus and energy has always been directed at one thing – basketball excellence (whatever you think of how he balances personal and team success). Kobe’s “faults,” his “dark side,” all stem from this mad desire to be the best at the game. This is a two sided coin, with “heads” producing possibly unmatched clutch performance and spurts of brilliance, and “tails” leading to destructive interactions with underperforming teammates or team officials. The result, ironically, is a personality that transcends the game. Kobe, perhaps more than any present athlete, commands interest, passion, love, hate – he forces you to take a side, and to do so zealously. We marvel at Lebron’s almost unfair physical abilities and accomplishments, but he does not move us like Kobe. Everyone is happy when he succeeds; no one cares when he fails. Lebron makes us wonder at his physicality; we marvel at his dunks, his leaping ability, his strength. Kobe draws deeper reactions; we wonder at his mystique, will, and spurts of godliness. We won’t care about Lebron’s day to day life when he retires, like we do with Jordan, and like we will with Kobe. If someone wrote a tell all biography of Lebron’s non-basketball activities, it would be greeted with a shrug and a yawn; such a book about Kobe would be impossible to put down.

In a sense, both players are deep contradictions. Kobe grew up the son of a professional basketball player, living in Italy or affluent suburbs. He didn’t need basketball to make it in life. Yet, we have perhaps never seen an athlete so driven, both mind and body. He has the work ethic of someone who fears life is on the verge of collapsing, but he’s always had everything. He is that strange rich kid with a chip on his shoulder, who goes on to rule the world, but does so coldheartedly. He grew up on the basketball court, with his father’s teams, but has always found being part of a team unnatural. He plays as if the embodiment of the American Dream, but grew up to riches and the finest of Europe. Despite unbounded personal ambition, he hasn’t overly “branded” or “corporate-ized” himself, letting (whether by choice or Colorado) his focus extend first to the game. We are left confused, but always captured. We care not only what Kobe does, but why, and what he thinks, and what he’ll do next.

Lebron is also a mystery. He is the kid from nowhere that speaks of himself in the third person, and has open (and realistic) dreams of being the Global Icon. Despite goals that clearly far transcend on the court success, and that are purely individualistic, he is perhaps the consummate “team” superstar, playing in a way that unites individual and team success, making others better, always preferring the easy pass to one on one play. His is the face of Nike; branding personified. He is openly willing to turn his back on his hometown and the throngs that worship him there for a higher corporate platform; but he plays with uncanny unselfishness. He also confuses us, but our interest only runs basketball deep, despite his broader pursuits. Sometimes his antics get old.

If I had to choose which player to start a team with today, I would pick Lebron. If I had to choose a player’s career to follow, from cradle to grave, it would be Kobe. I have had the good fortune of fulfilling the latter, watching most of his games since he was a rookie, and I doubt any future athlete will so completely be worth my time and emotion. We should be grateful for these days when gods again grace the court.

Keys to the Game:

Back to the game at hand. Both teams need this game. Cleveland needs to continue to prove that they are legitimate cream of the crop contenders. LA needs to prove that the last two games were bumps in the road and not indicative of deeper problems. It appears as if every game will count in the race for home advantage, which is so crucial in the bizarre 2-3-2 finals setup. I think the Lakers win this game by over-neutralizing Lebron. Double and triple teams, traps as soon as he gets the ball, etc. This won’t always work given his ballhandling, speed, and incredible passing ability. But without Z and West, he will more often be surrounded by unskilled bigs clogging the lane and shooters that can’t create offense if chased off their spots. As the numbers above reveal, when Lebron “uses” a possession (by shooting or assisting), Cleveland’s offense is off the charts. Make others beat you, especially as his teammates are banged up and might be less sharp on the road. On offense, run the offense inside-out. Wallace is a great defender, but he gives up significant length to both Pau and Drew. Put those guys on the block and let them shoot over him. Force Cleveland to collapse in and work the ball weakside to open shooters or Kobe for a pick and roll. Don’t, under any circumstances, let Kobe get sucked into a duel, especially if Lebron is guarding him.

This is a game to care about. Put on your Lakers (or Forum Blue and Gold) gear, give the kids cough syrup and send them to bed early, fire up the grill, and enjoy basketball at its best – two elite teams trying to prove themselves, and, above all, a battle of two very different basketball gods.




223 responses to Preview and Chat: The Cleveland Cavs

  1. amazing read.

  2. great post… compare that to adande´s piece on espn… amazing!

    personally, i feel like kobe is still the better player, even though its hard to argue against lebrons stats this year. it seems like he has more facets in his game than lebron ever will.

    kobe started as a bench player, advanced to being one half of the best one-two punch ever, went on as a one-man scoring machine and discovered true team basketball since last season. and he managed to do that under (arguably) the best coach in history.

    lebron came to a cavs team and got the keys to the city the second he arrived there.
    he was great in his rookie season and has become better and better each season. he still does what he did in his first year, just a lot better. he was never asked to assist another superstar, or come of the bench. he never had a team as bad as the kwame-smush nightmare kobe had to witness. would he be able to pull out 81 points if he had to? how fast would he improve if he had to watch from the bench in his first couple of seasons?

    both, kobe and lebron, are gods on the court. but i think that kobes nerves and his understanding of the game are unmatched by any active player. how long did it take cleveland to “click” after the trade with the bulls last year? how long did it take for kobe and gasol to mesh?

    i think the best argument for kobe is that basically every NBA player that is asked who is the best says Kobe.

    Basically everyone in the media says LeBron.

    Who do you trust?

  3. Great preview reed.

    I agree with you about Lebron. Simply put he is the most physically gifted player in the NBA by far right now. I would even argue that he might be the most physically gifted player ever. Who else has had his combination of size, strength, quickness, athleticism, agility and ball handling skill. He is a physical abnormality, one that is likely not to be seen again any time soon.

    By the way, Lebron has a birth mark on his let heel with a Nike swoosh that says made in China. Weird.

    Should be a fun game. If the Lakers can rebound the ball well tonight, then they should be in a good position to win. I agree with trapping lebron trying to make everyone else beat you. Wallace and Verajao are not offensive players (as long as you keep them off the glass) so Lebron has less options to pass to. Also try to make Lebron a jump shooter (which is almost impossible because his is simply quicker, stronger and bigger than anyone that guards him), though he has improved quite a bit in this area.

  4. Interesting Kobe vs. Lebron stats.

    What about the clutch factor? Seems like it’s often argued that Kobe is money when the big game is on the line, more so than Lebron. My inclination is to agree – but I don’t remember ever seeing this quantified. Is there a quantification of “clutch” out there? Something like percentage of potential game-winning shots made, maybe even weighted somehow by the importance of the game. Anybody have stats on “clutchness”?

  5. Reed awesome post. This discussion is analogous (since it’s election day) to the McCain history vs. Obama history. What was there to really know about McCain that could excite us, and give us a new – unique kind of hope for the future.

    Kobe represents that mental fortitude that is at the forefront in the lives of every athlete, employee, boy friend.. etc. How to take loss, how to take yourself to the next level, and how to improve with every experience. We don’t give Kobe credit, but when I can’t get my ass up to work-out, I pull up a Kobe highlight reel on youtube… watch him push his body to the limits and I have hope as well as a re-fined sense of personal ambition that a pair of “Lebron’s” just can’t give me.

  6. ^^^
    “Election day” meant the day before inauguration… lol

  7. Reed, you have me all fired up and it’s only noon.. can I put the kids to bed now???

  8. Excellent read.

    I agree with everything you said about both guys.

  9. The thing about Kobe is he can make any kind of shot at any time, no matter how tough it is. Lebron doesnt have that same capability. Kobe is alsoo a better clutch player. But as the stats show, all around Lebron may be better, but its close, stats arent everything.

    This is a way bigger game for the Lakers. Lakers are on their homecourt and Cleveland is way banged up. If the Lakers dont wint his game, then we will know for sure that this team does indeed have deeper problems.

    I think the previous tough loses are good for the Lakers, it will push them to play better and harder. This game is going to tell a lot about this team I think.

  10. #5, this sort is better, shows usage numbers (as in, points scored in the last 5 minutes) better:

    Kobe, Bron, Wade, Chris Paul, Carmelo, etc., at the top. Those are the guys making things happen at the end of games.

