Archives For October 2010

Fast Break Thoughts

Darius Soriano —  October 28, 2010

Houston Rockets Yao Ming of China (L) goes up to shoot past Los Angeles Lakers Pau Gasol of Spain during the second half of their NBA game in Los Angeles, California, October 26, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

A couple of off days in a row for the Lakers allow me to look around the league and truly take in the entire association.   And with the NBA finally back, a few musings from one happy basketball fan…

*The first few days have provided some fantastic performances with some eye popping numbers from players around the league.  Monta Ellis scored 46 points on 24 shots in his 40 minutes of game action to help dispatch the Rockets, essentially carrying over his hot shooting from his last preseason game against the Lakers.  Meanwhile, the ageless Jason Kidd tallied 18 assists with only 1(!) turnover to go along with his 12 points to lead the Mavs in their opening night win.  Joakim Noah, a player I’ve been high on for some time, had a monster opening night outing – albeit in a losing effort – by scoring 18 points and grabbing 19 rebounds (7 offensive) to go along with 2 each of assists, steals, and blocks.  And then Chris Paul had 17 points and 16 assists (only 1 turnover) in his return to action after an injury plagued 2010 campaign.

*But it wasn’t just the veterans that have been playing well to start the season.  DeMarcus Cousins opened his NBA career with 14 and 8.  Wesley Johnson shot well in his debut.  Derek Favors played well last night too, and tonight we get to see John Wall try to fullfill his promise as an elite PG.  But, I can’t talk about rookies without mentioning the guy that resides in the other locker-room in Staples.  BLAKE GRIFFIN!!!  Sorry, got a little excited there, but even though it’s only one game, I don’t see how basketball fans couldn’t be excited about this kid.  His all-around skill set is stronger than many remembered from his college days and his athleticism is beyond anyone we’ve seen since a pre-injury Amar’e or a young Shawn Kemp.  As for the Laker rooks, Ebanks and Caracter haven’t had the types of starts that really deserve mention, but I think that will change soon enough.  With match ups against the Suns and Warriors in the next couple of games, both players should be in the mix for minutes as Ebanks can match up against the many wings that both Pacific Division foes will dispatch and Caracter’s post game can be one ingredient to pound undersized teams when one (or both) of Pau and Odom are on the bench. 

*The Heat are going to be a big story all year.  The stars they have and the media machine ensure that.  So far they’re 1-1 with a win over Philly last night and a loss to Boston in their season opener.  Many have jumped to conclusions about the loss to Boston, but I’m not one of them.  The Heat undoubtedly have enormous talent.  But talent takes time to mold and jell.  Wade’s injury during the preseason didn’t help matters, but to think that this team – a team with only a handful of players returning from last year – would have a strong chemistry or could put it together on the fly were ignoring what the past has taught us about team building.  I don’t care how talented players are, it takes time to come together.  It’s one thing if you’re adding one great player (like the Lakers did with Gasol three seasons ago), but the Heat have added James and Bosh to a team with Wade and working that out will take time.  This is why I thought reaching 70 wins was nearly impossible for this team. (That, and travel concerns.  As Phil has said many times before, teams traveling from the coasts have a rougher road when trying to win that many games.  And Phil would know such things.  Since, you know, he’s the last guy to actually accomplish the feat.)  Ultimately the Heat will find their way…they’ll have to find it amidst a shower of boos and every team’s best effort each night, but they’ll find it.

*We all saw the Lakers championship rings.  They are magnificent and gaudy all at the same time.  People like us could never dream of actually having one.  Except, you know, Ron Artest is raffling his off so now we all have a chance to own one.  If you want to participate in the raffle, you can go here or here for the info..  Also, I agree with commenter busterjonez (who is on his way to buy tickets as I write this) when he said, “If I win, I am going to give the ring back to RonRon. I don’t care if he raffles it off again, but he earned that thing.”  Hear, hear. 

*We’ll have more on the Lakers tomorrow, what with them facing off against the Suns, but I really can’t get enough of the action that’s going on all over the league.  Which reminds me, if you want to catch all the NBA games, NBA League Pass is free through next Tuesday.

