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Lakers 96, Mavericks 91: Bynum Roars Again, But Kobe Hurt

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Hell Week - four games in a span of seven days, all of them on the road, all against opponents ranging from "tough" to "elite" - is over. And agonizing as it was to see the Lakers drop a game in Miami they had within reach, it's hard to complain about how the week went as a whole. The Lakers tonight did away with the Dallas Mavericks, 96 to 91, to wrap a nice 3-1 ribbon around the road trip. Of their three victories this week, tonight's was the most important, as it pulls them within half a game of the Mavs and puts them in great position to finish with the second seed in the Western Conference.

Andrew Bynum continued his brilliant March surge with another high-impact performance. The young big man scored 22 points, collected 15 rebounds and anchored the Lakers' team defense, which held the Mavs to 1.05 points per possession. The champs also got fine work from Ron Artest, who was a force at both ends and helped ice the win with a critical offensive board and put-back in the final minute. And Steve Blake, of all people, came through with his best game in... damn, I don't know. A few months? In 27 minutes of playing time, Steve ran the offense with a steady hand, dished out five assists without committing a turnover, hit some big treys and chipped in some good defense as well.

Unfortunately, it's not all good news out of Dallas this evening. Late in the third quarter, Kobe Bryant came down on Shawn Marion at a bad angle and turned his ankle something fierce. He went to the locker room for treatment, returned to the floor and played down the stretch, but after the game Phil Jackson called it a "severe" ankle sprain and said that Kobe's status for Monday's game against Orlando is up in the air. Kobe told reporters that when the injury happened he was "scared shitless." He seriously feared that he'd broken it and that he'd be done for the season.

At this moment, there's not much point in speculating whether Kobe will miss any time. He likely doesn't know himself. Last season, he played through injuries repeatedly until he decided to shut it down and rest for nine games. At one point he suggested, on the afternoon of a game against the Golden State Warriors, that he'd return to action that night, only to sit out and then miss another game on top of it. The point being, these things often don't get decided until right before tip-off, so we'll just wait to see who's on the court come Monday night.

Even before he got hurt, this wasn't one of Kobe's better outings. The accuracy of his shot was off, and his shot selection was too speculative at times. He and Derek Fisher together made just 6 of 26 from the field. The bench, though, was nice. After a pretty forgettable effort in Miami, Blake, Lamar Odom, Matt Barnes and Shannon Brown put up 28 points, nine assists and 10 rebounds.

A main difference between tonight and the Lakers' loss to Dallas back in January was the play of the Mavs' backcourt. They torched the champs in the first meeting with some brilliant shooting, but in this one they couldn't find the touch. Jason Kidd, Jason Terry, Rodrique Beaubois, Jose Juan Barea and Corey Brewer combined to make 12 of their 37 attempts. Some of these were open looks that just didn't fall. Plenty, however, resulted from Laker defenders running them off the three-point line and into the Bynum-enforced no fly zone.

The only two guys Dallas got going were Dirk Nowitzki and Shawn Marion. Both were excellent. Despite constantly having to shoot over the long arms of a Laker big man, Dirk dropped in one high-arcing set shot after another en route to 25 points. Marion got 25 as well, doing much of his damage on the offensive glass. It was another poor effort by the Lakers on the defensive boards. The Mavs recovered 34% of their own misses and scored 16 second-chance points. That and some egregious free-throw shooting (10 misses in 27 attempts) almost cost the Lake Show the W.

The schedule now turns very much in the Lakers' favor. There are 15 games remaining and only four of them are on the road. Five of their 15 opponents will be playing on the second night of a back-to-back set. One of those five, in fact, will be the Mavs, who play the Lakers on March 31 after facing the Clippers the night before. Nine of the Mavs' remaining 16 games are on the road, so things are lining up pretty well for the Lakes to pass them in the standings. The champs are also just a game behind both Boston and Chicago out East.

So yeah, this road trip was definitely a success. A perfect 4-0 would've been great, but if ahead of time I would've offered you three wins, including a blowout of the Spurs and this key W over the Mavs, all y'all would've taken it. Without question, the MVP of the trip was Andrew Bynum. The kid is just playing some amazing ball, and it wouldn't surprise me if he ends up first-team All Defense, despite the time he missed at the beginning of the year.

Now let's hope for the best for Kobe's ankle.











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