  11. your analysis on kobe brought a tear to my eye

    i started watching basketball when kobe was a rookie. (i wish i had started before).

    i don’t know the lakers without kobe on the team.

    what am i going to do when he retires?

  12. Excellent post. Wonderful writing. I think it sums up perfectly how I see Kobe and Lebron

  13. I’m gonna drop a triple double on y’all tonight.

  14. Zerb,

    I’m the same way. I started watching basketball at the start of Kobe’s rookie year when I was about 10 years old. I’ll certainly still be a Laker and NBA fan the rest of my life but knowing I’ll be watching the league without him at some point seems unfathomable to me.

  15. Wow.

    One of the best post ever. Stats, insightful analysis, and passion = you should be writing full-time.

    Great job Reed!

    Today (and maybe only today), you make me want to see a Lakers vs. Cavs Finals as opposed to a Lakers vs. Celtics Finals.

    Then again, talk to me tomorrow and my desire for vengeance towards the C’s will be back in full force.

    But today……….

  16. the other Stephen January 19, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    hell yes. the muses were with you when you wrote this, reed. i too feel that lebron is only paper deep. but it does take some sort of skill to navigate self-promotion the way that he has.

  17. Truly, an inspiring piece of work, Reed. My ties to the Lakers go back to mid-70s long before Magic and Showtime made them essential viewing again, and as much as I love the Lakers and appreciate Kobe’s brilliance this year more than ever, I fear the Cavs more than anyone–this year at least.

    Between the hard facts you cite around LeBron v. Kobe, last year’s head to head match ups, the Jordan-esque making of a decent cast of teammates into an unbeatable force, and the expiring Wally contract that feels destined to bring playoff gold, this just feels like the Cavs year.

    But that’s why they play the game, right? Perhaps the triumvirate of Celtics, Cavs and Heat will leave the L’s with a big enough chip to call upon something deep and grab us a trophy.

    After some back-to-back body blows, the Laker’s can certainly use a redux of the Christmas performance against the Celts.

  18. Wow, Reed.

    I respect your opinion, but I disagree with you that LeBron is better than Kobe ever has been, but I’m more disappointed that you use PER as one of the criteria for reasoning.

    I’m not going to make a case for Kobe because it’s too exhausting having a Kobe vs. LBJ discussion, but I personally think that LBJ just hasn’t accomplished enough yet to declare such a strong statement. What he may accomplish, and what he has actually accomplished are two different things. Let him get there first.

    So far, except for subjective stats, LBJ ‘s career path hasn’t been anything we haven’t already seen with Kobe. Except the hype. Is LeBron living up to it? Yes, so far. But has it been enough to say, “As a basketball player, Lebron is better. Than Kobe has ever been. ”

    I don’t think so.

  19. AWESOME post. terrific capture of both players. does the thing that i (Sorry guys) hate the lakers HATE THEM and still always read forum blue and gold as I think it is by far the best team blog say something? this piece is fantastic. congratulations.

  20. @ lesha (2.)

    the kwame-smush tema WAS awful but this is n’t great either…

  21. I have to agree with wondahbap100%. Better than Kobe has ever been. Maybe one day but not yet. He gotta earn his stripes but he’s definitely on his way.

  22. I think it’s telling that Kobe wants to be a great basketball player and LeBron wants to be rich and famous. It’s certainly more interesting to watch Kobe trying to perfect his skills in a game instead of LeBron in another commercial.

    I hope this will be an exciting game, but I can’t see it as a very critical game when Cleveland comes in missing two of it’s starters.

  23. When I first heard of Lebron, I have to admit that I thought he was over-hyped. I remember thinking that there was no way a high school player could be as good as the media claimed. Boy was I wrong.

    Today I see Lebron as the best individual player in the NBA. Considering his age, I dare say that he is simply the total package.

    Having said that, I HATE IT when people argue about whether Kobe or Lebron is better. Truly, the fact that there is such an argument – and considering Lebron’s age- is a testament as to how good Lebron really is. Think about it.

    Anyway, from my point of view, I don’t care if Lebron is better than Kobe. What I care about are championships. In short, Lebron can be the best one-on-one player on the planet, but so long as my Lakers win titles, I could care less what he does.

  24. Riveting post (had to think of an adjective no one had used yet).

    While I do agree that Lebron is far more physically gifted than Kobe, I also think that his improved statistics are misleading.

    The point is Lebron’s teams are made for him. He has a jump shooting, floor-spreading center who rebounds and defends with the best (Ilgauskas), two energy, hustle, rebounding, defending bigs (Wallace and Varejao), 2 spot-up shooters (West and Gibson), and a top tier point guard who can shoot and get him the ball in the right spots (Williams). None of those players would be half as effective as they are without a talent like James dominating the ball, getting them open shots, and opening up passing lanes for easy dunks/put-backs.

    This is different with the Lakers and Kobe, where the focal point of the offense is usually Gasol in the low-post (and Bynum at the beginning of last year). This then branches out into the triangle offense and kick-out shooting. Second to this is Kobe’s ball-overwhelming style, where it is up to Kobe to create or take shots. This is why we only see it in crunch time or when the team is struggling. In contrast, Lebron is always the focal point of the Cavs offense, which leads to his inflated point and assist numbers.

    As for Lebron’s supposed “defensive commitment,” I don’t buy it. I’ve seen many Cavs games, and Lebron plays Kobe-style defense: only when he wants to. I think what’s lost in all this is Cleveland’s offensive efficiency feeds their defensive efficiency. Their lack of turnovers and high shooting percentages lead to less easy baskets, which coupled with their excellent on-ball defense leads to very striking +/- numbers when James is in the game versus when he is not.

  25. Awesome post. I can’t help but notice your man-crush on Kobe. LOL.

    That said. I think Kobe is still the most SKILLED player in the league. Lebron is the most dominant player. Lebron is an awesome force, much like Shaq, Wilt, and Olajuwon. The unique thing is that he does it from a small forward position. As you said, he is part Magic and part Jordan. I would say he’s more part Magic and part Shaq. If Lebron EVER develops mid-range game, consistent 3 pt shooting, or post game with fade away jump shot, then we can just hand the next 5-8 O’Brien trophy to him right now. Kobe has mastered all of those already. Kobe’s biggest flaw is that he’s not the team player that Lebron is. It’s the difference between Jordan and Magic. Both could do what other can, but one is a natural scorer and the other is natural passer. If Kobe wanted to, he could put up LeBron like numbers. If Lebron wanted to, he could put up Kobe’s numbers. However, Kobe will never be able to dominate the game physically as LeBron can. Lebron’s physical dominance is something Kobe can’t duplicate. However, Lebron’s lack of desire to excel in every aspect as Kobe has keeps him from being both the best player in the league right now.

    If I were to vote for MVP, I would vote for Lebron in a heartbeat. However, if I were to vote for the best player in the league, I would still vote for Kobe, only because he still can do more things better than Lebron can. But the gap between the two is so small now that it’s really hard to argue that there is much difference.

    I thought I would never see another player like Jordan in my lifetime. Not only does Lebron have a chance to surpass Jordan as the greatest ever, but he has chance to set the bar so high, that no one may come close to it, much like Wilt and Russell have done.

  26. Wondahbap, I can understand what you’re saying about Lebron’s career path not matching Kobe’s, even if I disagree.
    But what exactly do you mean by “subjective” stats? Do you mean PER? I always found Hollinger’s numbers to be very impartial, despite what some whining fans thought in his chats.

  27. I wish Drew played with more fire in his belly during the entire game. Frankly, I’m tired of seeing his poor positioning on the offensive glass. It’s like he doesnt care at times.

    I don’t care what people say. He is 21 years old – he can vote, he can be drafted, therefore he is a a grown man. He makes millions of dollars a year and he is one of 300 players – out of billions of people on this earth who get to play in the NBA – and start. What other motivation is this kid looking for?

    I’m really starting to dislike this guy. Yes, I know he is one of the better centers in the league, but i can’t help but think that if he gave it just 90% all the time he would be close to being the best center in the league.

    I bring this up because if we can reduce our opponents second chance points and increase ours by rebounding, then we would have been able to win the last two games – and I think Drew’s lack of contribution during all 48 mins is starting to affect us.