Around the World (Wide Web)

Jeff Skibiski —  October 28, 2010

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From Mike Bresnahan, L.A. Times: It’s only one game into the season, and the Lakers have an easy schedule until late December, but Bryant’s progress will continue to be monitored until he shows signs of regaining the burst and lift he possessed before his right knee started hurting toward the end of last season. He said he was fine after playing 37 minutes against Houston. “I felt good,” said Bryant, who had seven assists.

From J.A. Adande, Give me The Blake Show over The Lake Show. With Blake Griffin finally on the court the Clippers are the most interesting team in Los Angeles right now. Not the best, not the one with the most potential, just the most intriguing during the interminable regular season. The Lakers’ story will be told in the spring. Kobe Bryant already sounds bored by the tedious process. If you saw a graphic equalizer for his media interviews over the past week it would look like this: —————-. The Clippers, thanks to Griffin, figure to be a nightly discovery throughout the winter. And if the coming months are anything like his coming out party Wednesday night, you’d better get ready to pop every last kernel of Terrell Owens’ popcorn.

From Mark Medina, L.A. Times: Ron Artest’s website apparently drew so many visitors looking to buy raffle tickets for his 2010 championship ring that it crashed. “We understand we’ve nearly crashed,” CNN host Larry King said to Artest, who appeared Wednesday on King’s show. “So we’re going to give you an alternate site. You can go to That’s So we’ve crashed your site. … We have destroyed your site. The site is exploding.”

From Andy Kamenetzky, ESPN Los Angeles: Blake told Brian and me during our Media Day show he wasn’t pulling a Ron Artest and placing the blame over a failure to Three-peat on his shoulders. As he noted, championships are won and lost by teams, not individuals. That doesn’t mean, however, there was not relief in immediately demonstrating his worth to a demanding fan base right off the bat. “It’s just nice to start off and show people you belong. I’m happy to be here and I want to contribute,” acknowledged the Maryland University product.

From C.A. Clark, Silver Screen and Roll: As history tells us, revolutions hardly every occur peacefully, and this one is no different. There may not be any bloodshed, but there are plenty of battles being waged over the usefulness of advanced stats. One such battle has come to the fore, perhaps almost by accident: the question of whether the Los Angeles Lakers or the Miami Heat will win the NBA championship. Miami is the paper tiger (it is as yet unknown whether they are also a real tiger), a team made up of such overwhelming statistical parts that their power cannot be ignored by the statistically inclined. Statistical models aren’t as fond of the Lakers.They view the Lakers as a good team, to be sure, but they focus on certain things about the Lakers (their age, their somewhat underwhelming point differential last year) as evidence that they might not be championship-quality this season. But, the Lakers have two straight championships backing up their case, and a team chock full of all the qualities that stats non-believers will point to as not showing up in a box score.

First Impressions

Darius Soriano —  October 27, 2010
Los Angeles Lakers Kobe Bryant (L) celebrates during their win against the Houston Rockets during the second half of their NBA game in Los Angeles, California October 26, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

With Kobe on the bench, the Lakers' reserves really stepped up.

It’s said that you never get a second chance to make a first impression.  It seems that the Lakers bench took that saying to heart as they showed up big in their first regular season game.  By turning the tide in the third quarter and then riding that wave of energy and emotion to take the lead in the final frame, the bench showed that they’re up to the task that they’ll face countless times in this marathon of an NBA regular season.

But, even though there are mostly all positive take aways from the game, there were some things that I saw last night that I’ll be looking out for when the bench gets their burn in the upcoming games.  Not negative things, mind you, just some things that could be tweaked; things that as the season progresses could be improved upon.  The first thing that I’ll be watching for is Steve Blake striking the needed balance between floor general and offensive threat.

Last night, Steve Blake was one of the heroes.  His two three pointers at the end of the third period cut a double digit Houston lead to a manageable five points and gave the Lakers momentum heading into the fourth quarter.  He then closed the contest with another made three and a defensive stop that clinched the game.  Down the stretch, Blake was fantastic and without his efforts the Lakers surely would have started out the season with a loss. 

However, earlier in the game, I thought Blake was a bit too passive.  I understand that one of his biggest strengths – and a trait that is a welcome sight after seeing some of the erratic play of his predecessor that now plays in the swamps of Jersey –  is how poised, seasoned, and natural a point guard Blake is.  During the preseason, I consistently praised Blake for his dedication to running the Lakers sets; for his ability to organize the team in a manner that produced success on offense.  And last night, true to form, Blake again showed his patience and poise by consistently moving the ball on to a teammate in hopes of sparking the Lakers’ struggling offense.  But, that dedication to make the extra pass came at the cost of Blake’s own ability to impact the game by scoring the ball.  On several occasions, he made the fundamental play to move the ball on but in some of those instances he just as easily could have taken the shot because he was just as open as the man that he was passing the ball to. 

