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Lakers 108, Clippers 95: Mount Kobemanjaro Erupts

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Sorry, Jason Whitlock. Your prediction that Kobe Bryant's MVP performance in the All-Star Game would be his "last stand," which was laughable the second you made it, is looking worse by the day. He showed again tonight, though few really doubted it, that he can still call down the thunder in classic Mamba style. After leaving the game with a sore right arm late in the second quarter, he returned to action in the third and set fire to the Clippers with 18 points in the period, turning a close game into a one-sided pummeling. In just 27 minutes he finished with 24 points and five assists, sitting the entire fourth quarter as the Lakers handled the Clippers rather easily, 108 to 95, for their third straight W since the All-Star break. We should all be so washed up.

The Clips didn't have a full contingent of guys for this one. Baron Davis has yet to undergo his trade physical, so Mo Williams wasn't available to play. Their leading scorer Eric Gordon also sat out with a wrist injury. Thus Vinny Del Negro had to deploy a backcourt of Eric Bledsoe, Randy Foye and Rasual Butler and hope for the best. It didn't work out well. Foye hit four three-pointers in the first quarter to keep it close. But as offensive formulas go, that one's not terribly sustainable, and in the second and third periods the Clips' offense lost its way. With Blake Griffin struggling to get points inside over Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum and the Laker offense in sharp form, there were no buttons left for Vinny to push. His overmatched squad looked.... overmatched.

At the outset it was Gasol, not Kobe, asserting himself in the Laker attack. He had his outside jumper falling early, and when the Clips adjusted by crowding him on the perimeter, he used a series of nice hesitation dribble-drives to get to the line. Pau scored 12 points in the first quarter and 22 for the contest on only 12 shots (including free-throw possessions). The entirety of his floor game earns top marks tonight. His four assists weren't cheapies - for stretches Pau functioned as the hub of the attack, making deft passes both inside to guys flashing to the rim and outside to open shooters - and he, Drew and Lamar Odom defended the rim stoutly. Griffin scored 22 points but hoisted 22 shots, many in the 18-to-22 foot range. The Lakers' length and help D forced him away from the hoop and generally disrupted what few inside looks he got. As a team the Clippers made only 37% of their two-point shots.

With about three minutes left in the first half, Kobe was closely guarding Foye on the perimeter when Foye pulled the same "swing through," whistle-baiting move that Kobe himself uses quite a bit. While lifting his arms to shoot, Foye whacked Kobe on his right funny bone. Bryant asked out of the game and went to the locker room before half to get treatment. At first when he returned, it seemed like the arm was going to be a problem. He was kind of just letting it hang at his side while dribbling with his left, not all that successfully

No worries, as it turns out. Kobe hit a long two, then a three, then threw up one of his only missed field goals of the period. As the Staples crowd awakened to the coming cloudburst, he buried his next shots to blast the game open. It was a fantastic display, made all the better because it wasn't four guys standing around while Kobe iso'd on the other side of the court. Six of his eight made FGs in the quarter were assisted, and for good measure he dished out a pair of assists in the period as well. When the buzzer finally sounded on the third, a two-point halftime lead had become a comfortable 18-point bulge.

On the night the Lake Show reeled off 1.21 points per possession, their third straight excellent offensive performance. Since the break they've averaged over 1.16 points per trip. It was also their third straight game of unusually hot three-point shooting. As a team they made 8 of 16 from long distance, led by Odom and Steve Blake, who combined to make four of their five attempts. Really, the only criticisms I have tonight relate to the misguided shot selection of Shannon Brown and the misguided everything of Luke Walton.

Phil Jackson had the luxury of resting his starters in the fourth, which is awesome because they have a busy weekend ahead. A flight to Oklahoma City awaits, followed by an early Sunday tilt with the reconstituted Thunder. I've not heard anything definitive about whether Kendrick Perkins will play, but it sort of sounds like no, he won't. Even if he's out, that's going to be a hell of a tough game. As for Kobe's arm, he says it "hurts like a motherfucker."

Just like Clippers fans after what he did to them tonight.











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