  28. Thanks for that post.

    Since I live in Germany, I planned to set the alarm to start watching somewhere during the 3rd quarter. But now I’m going to sleep for 4 hours, get up at 4.30 a.m. and watch the whole damn thing.

  29. What a great post Reed. Kudos.

    Ultimately, stats raise the hype but championships validate greatness. If James doesn’t win the championship with the greatest PER in history, his season will be remembered like the Pats in 07.

    The Cavs have the highest defensive rating in the league. But they do not have the best defense. The Celtics do. What the Cavs have is the best scheme against one particular offensive set. The high screen and roll.

    By focusing their attention on the most often run play in the NBA, they have had a great deal of success.

    The main thrust of their defense consist of denying dribble penetration by switching everything on the perimeter.

    This protects their interior as they are bereft of length and shot blocking. They are often left with mis matches, but these are on the perimeter.

    At the end of the Atlanta game Joe Johnson had the ball, defended by James. At the mere hint of a screen by Bibby, the Cavs switched. Resulting on Mo Williams on Johnson. A favorable mismatch. The Hawks screened with Bibby for several possessions straight. Each resulting in a switch and mis match.

    The Lakers have the only offense in the league not relying on the high screen and roll as the primary go to play. This should be an advantage. It is as if the Cavs have configured their defense to beat the west coast offense and the Lakers are experts running the wish bone.

  30. Matt,

    What I mean about subjective is that the system Hollinger uses are subjective because he decides what are important, and how to equate them in his formula to come up with his “stat.”

    My disagreement with his system has nothing to do where Kobe ranks on it (as some anti-Kobe arguments love to point out), but it’s really just one man’s opinion and value of stats. It’s trying to point out things we supposedly can’t see, but has it definitively proved who’s going to walk away with the Chip? No.

    Although stats are objective, and you can twist numbers any way you’d like, and use them subjectively. What matters is results, and to this point, no matter the “stats” used to make an argument for Kobe or LBJ as The Best.

    I have absolutely no problem if people feel LeBron is better. If that’s what they think, fine, but “stats,” especially made up stats more meaningful for fantasy scores, are the wrong way of “proving” it.

  31. Let’s talk about the Cavs vs. Lakers.

    Kobe vs. LBJ can go on forever. I’d rather read comments about match-ups, and our strengths and weakness versus Cleveland’s.

  32. 10) Joe (and others) “The thing about Kobe is he can make any kind of shot at any time, no matter how tough it is.”

    But that is only one facet of the game. LeBron is playing much better defense than Kobe is right now.

  33. Reed,
    I love your posts – and this one is not exception. The only think I take issue with is the constant concentration on statistics to prove value. I have watched the pro game for 50 years and found that statistics usually separate the best from the rest, but do not correctly compare among the best.

    Firstly, what the person’s job on the team really matters – and there is a huge difference between PG, C, and the others.

    Secondly, the system run – or not run – makes a huge difference in perception.

    Thirdly, in this ESPN world, media personality also comes into play in valuing people (see Barry Bonds and Wilt Chamberlain).

    Lastly, championships in the world of team sports ALWAYS depend on who you are surrounded with, as much as on individual skill and drive.

    In summation, I can only come up with a list of 10 or so all time greats. Trying to slim down the list beyond that is always compromised by my personal biases. Coming up with the best of all time is an exercise in futility – no matter the constraints. It is just that ESPN, and our personal need to be definite, force us to declare something the ultimate best.

  34. Holy crap Reed, that was an amazing comparison. Really, this deserves some massive circulations.

  35. first, let me also say, this is a great post.
    congrats reed

    And i agree 100% with reed’s comments

    just want to add some thoughts:
    looking at this bron vs kobe debate, i cannot help but look back when kobe is threatening MJ’s throne.
    we have exactly the same debate, granted that MJ vs Kobe is much more similar, thus relatively more relevant to be debated (same size, position, killing instinct, etc)
    But MJ’s fans are also putting roughly the same kind of debate that shows how we enjoy watching him play and feel we don’t want it to end…and see the upcoming star as a threat to it.

    all i want to say is both are great players, surely a hall of famer
    bron will get his ring, no doubt.
    he’s just too good to be what iverson, barkley, and all those great player who will never win a ring.

    my take on this:
    i will enjoy this while it lasts.


  36. Reed,
    Another epic post. The quality that you provide is just amazing.

    As for the debate of Kobe vs. Lebron…I’m with you. Where we stand today, Lebron is just better. I know that some don’t agree with the statistical approach to measuring greatness. And for the most part, I rely on my eyes to tell me who is doing what and how effective it is (it’s why I love the x’s and o’s of the game). But I can say that Lebron not only passes the statistcal test, but he passes the eyeball test as well. He is just too dominant to be ignored. The one thing we’ll never know though is: if Kobe would have been the centerpiece of a team for his entire career would he have ever matched the statistical dominance of Lebron? Anyways, that’s another thought for another day.

    As for tonight’s game, I agree we’re going to make Lebron the focus of our entire defense and make him overcome all that to beat us or have him defer enough that his teammates take on a burden that they’re not used to carrying. If we do it right, we should win. That’s a simple summary, but really, you said it all. Again, just an amazing piece you put up.

  37. I think it’s been mentioned already (haven’t had time to go through all the comments as I’ve class in a few minutes) but awesome piece on Kobe and Lebron.

    I was only ten years old when Kobe first showed up in an LA uniform and I had the world’s biggest crush on him then. Still hasn’t changed now.

    Awesome writeup, I got tears in my eyes about Kobe.

  38. I echo the others, great stuff. My only complaint is that “begs the question” is logic for “circular argument,” e.g., “I’ll tell you exactly how I know that the Celtics are a great organization (sob), you prick; they go out there night after night and are the definition of greatness.” Poor little Celtics fan; go drink a fifth and lie down in nice warm trash can.

    I don’t know why the popular usage (X demands that we ask Y) bothers me so much. It probably has to do with Sean Hannity. My brother and I listened to his radio show once and he said it about 400 times. He voice glowed with each repetition like one of those Hamlet-type philosophy undergrads who learns the word “existentialism” and immediately pretends to like black coffee

    Bringing the idea of biography into the debate is brilliant. You have two kinds of biographies, porn star/serial killer/pop star biographies and biographies of geniuses. You psychological sketch of Bryant was spot-on, both as a description of Bryant and a profile of the haunted ones that men hope to exorcise by capturing in a book. But of course they’re too elusive. They were born too elusive. Kobe was born into the world to do one thing, and the demands it makes on his body it makes on his soul. You see it when you see him, you see it whether he wins or loses. Kobe will essentially die after basketball, like Jordan did, but his daemon is too awake to be numbed by gambling and cigars and box seats and stints as upper management. He is nearly always unhappy now and the worst is yet to come. There are types of geniuses, as there are types of men; Kobe is the type that doesn’t sleep. Kobe’s daemon puts me in mind of Kafka’s. He reminds me of Kafka also in that he so rarely smiles with his eyes. Your pairing of LeBron with Shaq was another bull’s eye. In thirty years, if I’m alive, I’ll remember them both, with a mixture of awe and fondness. But Kobe, it might sound strange, I won’t remember, I’ll just see him, and the feeling will be haunted. We won’t know another like him

  39. Great post, Reed.

    I’ll say only this on the Kobe-Lebron front. Someone said this in an Adande chat, and I found it to be the most reasonable and accurate description of the comparison: “Kobe has more skills in the toolbox than LeBron, but LeBron’s skills are more dominating.” Succinct, and dead on. IMHO:

    -Kobe has a more diverse game than Lebron; that is, he’s stronger in more areas of the game, and his skills have more polish and refinement
    -The skills that Lebron does have (and there are many), he dominates in those areas in a way that Kobe does not. His sheer physical gifts allow him to do so.
    -Kobe plays the game on a higher intellectual level
    -Even as a Kobe homer, I find the clutch argument tiring. Lebron has hit game winners before, and single-handedly won a playoff series. He deserves more credit than that.

    Lebron certainly does more for his team. But I still find that Kobe’s game is more refined, and has a touch more finesse and skill than relying on physical blessings (as Reed pointed out). So in my mind, it’s a debate open to opinion.

    At this point, I’ve decided to stop arguing and simply enjoy the greatness we’re seeing.