Believe me, no one enjoys seeing the Triangle run well more than me.  But there are times where Blake will need to shoot the ball – even when he’s not as open – in order to find the right balance.  This may be somewhat against his nature, but he’s too good a shooter to continue to pass if he’s just as open (or even moreso) than the players he’s moving the ball to.  A perfect example of when he broke out of his passing mindset was on his second three pointer at the end of the 3rd quarter.  On that play, Blake received a pass in the corner and Matt Barnes approached to set a screen for him.  At the instant the screener arrived, Blake’s man shifted his defensive stance to guard against the pick and gave Blake that wee bit of daylight needed to get his shot off.  Blake fired away, made the shot, and cut the deficit to 5.  Earlier in the game, Blake would have accepted the screen and played out the action that’s (surely) been drilled countless times in practice.  And while that would have been completely acceptable, it likely wouldn’t have yielded the same results.

In a way, I’d like to see Blake be just a bit more like Fisher.  I know that one of the major complaints that many have had with Derek is his almost over-willingness to take shots.  As one of the lower efficiency players on the team the past few seasons, Fisher’s propensity to fire up a shot early in the clock or when only slightly open can be frustrating at times.  But, that same willingness to step up and take the shot is what allows Fisher to be a functional player in the offense (regardless of whether the shot goes in or not).  Fisher deploys himself as a threat in the Triangle by shooting when the opportunity is there.  This is a lesson learned at the footstool of Tex Winter and Phil Jackson; the lesson saying that penetration can come off the dribble, the pass, or a shot.  Blake doesn’t have the benefit of being tutored by Tex, but he does have Jackson, Fisher, and Kobe in his ear and over time he’ll learn these same lessons.   

And I do expect Blake to learn and grow within the offense.  The second half last night showed what Blake is capable of within the offense.  When Kobe drove off that P&R and whipped the pass that led to Blake’s virtual game winner, we saw the trust that already exists between Kobe and his new teammate.  In the coming weeks, I’ll be looking for this trust to expand beyond what Blake’s teammates show in him, but in the trust that he shows in himself.  And, I do think that time will come soon with the result being a better balance of when to be passer and when his shooting/scoring is needed.  He’s too smart a player for it not to.

Los Angeles Lakers players watch their NBA Championship banner being lowered before their NBA season-opening game against the Houston Rockets in Los Angeles, California October 26, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

From Dexter Fishmore, Silver Screen and Roll: It’s not easy to do your best work when you’re emotionally wrought. In most endeavors, sound execution depends on a clear head, steady nerves and just generally having your wits about you. Giddiness and elation can be the enemies of a job well done. As we saw tonight at Staples Center, such are the hazards of having to play a basketball game immediately following a goosebump-worthy ring ceremony. The evening began in stirring fashion, as the Lakers were awarded their mammoth new championship rings by David Stern and a new banner was unveiled in the arena rafters. It was a cool presentation. Each of the players said some kind words about one of their teammates, and Phil Jackson took a moment to salute the dearly departed Josh Powell, Adam Morrison and D.J. Mbenga. (Even the Laker massage therapist got a ring.) A nicer person than I would observe that it’s something fans of every team should get to experience once in their lifetimes. Me, I just want the Lakers to keep repeating it year after year until I’m dead.

From Brian Kamenetzky, Land O’ Lakers: Thanks, new guys! With just over three minutes left in the third, the Lakers found themselves in a bit of a pickle. Lamar Odom and Gasol were both on the bench with four fouls, and Ron Artest was soon to join them. They hadn’t scored for nearly four minutes until Steve Blake hit two clutch 3s at the end of the quarter keep the Lakers in it. In the fourth, Matt Barnes energized the crowd with some aggressive play, penetrating and breaking down Houston’s defense, opening up the floor for a Gasol putback. With 9:30 to play, Barnes snagged an Odom miss, then his own after an errant putback. Eventually he worked his way to the line, hitting the free throws that tied the game at 86. Oh, and there was the matter of that game-winner from Blake with 18.8 seconds left, as Bryant penetrated and found the newbie wide open on the right wing. Whether he was actually attempting to pass to Blake or Gasol is an open question, but either way… splash. Then he stuck with Aaron Brooks — he’s fast! — on Houston’s final play, disrupting the shot and sealing the win. They say first impressions are the most important, right? We spent most of last season and into this offseason pumping the virtues of bringing Blake to Los Angeles. Way to make us look smart, Steve!

