Hugging It Out (and Other NBA Happenings)
* It was a classy move by Shaquille O'Neal to seek out and embrace Kobe Bryant before they faced off Monday night in LA. Most observers would not blame Shaq if he never spoke to Kobe again, but Shaq took the first step towards burying the proverbial hatchet. While he has not been above not-so-subtle digs at Kobe in the past, I have to give Shaq credit here. Now, on to the game...
* Kobe Bean Bryant is the best player in the NBA and everyone knows it, although not all freely admit it. He played a beautiful game (37 points on 13-24 shooting) Monday night while leading the Lakers to victory over the Miami Heat. In fact, the entire Laker team put forth a great effort and held on to get the win. The Lakers had to be pleased with the attitude that the young Andrew Bynum showed in the second quarter. The rookie center got dunked on by Shaquille O’Neal and as he lay on the ground afterword, I honestly felt sorry for him. I half-expected Shaq to teabag him. The last thing I thought would happen was for him to get up, post up Shaq, shake him, and throw down a dunk of his own, which of course he did. Lamar Odom posted a near triple double and Devean George chipped in 17 points. This game was a huge victory for the Lakers; Phil Jackson is worth every penny. The Kobe Haters have been silenced (or at least reduced to making tired and worn-out Colorado and 4 million dollar ring jokes), if only for a day.
* Steve Francis was re-instated by the Magic on Monday from a suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. While Stevie “Now Poisoning My Third” Franchise and his agent hope to stay in Orlando, the team would be wise to trade him, as well as Grant Hill, sooner rather than later. Fortunately, the team was smart enough to learn from the Pacers’ mistake with Ron Artest and will let Francis play; thereby keeping the team’s perceived options and Francis’ value high. Dwight Howard is truly the Franchise now, and while I know Francis has a world of talent and hops to spare, he has demonstrated time and again that he is not a winner. Since the Magic are already playing for next year, I wonder if a deal for the injured Nene Hilario and a first round draft pick would work. The Nuggets are desperate for a shooting guard and would be thrilled to add one with All Star talent. Nene is a restricted free agent in the summer, but the Magic could match any offer and he would fit in perfectly alongside Howard.
* Congratulations to the New Orleans/ Oklahoma City Hornets and coach Byron Scott who beat Charlotte on MLK Day for their 18th win. The win total matches their number for the entire 2004-2005 season. Byron Scott is a fantastic NBA coach who should never have been run out of New Jersey. He has helped David West take a major step forward, and uses a three guard set much of the time to take advantage of PGs Chris Paul (obvious ROY…Atlanta what were you thinking???) and Speedy Claxton. It seems as though Hurricane Katrina had the opposite effect on the Hornets and Saints. Of course, it doesn't hurt that Oklahoma City has shown the Hornets some serious love.
* Rasheed Wallace has proved me wrong this year. I believed his play would begin to slide and his contract would be an albatross within 2 or 3 years. He is still capable of being a game changer on both sides of the floor, something I honestly didn’t think he cared enough to do anymore. He is definitely more comfortable NOT being the man on his team, unlike he was in Portland. Rasheed was so stressed out as the franchise player in the Rose City, he was flipping out on refs and hitting more blunts than three pointers. Now, the Palace crowd absolutely loves him and the pressure to lead his team in scoring is gone. By the way, is anyone else sick of Mason yet???