  40. Also, just one other point –

    So much is made of Lebron making the most of his average teammates. But I think a great deal of this credit should go to Mike Brown. It’s the coach that has turned this into an elite defensive team, by instilling defensive principles from Day 1. That great team defense makes those OK players produce a great team. Lebron is given a bit too much credit in that regard, and Mike Brown not enough.

  41. Wow! Reed, a self-described Kobe homer, writes a post immediately before a Cavs/Lakers game, saying right now LBJ is BETTER than Kobe HAS EVER BEEN, on a website called Forum Blue and Gold…and noone has really lost it in 39 posts?

    “has ever been” is a little much at this point. A couple series wins against the defensively handicapped Wizards, an ECF 48 pt explosion, being swept in the Finals, a poor shooting 7-game series with the Celts, and being a physical freak of nature DOES NOT beat the legend’s resume.

    Maybe one day, just not today.

  42. I’m right with you, Clutch. Reed – awesome work…but better than Kobe has EVER been??

    Is James better than Kobe was when he scored 81 points? I don’t believe so..but that’s just Kobe being Kobe

  43. Reed, that was simply inspired, a great read. Has anyone distinguished between Lebron and Kobe this clearly before? Give it a day or two, and you’ll be over the Internets with this post.

    I don’t see how Kobe and the Lakers can win now, and that’s why I’ll be watching: I could care less.

  44. Good post Reed, I am looking forward to tonights game very much. Yea, FB&G usually just says it how it is.

    Never stop seeking what is unattainable.

    Go Lakers…

  45. Wow Reed, I think a tear just fell from my eye.

  46. This was written quickly, and upon further reflection and reading the comments, I wish I had another stab at it to clarify many points. But, a game approaches and in the end the point is to inspire debate, not to be absolutely right, so I’ll let any revisions sit for another day.

    One thing I will say, however, is that I should have qualified or defined what I meant by “better than Kobe ever has been.” Has Lebron achieved more in his career? Of course not. Has he had as brilliant of individual games — such as the 81 pointer? No. Has he sustained playoff brilliance to a title, as Kobe has so many times? No. Has he proven that when on the highest stage against the greatest teams he can do unspeakable things? Not to the same degree. He has much to prove, and much time to prove it. Kobe has proven himself. Thus, if I were picking between them to carry a team in game 7 of the finals, I would take Kobe ten times out of ten. He has been there and, more often than not, he has succeeded. All of that said, through the first half of this season, Lebron has sustained a level of play that I don’t think we’ve seen from Kobe before. Will it continue and can he do it when it counts? That’s to be determined, and one reason why the nba is so wonderful right now.

  47. I think too many ppl put alot of value into the individual matchup. Lebron has a serious mismatch if Kobe is guarding him whereas Lebron is the perfect defender to guard Kobe. Kobe has trouble with taller defenders with quick feet. Tayshaun Prince/James Posey. These type of defenders have historically given Kobe fits, especially in a great defensive system. All of which Lebron has going for him. Dont be surprised if Lebron forces Kobe into a bad shooting night… Deron Williams always outplays Chris Paul when they match up, but nobody is really gonna say Deron Williams is a better player. Its jus the perfect matchup for the other player.

  48. 48-Good point.

    Lebron must be at least 6″9, 260. Kobe might have a tough time with Lebron, physically. When LBJ came into the league, Kobe probably could have checked him but now…

    The good news is Lebron doesn’t really have that much of a post up game, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

    I expect to see a lot of Trevor on Bron instead of Kobe, at least at the start.

  49. Wow, way to throw that in my face, Kobw…

  50. I think I may have posted this before about LeBron, but I will say it again: until he shows he can hit jumpers in the playoffs, I will continue to rank him below Kobe. There’s a reason his postseason FG% is so low despite his amazing physical gifts and ability to get to the basket. His ability to hit the J will be far more important than how many rebounds or assists he gets. Then again I think skill sets are more important than stats in evaluating a player, especially a perimeter player.

  51. links for the game?

  52. Echoes of the Orlando game. All the second chance opportunities for the Cavs are going to kill us.

  53. Wow. So nobody could have taken a foul to get Kobe out of the game? Sheesh.

  54. Kobe seems to be the heart and brain of this team. So no one could think of taking a time out…Jeez

  55. Ariza has to come in soon. LeBron is going to score 40 with Vlad guarding him.

  56. Vlad isn’t guarding him, Kobe is. He only ended up being guarded by Vlad on one possession.

  57. Vlade can be very effective on closeouts with his 6″10 frame and long arms at small forward, but he doesn’t have the foot speed or athleticism to contain someone like LeBron.

  58. I love what Kobe’s doing against Lebron so far. Deny, deny, deny. It looks like a HS drill that he’s running. He’s just working extremely hard right now. I also like that we’re going to the post on almost every possesion. Either Pau, Drew, or Kobe should be on the block in order to force the Cavs to react. If they refuse to double us, we’re going to take advantage of them inside.

  59. Varejao the flopper is back.

  60. LeBron is amazing.

    Kobe is amazing.

    I have long conceded that though Kobe is the best player in the world right now, LeBron will surpass Kobe before his time is up.

    But for now, I will just partake in this amazing battle from my seat at home.

  61. 60

    Kobe’s denial defense has been excellent, just as it was against Wade. With those types of players you have to start doing your work BEFORE they get the ball and that’s exactly what Kobe is doing.

  62. Bynum should be dominating the Brazilian, Gasol the same with Wallace. That is where the Lakers should win.

    Unless LeBron keeps hitting 17-foot bank shots. That was crazy.

  63. Of course, if LeBron is going to hit shots like that one there’s not much you can do…

  64. LO was great on that tipped ball/steal. His ability to trap the ball and use his length to get deflections and force bad passes is a difference maker for our defense. Our other bigs just can’t do it the way that Odom does.

  65. Odom showing how valuable he is to this team. Forces two straight TOs. And kudos to Sasha for knocking down the shots. Great way to end the quarter.

    That said, LeBron has been amazing. Crazy off-balance bank shots and a block on Sasha.

  66. Lebron played right into the macine’s hands there. You never show up the machine like that. Ever.

  67. 68. Yes!! LeBron should fear the Machine.

    I really am trying to find a way to work in “ghost in the machine” references.

  68. Indecision and miscommunication bailed out by Vujacic.

    And is anyone else tired of commentators stating that Sasha nicknamed himself? Stu Lantz gave him that nickname, that’s why we call him that. If Sasha had called himself “The Machine,” we’d laugh at him.

  69. One other thing about Odom that I love is that he directs traffic out there. He just created that shot for Sasha by telling Bynum to go to the block so he could flash to the FT line and take Zoolander off the dribble. When he pentrated it gave Sasha that space he needed to get that shot off.

  70. m0nkey I have to agree, it’s silly and not a big deal but I hate that they still say the Machine’s nickname is self-proclaimed. Can’t they get it right already?

  71. Reed, great read.

    My sentiments exactly, and I think that’s the sentiment of just about every stat-weighing Kobe fan in the league.

    But yeah, barring abnormal circumstances, I think we’ll see LeBron be our generation’s Wilt. His physical gifts won’t make him overshadow Jordan, but he can be dominant enough to draw that incredulous look when we speak of Wilt.

  72. Is that Pau Bynum out there? Talk about low post finesse.

  73. Hickson is giving Cleveland some good minutes off the bench. If only they could say the same about Lorenzen Wright…

  74. I love the way we’re hustling. Bynum has certainly had a great offensive game thus far (midway through the second). Sasha’s also rebounded from his disappointing play in the previous game. I believe the Lakers really started sparking when Ariza came back into the game and started upping the intensity of the game.

  75. Kobe’s getting a ton of rest right now. I like that Sasha is playing well enough to afford us that luxury. If there’s one thing that is completely obvious so far, it’s that our bigs totally outclass theirs. That may change when Big Z is back in the line up, but once again Bynum/Pau/Odom triumvirate is a lot better than the other teams front court rotation.

  76. Just to get some of my frustration out…why in a big game like this is Kobe not back in the game with only 5 minutes to go in the half??? I know the guy hurt his pinky but come on…no fooling around this game

  77. Check out Sasha Fierce, BTW. Suddenly thinks he’s CP3 out there or something. XP 🙂 Go MACHINE!

  78. As you can see, Joe, we’re doing all right without Kobe. He needs all the rest he can get, so we can close this game out properly. The Cavs aren’t giving up so easily.