From Jill Painter, LA Daily News: The Lakers hadn’t even held court for Tuesday’s championship ring ceremony or tipped off their season against the Houston Rockets when they received a bit of good news: The Miami Heat lost their season opener. The Big Three started with a big dud. Meanwhile, the champion Lakers, who sported smiles and tears with their new bling presented before the game, did what championship teams do. They won. The Lakers trailed by 15 points in the first half, but they played solid defense in the second half and used Shannon Brown’s hot shooting touch – 14 points in the fourth quarter – to edge Houston, 112-102. Brown, who usually has fans on their feet with his thunderous dunks, got a standing ovation for making five of six shots during that span and all four of his 3-point attempts. Kobe Bryant buried him in a hug during a timeout.

From ESPN Stats and Information: After trailing 62-51 at halftime, the Lakers kicked it up a notch in the second half to pull out a 112-110 win over the Rockets on Tuesday. It was the Lakers’ third straight season-opening win and their eighth win in their last nine games vs Houston. The Rockets have defeated L.A. just twice since their win over the Lakers on opening night of the 2007-08 season. The Lakers are now 41-22 all-time in season openers, and 14-4 when opening the regular season at home since moving from Minneapolis to Los Angeles. Tuesday’s win leaves Phil Jackson one win away from joining Don Nelson, Lenny Wilkens, Pat Riley and Jerry Sloan as the only NBA coaches with at least 1,100 wins.

From J.A. Adande, ESPN: That other team, you know, the two-time champions, started the season as well, Tuesday night, with a low-key ring ceremony consisting of one teammate introducing the next, followed by a victory produced by some low-wattage players. The first step of the Lakers’ title defense, a 112-110 victory over the Rockets, belonged in part to Steve Blake, one of the less spectacular (albeit fully logical) signings of the summer. Blake hit back-to-back 3-pointers that pulled the Lakers from 11 points down to within five in the final minute of the third quarter. Then Blake delivered the two biggest moments of the game, hitting a go-ahead 3-pointer with 18 seconds remaining and deterring Aaron Brooks’ game-tying reverse layup attempt on the final play.

From Rahat Huq, Red94: For as much reason as there was to be excited after the first half, there was cause for the same frustration as the game dwindled.  The Rockets came out scorching last night in their season opener, determined to spoil the Lakers’ parade.  The team moved the ball quickly off the boards, imposing a frantic pace, and putting the champs on their heels and out of their comfort zone.  Guards Kevin Martin and Aaron Brooks (of Everybody Hates Chris fame) looked intent on thrusting themselves into the debate as league’s best offensive backcourt, unconsciously netting almost 20 apiece in the first two frames, and second year man Chase Budinger chipped in with his usual share of highlights, looking as smooth as ever.  Houston took a double digit lead into the break and all was well in our world until, as it has far too often during the Yao Ming era, everything completely fell apart.

From Mike Trudell, Basket Blog: The last time L.A. took the STAPLES Center floor in a game that counted, they came back from a 13-point second half deficit to beat the Boston Celtics and secure the franchise’s 16th NBA title. Fast forward to Ring Night on Tuesday in a game that meant next to nothing in comparison yet retained some tangible energy, as the Lakers fell behind by as many as 15 points in the second half before rallying to secure a 112-110 victory over the Houston Rockets. Pau Gasol led all scorers with 29 points and 11 rebounds and Kobe Bryant added 27 points and seven assists, while reserves Steve Blake and Shannon Brown erupted to nail a combined 7-of-7 combined three-pointers in the second half to turn the game on its head.