  79. Joe, it’s just one of 82. I know we think it is more than that, but it is not the Finals, it’s a January game. Let the bench get some experience that pays off when it does really matter.

  80. darius…



  81. …What’s with our FTs tonight?

    Must be all the smog down there in LA.

  82. Bynum is rounding into form in a way we haven’t seen before, not even last season. These offensive moves are strong, and while not extremely polished, he’s long and athletic enough to make them work. Very impressive.

    The Cavs should be a model for our defense. In stretches we’re excellent, but we gamble far too much. There was one play where Sasha and Ariza looked like pinballs, flying around, trying to intercept passes. Just stay in front of your man. Simple is best.

    Love that when Kobe got hurt, Pau went into alpha mode and called for the ball.

    Anderson Varejao for the Most Annoying Player in the league? I have this fantasy about Jack Nicholsen sprinting onto the floor and flattening that annoying mop of hair.

    We need a free throw coach.

  83. We’re really having lots of exciting games lately, that’s for sure….

  84. LeBron’s great, but did we need to leave a man that wide open…right under the basket like that?

  85. Those of you not watching the TNT broadcast will like the story Craig Sager just relayed. He reported that LeBron and Ninja Surprise’s high schools played each other and Ariza’s uncle said that Ariza was better. LeBron then hung more than 50 points on Ariza’s team.

  86. So…I don’t think there’ll be tacos tonight. Shame.

  87. this product placement is sickening

  88. lmao when Craig asked those guys why their show was good, they froze

    rock on, TNT

  89. That foul, I think, was okay. Better than an uncontested layup.

  90. Both Kobe and LeBron must’ve read Adande or something. Kobe with 3 points 6 assists, LeBron with 9 points and 2 assists.

    Ouch Kobe, Thanks Lamar, Ouch Kobe again…

  91. That was LeBron’s Highlight of the Night. No doubt.

  92. Was that exhibition of insane athleticism truly necessary, LeBron?

  93. Kobe “Clutch” Bryant. That is all.

  94. The Lakers are better with Kobe on the bench than the Cavs are with Lebron on the bench. When they are on the floor together, the teams are somewhat even, the Lakers however, they went away from the inside game there at the end.

  95. I love our energy out there and everything, but thinking about West being back…*shivers* I don’t think we’d be able to contain them (for now).

  96. Forget about ankle insurance. I think Kobe needs pinkie insurance.

  97. Mike Brown was interviewed in between the first and second quarter and said that their team doesn’t chase matchups (in terms of matching up LeBron vs. Kobe) and that he doesn’t care about that, he just needs to find a way to win. I’m not sure if he was being coy but chasing matchups might be a way to get a win. Maybe it’s part of his ehtos, to keep it simple, but that might be an extreme carriage of that idea.

  98. It’s our game if we cut the turnovers and keep pounding it inside. Both keep Lebron out of the open court and let our defense get set.

  99. 100

    Coincidentally LeBron was guarding Kobe throughout the second quarter…

  100. I know Phil’s doesn’t believe in inspirational speeches, but I really hope he pounds some fire into the players for the second half. I don’t want a tic-tac-toe.

  101. Speaking of Mike Brown, I don’t think any coach is above a subtle (or not so subtle) dig at the opposing coach. Plus, Brown was Pop’s assistant in SA for many years, so he learned at the side of one of the best at turning a phrase.

  102. That Doug Collins telestrator example of Vlad guarding no one is classic “Space Cadet” activity.

  103. Maybe Nomuskles woke Drew up…

  104. SSZ is back in action tonight. Mo Williams just forced a pass and had a turnover and Lebron is seeing the double early and forced to pass even more than he would like.

  105. Kobe is in serious pain with that finger.

  106. Kobe’s in a lot of pain. Hopefully its just a dislocation.

  107. Well, KO-BE.

    Darn the comparison, KOBE!

  108. Drew has serious intimidation factor on the defensive end tonight…

  109. I’m not sure this has been said enough. That Kwame for Gasol trade, was a pretty good trade.

  110. The Refs are not calling fouls on contact at the rim. Normally that’s to our disadvantage with Kobe and our bigs. But tonight, Lebron is the guy that’s suffering the most as he’s getting to the basket but not earning trips to the line the way that he normally does.

  111. I think at least 10 of LeBron’s 16 shots have been mid/long range jumpers. That tells you how well the Lakers as a team are guarding him (not just Kobe).

  112. The Lakers usually go on stretches where they play excellent defense, however, normally it doesnt keep up, hopefully they can continue to defend well. Being able to keep Lebron out of the lane has been the key so far.

  113. When Drew’s activity level is high on both ends of the floor we are a really, really good team.

  114. Was that a crab dribble?

  115. Crab dribble!

  116. That was a lobster dribble.

  117. Clam dribble?

  118. King Crab strikes again…

  119. Announcers kill me with their misapplication of facts. Lebrons crab dribble is a move where he dribbles, jumpsteps, and then explodes to the basket with a half step after the jumpstop. That last move was a complete jumpstop, headfake, half pivot, and then illegal step through for a jumper. That move is an obvious travel. The crab dribble, when executed properly is not a travel. David Thorpe, in one of his chats, says he teaches the crab dribble. Now, Lebron may or may not travel on his crab dribble, but that last move was not even an attempt it one. It was a bad pivot/step through.

  120. The Machine

  121. Goodness gracious LeBron!

    So much for jumpers…

  122. Through three quarters, we’ve done a superb job of dictating where we want the Cavs to initiate their offense, which is from the wing. When the Cavs bring the ball up, we’re keeping them to one side and showing the second defender and rotating well to perimeter shooters. Lebron has been able to still get to the basket, but for the most part we’re contesting those looks and making those finishes difficult. Even Odom was there to try and block Lebron’s lefty slam(!).

  123. Darius, I get the impression announcers are just being facetious when they do that. Whenever LeBron is called for a travel you can expect to hear the phrase ‘crab dribble’, regardless of the circumstances.

  124. Darius: I might be mistaken, but I don’t think that they meant that that move was an attempt at a crab dribble – even if it might have sounded that way=)

    On another topic: I’m a little biased, but I’m loving Pau’s game tonight.

  125. Good rotations, but left no one underneath the basket for the rebound. Bynum needed to get back to underneath the basket once James passed it.

  126. 126 and 127. You guys are probably right. I’m just saying it happens too much and bugs me all the same. I’m a little excitable right now though.

  127. Wow, looks like you have to draw blood to get called for a foul in this game.

  128. I take it all back.


  130. Kobe is on fire.

  131. Kobe’s right hand is really banged up I guess.

    And he makes that incredible turnaround fading J.

  132. Stop! Kobe time!

  133. What did I say earlier about James being the better player? I take it back. Kobe is amazing.

  134. Is it just me, or did Bynum not hit him in the face?

  135. Darius has a blood vendetta against Doug Collins…

  136. Kobe is hurt. You can see it in face on those FTs. And the misses are a good indication.

    He might have to take a few games off, I don’t know. He’s tough as nails, though.

  137. 131 & 136

    There’s still plenty of time for LeBron to make you look good.

  138. He didn’t hit him in the face. He went for the ball, and James’s momentum caused the contact with his chin.

  139. He won’t take this game off, that’s for sure.

    LeBron, on the other hand…

  140. Hit him in the chest, it looked like. Despite the commentators apparently thinking he was going to be suspended, Ron Artest style.

  141. Kobe schooled lebron on back to back possesions. The cavs offense is alot easier to guard without Z and west out there. That being said pavlovic has been a pleasant suprise for the cavs tonight.

  142. Excellent FT defense by Cleveland…

  143. Andrew is looking tired on D.

  144. I must say that even though that’s 5 fouls on Bynum, I love that he’s giving hard fouls at the rim tonight. And as I type I agree with Doug Collins.

  145. Again with the head shot that did not happen.

  146. Kobe: “Not yet young pup, not yet.”

  147. Ariza is reading that left to right dribble move by Lebron. He may not be a lockdown half court defender, but he’s great in transition and in reading plays in the open court where he’s reading the play and using his instincts + athleticism to make the play.

  148. Is the Magic a better team than Cleveland? Or do we just match up better against the Cavs? The Cavs are without some of their best players but, this Cavs team has been very unimpressive tonight.

  149. I didn’t see Ariza hit LeBron’s forehead there – was he faking there?

  150. It’s hard to overstate how much Cleveland his missing Z tonight. Nobody else on their frontline can replace his size, length, and offensive skill, and against the Lakers it’s all the more glaring.

  151. The Cobra! That is twice that Trevor has sat on Lebron’s favorite change of direction on the break.

  152. #152, they are missing their starting center and point guard….they are better than they are showing tonight. Of course, we are without Farmar and Luke……..this would be a great Finals!!

  153. We’ve hounded LeBron into a so-so night, and without Z and West… that’s a loss against a team like ours.

    Magic, however, really had good games all around with all of their guys healthy.

    But whoever gets the 2 & 3 seed in the East will not be happy unless one of the three eastern teams drop to 4…

  154. Fisher did well tonight, but he really has trouble with layups 🙂

  155. Mini-run by the Cavs.. If we don’t stop this now, it’ll be a huge run..

  156. This game is not over yet…

  157. Mmm… Bynum’s absence being felt?

    3 minutes… 7 points… LeBron and Kobe on either side…

    Ain’t over either way.

  158. OK, I applaud Kobe’s performance for the first three quarters. But for whatever reason, he now feels the need to play isolation against LeBron on every possession, and THAT is why we have lost our lead.

    It’s a double-edged sword. I love Kobe’s passion to confront personal challenges (even if only he sees it as a challenge), but at the same time, when he is obviously not as healthy as he could be and shots aren’t falling (after 4 misses), it’s time to play team ball.

  159. Kobe’s turned this into a 1-on-1 battle. He’s completely taken everyone else out of the flow of the offense. Simple fact. This has turned into Kobe throwing up bricks, with very little ball movement.

    If we use Gasol and Bynum on offense, and Kobe on defense, we will win. Kobe’s giving Lebron more trouble than most defenders.
    What’s been our undoing (so far) however, is Kobe forcing things on the offensive end.

    More discipline on offense. Let’s go.

  160. At what point this season is Phil going to realize that he needs to finish games with Andrew Bynum on the floor and Pau Gasol on the bench?

  161. See thats being hit in the head.

  162. I think Kobe heard you snoopy.

  163. I <3 Ariza

  164. Doug Collins “HE SHOT HIM IN THE HEAD!”

  165. Ariza on fire. Big plays down the stretch.

  166. snoopy and khandor i disagree…

    the lead has grown into an 18 point gap

  167. Ariza has been HUGE in the clutch.

  168. Arizza’s mechanic on his shot is not that bad. He actually shoots well when he squares his shoulders. Often though he kind of leans to the side when he shoots.

  169. hey we might get tacos after all.

  170. and there are tacos tonight for the fans in LA!

  171. Damn Sun I wanted that to go in.

  172. omg marv albert just said sun yua…

  173. Sun sighting against Cleveland.


  174. Kobe is a man amongst boys!

  175. Kobe’s pain tolerance is ridiculous.

  176. He didn’t look too bothered when he was hitting James’ chest after the game. Much less bothered than James at least who cut himself on the hand or something.

    Anyway, LeBron’s unstoppable drives are overwhelming, but there’s some circus-like excitement when Kobe does his flying-turnaround-fading-jumper with a hand on his face.

  177. @Zephid: Marv’s pronunciation was actually a lot closer to how a mandarin-speaking friend says Sun’s name.

  178. loved ariza tonight.
    4 steals, coming through on the pair of FT’s, and making 2 threes when we needed to pull away.

  179. With Kobe’s injury, just in case its bad, good thing it happened now, as we have to weak opponents coming up. Hey, it was the toughest 4 game stretch of the season and we went 2-2. Easily could have been 3-1.

  180. That’s it, nice game guys!

  181. Nice win. What impressed me the most was that the Lakers were the physical team, and looked comfortable at doing so.

    They’re really starting to show that they can and will play tough, gritty games if/when needed, an that they aren’t going to let it affect their level of play.

  182. Good win. Realistically speaking, this is not the Cleveland we’ll see in the playoffs. That Cleveland will have West (very underrated), Z (means no Lorezen Wright), and Lebron for 48 minutes (we made our initial run when he was sitting).

    However we have a better shot than most of stopping Lebron. Kobe’s ball denial is off-the-charts, his intensity on D was incredible to watch. The thing is, that’s all we need from Kobe. With Bynum turning into a mini-Pau and Pau himself, with Sasha’s spacing and Trevor’s energy, the offense will support itself. Kobe doesn’t need to force shots. Behzad (170), the lead swelled when Kobe stopped forcing shots, took the trap, and swung the ball beautifully.

    It’s a simple recipe. I expect them to have the discipline to execute in the playoffs. Although Kobe knows if they meet in the Finals, his legacy will be on the line, so there’s always the chance he tries to do too much.

    Someone above made a great point – Lebron, physically, is Kobe’s worst matchup – longer, stronger, and just as quick. Those are the matchups Kobe struggles to score against, and struggles to guard. Yet because of his ball denial, Kobe took Lebron out of his comfort zone, negating Lebron’s physical advantage. That’s the difference – Lebron wants Kobe in the 4th, Kobe never wants to let Lebron get in a groove.

    Excellent win. Who’s next?

  183. Very solid win. I think we benefited from a couple non-calls on our defense end, but our overall defense and our (offensive) rebounding intensity were just outstanding. And considering the early Kobe injury I think we had a great offensive game with our bigs showing up, well, big.

  184. Monkey and Snoopy,

    Sometimes you can’t have it all. But you can have the best, most skilled player in the NBA, Kobe Bryant.

  185. also, does anyone know why the crowd was so dead? are they waiting for the inauguration? worried about kobe’s injury? or was this just a particular of the TNT coverage.

  186. I was so ticked at the anti-Laker Collins. He kept talking about how Andrew hit Lebron in the head, even after he looked at the replay. The guy either just can’t admit he blew it (Andrew’s arms were forced into Lebron’s face when Lebron threw up his hands, after Andrew’s slap hit the ball) or he is basically anti Laker. After listening to him for several years I think he wants to be a good announcer, but his anti-Laker bias gets in the way sometimes. I think he still hates the Lakers showtime days too much.

  187. Good victory. Props to kobe for his relentless denying defense. Kobe just has more help on offense tonight.

    Also, excellent post, reed. I agree that Lebron has been the better player this year, but i disagree with “Lebron is better. Than Kobe has ever been”. At Kobe’s best (81 pt game), I have never seen a better player.

  188. I think Kobe only struggles to score against long athletic wing defenders when he’s determined to shoot. When he puts his mind to driving to the basket, he has no problem. But when he’s intent on pump faking and/or making his patented hand in my face swish, then they are able to do the obvious. Put a hand in his face.

  189. And I thought Kobe played great during the SA game. How LUCKY are we to witness one of the greatest to ever hit the hardwood? And I AM A WITNESS by the way.

    Sorry King James, it’s the revolution of Lakers dethroning the monarchy. Now it will become the Republic of Lakers led by Kobe Bean Bryant. I really respected the guy in terms of skills and talent after the olympics, even though I hated him. Now I don’t even respect him anymore with his crybaby attitude (see exhibit Paul Pierce). (I may be bias be whatever, I don’t care right now.)

    ARIZA!!!! As much as I think Bynum has helped the Lakers up to this point, I think Ariza deserves more credit than Bynum at this point. This guy is just really really really awesome. How does this guy not get any PT in the other team, I don’t understand at all.

    I think Derek Fisher is an unsung hero in this game. His effort is phenomenal. We can rag on his boneheaded plays, but he really makes countless others to win the game. Please everyone, no more hating on this guy. He deserves at least that much.

    Watching Lebron play, he’s fastbreak/tank through everyone ability may be his strength, but Ariza for at least two plays made it his weakness. Lebron would normally drive straight to the whole without much changing of hands for dribbling. What Ariza did was just timed his steal and just exploited his dribbling hand resulting in the two steals. By the way, Ariza is awesome.

    In conclusion, I love the Lakers and they made today one of the best days of my life (ya I have no life).