From Mike Truddell, Basket Blog: Eighteen years ago, two 12-year-old kids from Queens, New York, met for the first time, paired on the same basketball team due to their already-advanced talents. Back then, Lamar Odom and Ron Artest could only dream to one day, somehow, be standing side by side as NBA Champions. But that, of course, is exactly what happened on Tuesday evening at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles. Among the most poignant moments during a pregame ring ceremony in which each of the nine returning Lakers from the 2010 championship team took turns introducing one another was when Odom gave Artest his ring.

From Johnny Luddenn, Yahoo! Sports: Be ready, Kobe Bryant old Steve Blake. His championship coronation nearly doused in defeat, Bryant walked out of the huddle late Tuesday and welcomed his new teammate to the Los Angeles Lakers with a simple, two-word order. A couple minutes later, Bryant rifled a pass behind him and into the waiting hands of Blake, positioned perfectly a step behind the 3-point line. Blake elevated and coolly buried the shot. With less than 19 seconds left, it was the difference in the Lakers’ 112-110 victory over the Houston Rockets. On a night he toasted his fifth championship and began his hunt for a sixth, Kobe put his fortune in the hands of a teammate with whom he’d never played a meaningful game. This was no ordinary assist, and Blake knew it. “It was big of him,” Blake said, smiling, “to trust someone new on the court.”

From Kenny Masenda, Ed The Sports Fan: With the season starting up again, a majority of the folks I know cannot be more excited to see what’s in store. Some are waiting to see the new-look Heat, while others are eagerly anticipating the Lakers’ quest for a fourth consecutive NBA Finals appearance and a three-peat. There are some people who want to see if the grumpy old men in Boston can get back to the Finals, and others want to see if Orlando has something to say about them getting there. There are others who are excited to see how the Thunder will do, how the Mavs will look, if the Clippers can make a run for the post-season, if John Wall can bring some excitement to Chocolate City, and even more.

Los Angeles Lakers Ron Artest (L) and Pau Gasol of Spain compare the NBA Championship rings they received before their NBA season-opening game against the Houston Rockets in Los Angeles, California, October 26, 2010. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson (UNITED STATES - Tags: SPORT BASKETBALL)

On the night the Lakers raised banner #16 and received their championship rings they also scrapped out a hard fought victory over the Houston Rockets, winning 112-110 to kick of the season in style.  An emotional night that started with each player introducing the next in the ring presentation ceremony ended with those same players rejoicing in victory and celebrating a win.

But, for most of the night, it didn’t look like the Lakers would get this game.  Starting 1-0 just didn’t seem possible.  And considering the gravity of the night and the high that the players were on from reveling in last season’s accomplishment, I don’t blame them.

For most of the night, the Lakers just couldn’t keep up with the rejuvenated Rockets.  With Yao Ming back in the fold anchoring the paint, noted Laker damager Aaron Brooks zipping his way around the court, and a finally healthy Kevin Martin flashing his high efficiency offensive game, the Lakers looked toast.  The Rockets were controlling the paint on defense, pushing the ball down the Lakers’ throat on offense, and nailing jumpers that struck like stakes in the hearts of a silenced Staples Center crowd.  Even in the Rockets’ half court sets, the Lakers looked a step slow and mentally out of it as they were repeatedly beat by the brilliant back cuts of Rick Adelman’s Princeton Offense.

But despite the Rockets controlling the game and consistently keeping the Lakers at arms length, the boys in the home gold jerseys hung tight.  Whenever Houston looked like they might pull away for good, the Lakers would make a slight push and keep the deficit hovering at 11 points.  Mostly on the back of Pau Gasol’s grind it out offensive game (11-23 from the field for 29 points) and Kobe’s playmaking skill (7 assists, 1 turnover), the Lakers showed just enough fight to ensure that the Rockets couldn’t go away and hide and turn the game into the one sided affair that we all witnessed in the matinee match up between the new look Heat and still hungry Celtics.  Both Pau and Kobe showed their poise and grit as they battled through nights of inconsistency to still put up the numbers that have made them multiple time all-stars and back to back champions.

But, despite those numbers, they were really the role players tonight.  Because even though those guys – the Lakers’ superstars – did their jobs, it was the bench players that really stepped up and performed big.  It was the reserves that hit the big shots and turned the deficit into a lead.  It was the back ups that generated the energy that would spark the crowd and generate the wave of emotion that the team would ride to victory.