  190. The world’s greatest player, King James was a Joker tonight and the Joker was wild. As freakishly great athletes like Wilt Chamberlain would tell you, you win championships by playing a specific role as part of team basketball. A King minus his court is just a Joker putting on a show.

    Kobe knew his role most of the time, playing his A game defense–relying on the big boys in the paint to do the most damage–hitting the outside shot or slashing to the basket to keep them off balance. It was beautiful basketball.

    Everyone on the Laker team had a very good game: Bynum not only made points, he intimidated and rebounded. The Machine was a machine with attitude. Trevor the Cobra showed how human the Joker could be, while showing his Majesty 3 pointers no Cavalier saw when Trevor played in Orlando and New York. VladRad was VladRad with attitude–and Lamar made several game changing defensive plays while playing with great energy on the offensive end. Derek Fisher made plays when the Lakers needed them. The rotating defensive game came to life in the second half with a vengeance.

    The Cavs started with a smile and a swagger, but ended with a frown and a whimper.

    I think that the Joker had a bad headache.

  191. Ariza gives the Lakers at least 3-4 extra possessions a game with his steals, offensive rebounds, and general defensive activity.

    It’s too bad he’s never going to get the wide recognition he deserves because he’s not a 20ppg type of guy.

    He, just have to settle for the adoration of true Lakers fans, I guess!

  192. I got called into work at half time (I’m a part time ref), I may have had a shorter fuse tonight than usual… I couldn’t refresh my phone fast enough, and called a couple “official time outs” just to update myself. Two points:

    We could lose a playoff game, series, chance at a ring shooting free throws like we have been lately. Kobe gets a pass tonight.

    Second: I love this game! Not just tonights Laker game, but all across the NBA was an amazing night.

  193. Last point: Pau deserves to be an all-star.

    Paul, Kobe, Dirk, Carmelo, Amare, Yao, Duncan, West, Gay, McGrady, Gasol, Billups.

    Camby/ Kidd/ Terry/ Al Jefferson/ Durant/ Roy… tough to leave them off. If McGrady or Melo cant play, I’d take another guard from this group. Biedrins deserves a shout-out, too.

    Sadly, it wouldnt surprise me if West, Gay, or Gasol get left off.

  194. I just finish your post Reed and it was a very well written post. This is why exactly I love Kobe more than any other player on this planet. To Kobe, his life IS basketball and the drive to become better every year. It’s not even about the best anymore to him because to him, you can strive for perfection but never attain it. He’s just an ever hungry player. He wins three rings, he wants to win more. He wins one gold medal, he wants one more.

    I recently saw some video of him on yahoo about him stealing moves during the Olympic games when playing the league’s best. That speaks volumes to his mindset. Even after 13 years in the league, he still wants to add to his game.

  195. -197

    reallly believe camby deserves an all star game by now. he’s worked so hard, and yet doesn’t get any recognition.
    but since he’s injured even if her were, i don’t know if he’d be able to play

  196. Post game X-rays on Kobe are negative, and he says he will not miss any time. Also, apparently he feels no pain.

  197. I really hope when Farmar comes back Phil will still give Kobe time at the PG. Im enjoying Kobe playing back up point guard alot more. I always felt it changed up the dynamic of the offense with Kobe bringing up the ball. Pau and Kobe running the pick n roll has been real efficient for our offense. Its been freein up Pau for alot of open shots(He’s a great shooter…Im happy we’re starting to take advantage of all aspects of his game). Kobe having the ball also puts alot of pressure on the defense, which is always great. Mixing that up with Kobe getting the ball within our regular sets with the starters will make us that much better.

  198. 197 – Melo has missed too many games due to injury for a shot at the All-Star game. That and he hasn’t really played as well as we thought he would without sharing the ball with Iverson (the 33 points in one quarter thing aside). Memphis’ record is too poor for Gay to make it, and there’s better forwards than him that deserve to make it.

    FWIW, the West will probably look like this:

    Guards: Paul, Kobe, T-Mac, Roy
    Fowards: Duncan, Amar’e, Nowitzki, Gasol
    Centers: Yao, Shaq
    Extra two: Billups, maybe Parker

    Of these players, Paul, Kobe, Duncan, Amar’e, Nowitzki, and Yao are locks. T-Mac might bow out due to injury and frankly isn’t playing well. Roy is likely a lock given how well Portland is playing and how good his numbers are. Nowitzki is playing well enough, and Gasol edges out West due to the Lakers’ record. Shaq likely gets the nod from the coaches given how well he’s been playing. The rest of the applicable center candidates (Biedrins, Jefferson, Camby) are on teams with losing records.

    As for the additional two, Parker and Billups are probably a safe bet. Other players from winning teams are usually one-dimensional; Terry for instance. OKC’s record is far too bad for Durant to get on ahead of more applicable forward candidates.

  199. Looking at the all star voting and Yi Jianlian isn’t too far out in the east. What’s next China? Sun Yue for the all star game?

  200. A bit off-topic, but I thought this was so bogus I had to note it:

    Odom for J.O.? Really? Wonder what reliable source thinks this is even a remote possibility. On one hand you have Odom’s versatility and on the other hand, you have the litany of injuries and regression J.O. has had in the last couple years. Now, this is not to say J.O. is bad; quite the contrary, he’s an outstanding defensive presence (probably one Bynum should try to emulate; for instance, J.O. ranked seventh in the league last year in charges taken despite only playing half the season), but trading L.O. for him is just preposterous.

  201. Great write up on the two kings.

    One thing that doesn’t show in stats is the “it’s Kobe against the world” style of play. While this attitude is likely largely responsible for him being where he is today, it has also worked to his and his team’s detriment. Kobe may be the best player in the NBA even though the stats don’t support it because he simply takes harder shots. Especially in his early career he looked for his shot before his teammates and was always convinced he could make it. This has lowered his shooting % as well as giving teams opportunities on defense. The double team (and at times triple team) was and many times still is effective against Kobe so turnovers by him and offensive rebounds against him are more common.

  202. Yusuf,

    I agree with that.

  203. 197

    No way does Rudy Gay deserve to make it. He takes too many games off. If you’re going to pick someone from a bad team it should be Al Jefferson.

    Assuming the starters are Kobe, T-Mac (what a waste of a spot, thanks China), Duncan, Melo, and Yao, the reserves should be:


    Hopefully T-Mac will do the honourable thing and create an imaginary injury to concede his spot.

  204. @nomuskles, I’m Chinese too, and I understand what you’re saying, but it’s more right in the middle between yuu-eh and yuu-uh. Still, hearing English pronunciations of Asian words never sounds right, and Marv’s sounded really weird because he forced it so much.

    Couple of notes to reflect on:

    1.) best defense from Kobe all year. He followed the book that we’ve all preached, where you give James the jump shot and deny him penetration. That and taking him out of his comfort zone with excellent ball denial allowed the Lakers to really disrupt the Cav’s rhythm.

    2.) This was truly a team effort. Everyone on the Lakers pretty much played their best game of the season, with Pau hitting 11-13, Fisher making some big shots, Vlad and Sasha hitting 6 threes combined, Odom with 10 boards and 3 blocks, and Ariza being Ariza.

    3.) JJ Hickson is one of the best examples of the poor application of the +/- stat: His line is 11 points on 3-4 shooting, 5-5 from the line, 4 rebounds and 2 blocks all in 19 minutes, but his +/- is an abysmal -18.

    4.) Anybody else starting to cringe when Kobe shoots threes? He’s so reluctant to shoot them unless he’s completely open, that it’s almost a mini-miracle when they go in, unless it’s crunch-time with the game on the line and a hand in his face; then you know it’s going in.

  205. Ariza = Lebron stopper

    He wore down and frustrated the game’s second best player. Way to D up.

  206. Yeah.. Lebron still isn’t better than Kobe.
    We can talk about the stats all we want, but when you talk about what your “eye” tells you, that’s where you need to draw the line.
    Kobe is exhibiting such control of the game that we’re really taking his ability for granted.
    Yes, he’s averaging “only” 27 ppg, but what’s impressive about that is that we’re seeing him get everyone involved in the first half and controlling the tempo of the game like an elite point guard.
    And defensively.. I can’t even believe this is a discussion. It’s not even close.
    Lebron is an incredible player, but he hasn’t surpassed Kobe. He hasn’t mastered the game like Kobe has, and when push comes to shove, you go to war with #24 as your assassin..

  207. Regarding LeBron’s defense, let’s not take one game as an example. He has been a lot better this year, very good in fact. Did he struggle to contain a focused Kobe? Yes. Now, name one defender who really can?

    Kobe was the better player last night, and more importantly his team was better. Much better. But it was still one night in January. I feel better about this team right now than I did four games ago, but we have a long way to go. A Long way.

  208. Agreed, Kurt.

    The Lakers won a game against a team which is missing two of its starters. I appreciated the Lakers’ efforts but do not take the results as a definite indication of what would happen in June if we met the Cavs in the Finals. Just as I don’t have any special worry about the Spurs or the Magic since they beat us. The most important thing I took from the game: the Lakers have the ability, maybe more so than any other team, to raise the level of their play in key situations or games.

  209. The Lakers are showing they are willing to be the aggressors.

    So far, good defense on LBJ seems to be packing it in, then swiping at the ball when he gets to the lane. Chicago had success with this when they beat Cleveland last week.

  210. wondahbap,
    Clogging the lane against Lebron is definitely the blueprint. It’s the same strategy that the Spurs used in the Finals and it led to a sweep. However, it’s a different game if the rest of Cavs start to make jumpers as helping on James then becomes a pick your poison proposition with both choices being deadly. Last night the Cavs really missed Big Z and West. They are two additional spacers that give Lebron the room he needs to drive or guys that will hit the jumper if he hits them with space to shoot. Last night Pavlovic and Varejao were good, but imagine if West gets some of Mo Williams minutes and Z is in there instead of Lorenzen Wright or Ben Wallace. Last night, all those guys had sub par efforts and that’s where the Cavs were hurt. Anyways, it was a good game and I’m very happy we won. We showed that (again) we can pull away from very good teams by playing strong defense and by making shots inside and out. But, I’ve said this before, we don’t need wins like this to uncover what we already know: we are a pretty good team.

  211. Darius,

    You’re right about that. That’s what makes LBJ so good, because it’s just so natural to gravitate towards him, and other players get so many open looks.

    Big Z makes it a different game, because you can let him have wide open looks , so he draws a big out.

  212. wondahbap,
    Plus Big Z is a Pick and Pop guy and those are the guys that have given us the most trouble in P&R situations. So, just off that one play alone, you know that the Cavs were missing a crucial part of their offensive arsenal. Not to mention that Z is also a tremendous offensive rebounder and we have had a difficult time this season dominating our defensive glass. I’m not trying make a bunch of excuses for Cleveland, but when we’ve had some key players out, we know it impacts us negatively. So we must also give the Cavs that same consideration.

  213. PeanutButterSpread January 20, 2009 at 12:04 pm

    In my eyes, Kobe is still the best player on the planet. He’s still clutch when it matters and while he isn’t physically blessed like Lebron is, Kobe’s jumpshooting will always be better than Lebron’s. There isn’t a player out there that has more practiced moves than Kobe.

    I think the best case was in the Olympics, when Kobe’s sheer experience and skill level carried Team USA in the final minutes when Spain was closing in.

    Lebron is a phenomenal athlete, but Kobe’s still got the overall package of an elite basketball player.

  214. How do you measure “clutch”? I believe that Kobe has an unmeasurable presence at the end of the games. It isn’t always FG% when it counts or last second shots. Its motivating teammates, help defense, or getting in someones head defensively. Kobe is a winner, and winners make other ordinary players, extra ordinary when it counts. I think LBJ has these qualities, but doesn’t yet have them at Kobe’s level. Clutch isn’t measurable, you just know it when you see it.

  215. Read it a little late, but what a great post. I’m specifically talking about the Kobe vs. Lebron section. I can’t really remember anyone putting the comparison in words like that and I enjoyed it thoroughly. I think you’re absolutely right–Lebron is just such a force of nature that he really has no ceiling. I do not dislike Lebron and enjoy watching what he does on the court. But, to me, he will never capture my interest like Kobe. The way he plays the game night-in and night-out is something I don’t think we’ll see again. Maybe I guess. His ability to create offense is just unmatched. Granted, if I was 6-9 250 I’d get to the paint as much as I could…but the fan in me loves to watch Kobe go to work…to get in that “Kobe zone” that we’ve seen him in so many times before. It’s been a rollarcoaster of a ride thus far and I can’t see what comes next.

  216. Interestingly when ever two elite players go head to head in any sport, the discussion of supporting cast comes to the front line. This thinking process came play this past Monday in the NBA, when the Los Angeles Lakers faced the Cleavland Cavaliers. The obvious two stars coming into battle in this game were Kobe Bryant and Lebron James. As the game prgressed the supporting cast behind Lebron James and Kobe Bryant became more evident. In this matchup between the two superstars, it appeared that Kobe the better supporting cast, among the two. This may have been due to reasoning that the supporting cast behind kibe were making more of their shots, or were playing better defensively during the game, and the supporting cast behind Lebron was doing the opposite. When asked who has the better supporting cast behind them, the award goes to Lebron James. Although Kobe’s supporting cast performed better in this direct match up between the two, Lebron has the better supporting cast when both teams are fully healthy. The Lakers have solid backcourt with regards to depth, but when you look into their front court, you see gaps of discrepancy, where you have great depth at the SF, and somewhat at the PF, but almost no depth at the C position other than maybe Chris Mihm, who maybe will contribute numbers, to earn him his paycheck. Lebron supporting cast does not look as deep or as good as Kobe supporting cast on paper, but for the system that the Cavaliers run it is very adequate. Lebron has players around him which can make shots when passed the passed the ball, which is usually the situation, when Lebron drvies to bucket, and dishes it to an open teammate as he is doubled or even triple teamed. Supporting cast is not only about depth, but also consistency, and this year thus far, has demonstrated that the supporting cast has been that. In closing, with the idea that Lebron James has the better supporting cast between him and Kobe, it gives even further reason to elevate Kobe Bryant above Lebron James in the category of importance to his team, and overall ability and skill. I look forward to the next match up between the two, when the next game takes place in Cleveland on February 8th.

  217. This game was a microcosm of the KB24 vs LBJ debate.

    First Kobe had a better all-around game.
    While Kobe scored less he shot a higher FG%, although neither shot great.

    Kobe had way more assist 12-4
    LBJ had a few more rebounds 9-6
    Both had 1 block, LBJ had more steals 4-1 but also more TOs 6-5

    Bottom line both these players are amazing and quite close.
    But the edge has to go to Kobe.

    He guarded LBJ all game and played amazing D, forcing LBJ to shoot outside shots (which he is very weak at)

    Kobe IS A BETTER DEFENDER!! Even though LBJ had more steals, Kobe showed he was the better defender, so who ever ranked LBJ as #4 for defensive player of the year GET REAL. Kobe has been and does deserve to be again 1st team all defensive.
    Kobe is a far better ON THE BALL defender, while LBJ is slightly better as a team defender.

    The main thing, besides shooting and defense, that makes KB24 better right now, is his mental toughness.
    Only MJ had the tenacity that Kobe shows, that is why they won the game.
    Watch the 4th Q if you do not believe me.

    Kobe’s tenacity, playing even hurt, and rebounding by the bigs.

    I did not hear or see any of the sports announcers say anything about Kobe denying LBJ the ball, that was huge to the game and the W, give credit where credit is due people!

    Granted it was only one game, but it shows Kobe is still the BEST PLAYER IN THE NBA!! Yes Lebron’s PER is off the charts, but numbers are not everything, that is why The BIg O is not the greatest of all time.
    Kobe is playing amazing ball, he has answered every challenge: selfish, good teammate, pass more, whatever.

  218. Lebron says he look up to Kobe that should end the debate of who Is better Lebron thinks Kobe is the best player In the NBA

  219. one word: WOW

    you are a truly great writer and i TOTALLy 100% agree with you.
    i have always defended kobe but still kept it realistic — i just couldn’t put it into words what i observed — you just did.

    the lebron kobe debate always struck a nerve with me — i had to admit that lebron was a better overall player but that he just didn’t have “it”

    it here is some factor that only jordan and kobe and maybe jerry west and larry bird has ever had in my opinion

    ayways — man great article — much better than anything on espn — that is saying a lot too as i go on espn pretty much every 2 hours

    keep up the good work