Steve Blake, Matt Barnes, and Shannon Brown truly were the killer B’s from the Lakers bench.  Starting in the latter part of the third quarter, these guys started to turn the tide and tilt this game on its head.  Whether it was Blake hitting back to back threes, Barnes hitting the glass and filling the lane on the fast break, or Shannon side stepping defenders on his way to hoop and sinking jumpers when hanging around the perimeter, it all just worked for the Lakers 2nd unit.  The team may have trailed by 5 to start the 4th quarter, but by the clock showed 7:43 left in the game, the reserves turned that deficit into a 6 point lead by tightening up the defense, forcing turnovers and missed shots, and taking the ball the other way to punish the Rockets for their mistakes.  At one point, the three B’s scored 11 out of 15 points for the Lakers to create a lead that the Lakers would carry into the final minutes.  I really can’t say enough about these guys.  Shannon, especially, showed that he’s indeed ready for this season.  He showed a balance and consistency on his jumper that was missing last season and played a much more controlled game than he has at any point during his Laker career.  This falls in line with with what he showed in the preseason, but it was really good to see it carry over to the games that really count.

But despite this Herculean effort by the reserves, Houston was not going to quit on this game just because the Lakers showed their championship mettle.  The Rox battled every inch of the way and settled down in the closing minutes to really make this contest close.  As the two point final margin showed, Houston didn’t fold when the Lakers pushed their lead up to as many as 8 points.

In the last 5 minutes, fueled by the aforementioned back court combo of Brooks and Martin, the Rockets battled back to take a one point lead with 53 seconds left.  At that point, Pau Gasol grabbed a loose ball off a fumbled Kobe dribble and buried a 10 foot jumper to put the Lakers up by one.  On the next possession, Luis Scola executed a nice scoop to put the his team back up by 1.  The very next time down the court, with the Lakers trailing by that single digit, Steve Blake showed why so many fans are high on him as a player that could potentially unseat Derek Fisher as the PG that closes out games.  When driving left on a high P&R with Pau, Kobe zipped a pass to Blake and the newcomer calmly nailed a three pointer to put the Lakers up by two.  On the ensuing Rockets possession, Blake would once again play hero as he played good defense on the Rocket’s last gasp off an offensive play, contesting Aaron Brooks’ lay in attempt – altering it enough so Odom could come over and get the block that secured the win.

Just a great, great finish to a glorious night for the Lakers.  When things looked bleak, this team battled back and claimed a victory that they probably had no business taking.  And they take home some jewelry too.  The emotional high that we all thought would have peaked 10 minutes before tip off, actually got topped when the clock showed triple zeros.  What a night.

A couple of other notes on this game:

*Odom continued his strong play from the preseason in this first regular season game.  LO had 14 points and 10 rebounds and made several key plays in a 2nd quarter push that kept this game close.  He shot 7-10 from the field and played strong defense for most of the night.

*It’s a good thing that Odom played as well as he did because the players tasked with backing him up did not.  Theo Ratliff played 16 minutes and was a -4 on the night.  While he played decent defense and was reasonably active on the glass, he was non-existent on offense and didn’t look that comfortable navigating the low block.  This is mostly to be expected, but in the preseason, he did show a bit more life on that side of the ball and on evenings where LO (or Pau) is in foul trouble, we will need more.  Derrick Caracter also saw his first action of the season and looked a bit overwhelmed.  This is also to be expected as the rookie has likely never been in a game environment like the one he saw on Tuesday.  But, he did miss a bunny right at the hoop and in his two minutes had 1 foul and put up a -8 for his trouble.

*As bad as the Lakers defense was in the first half, they were equally as impressive in the second 24 minutes.  In the final two frames the Lakers got their hands into passing lanes and deflected passes, effectively double teamed Yao, and showed much better awareness on the variety of cuts that the Rockets employ in their half court sets.  I was impressed with the turnaround that the Lakers showed because based off their first half results, I didn’t think they had it in them.

*Kobe is not quite himself, but he’s still got that sense of the moment.  With the Rockets cutting the lead to 2 points with only 1:45 to play, Kobe drove hard to his right hand, took contact from Shane Battier, and finished a lay up plus the foul.  His three point play wouldn’t hold up to Houston’s late run, but that’s beside the point.  Kobe again proved that in tight moments he can summon the strength to make the play.  When he’s completely healthy and has the rhythm back to his game, he’s going to be the same Kobe that we’ve seen the past three seasons.