There are games that make me question my already shaky faith in the integrity of the NBA. This was one of them. The Lakers assumed their usual role as beneficiary of the league's largesse.
The Los Angeles Lakers remain an excellent team (until their legs fall off in March). Kobe and Bynum are remarkable, sometimes unstoppable, talents. Kobe Bryant poured in 37 on 14 of 29 shooting and got the most out of his personal force field that punishes all physical contact he doesn't initiate with whistles.
To be fair, he mostly sank shots, in true Kobe fashion, scoring his points when the defense was at its best. His talent remains, yet of all the superstars who have passed through the league in my lifetime the only one I'll miss less than Kobe when he's gone is Karl Malone.*
Andrew Bynum is presently the most scary center in the NBA. He's actually fit to start a season, not currently hurt, and appears to have made a commitment to being a good player all the time, rather than when the mood strikes him. Perhaps removing his Lamar Odom-shaped binky has encouraged him to cease the moral bedwetting that characterizes his career thus far. At any rate he looked dominant tonight. Jordan Hill simply isn't big enough to hold him, Samuel Dalembert simply isn't fit enough to do a great job at this point. Bynum put up 21pts and 22 boards.
That left Luis Scola to play center often in a small lineup tonight and it cost us. By the fourth quarter when we usually need Scola's audacity and reliable jumper it just wasn't there. He was gassed. Luis Scola is rarely gassed, but tonight he was. Throw in a poor shooting performance from Martin and the task was a tough one.
Not an impossible one for the Rockets, who played a good game overall, and kept the contest close until the very end, and lead the game at times.
But three other men stepped up for the Lakers: Davis, Boland and Kogut - your NBA officials. Tonight the Lakers shot 27Ft to the Rockets 7. 3.85 times what the Rockets shot, 4x if you round. That's simply untenable in a close contest. Blowouts have margins like this, because one team can't compete.
In a close game? It's highly questionable. Well, reasonably you might say, it's because the Lakers took it to the Rockets inside. Let's look. Whoops! Bynum had 8 FT attempts, Gasol none. There goes the "big man inside" theory.
Nope, the calls didn't primarily come from being outmatched by Bynum and Gasol seemed content to stay outside and shoot his unblockable mid-range shot. Nope, they came from late, late whistles, phantom fouls, flops and calls simply for playing D on Kobe. Matt freaking Barnes had 6 attempts - 1 fewer than the Rockets, and Kobe shot 2 more than the whole Rockets team. The Rockets got precisely 2 shooting foul calls on drives all night. You just can't say that makes sense, or that it doesn't matter.
I understand the people who say "You can't use the refs as an excuse!" I'd like to be one of you. You'd certainly have the high ground if there was any integrity in the NBA in terms of refereeing, or front office behavior, or anything, really. But history, recent and older, has shown there isn't. It's real testament to how much I love basketball played at its highest level that I stick it out. Remember, we're following a team where management and ownership won't comment on the NBA league office on advice of counsel.
This was potentially a very good basketball game marred by a woefully lopsided refereeing crew. Maybe the Lakers would have won anyway. With the way Kobe shot it's likely, but we'll never know because the Rockets were buried by 20 extra FTs given to LA. I do wonder what LA will have left come late March.
You may disagree with all of that. Let it rip in the comments.
Kyle Lowry - Star Player - 22pts, 10 rbs, 9 asst, 2stl. When does Kyle Lowry get the "superstar whistle" because God knows we could use it. The man is getting mugged on drives and nothing happens.
Terrence Williams - Blossoming Flower - It looks like it is starting to come together. Right now he's thinking a bit too much though. If, and I think when, he internalizes his new, mature, game he's going to be a monster. He was really effective, and disrupted the Lakers on D, and yet only played 9 minutes.
Chase Budinger -Angry at Peace - 6-13, 4-7 3pt, 2rb, 3ast, 1stl. Chase is getting it together and he played good D for the most part, it was just one of those nights when Kobe was on fire. He's losing his tentativeness, and he's a much better player when he attacks. Got scrappy with The Artist Formerly Known as Crazy Pills.
Kevin McHale - Chair occupier. Kevin, we like you. We like your laid-back, player friendly approach. We like that you'll try new things, and play the young guys. Sometimes the things you try baffle us, but we appreciate you trying them. We like you despite you being a Celtic, and that's saying something. But damn it, man, what actually pisses you off? When will you fight for your players? If not tonight, then when? You must make the refs know that you're watching. If talking to the refs didn't work then the likes of Phil Jackson and Rick Adelman wouldn't freaking do it! Phil Jackson for no other reason than it would hurt to much to get up out of his special chair. He wouldn't get up unless it helped. RAGE, Kevin McHale, RAGE. Also, Kevin, we've got another game at Staples less than 24 hours from now, then another in OKC. Why did Lowry, Scola and Martin play 34+ minutes each? Because we won't need them tomorrow? You have the bench, you must use it, and trust it. Otherwise we'll be as cooked at the Lakers come March.
Courtney Lee - Injured I hope this is a minor thing. Courtney, you might want to consider hiding from Keith Jones and healing alone, in a cave, like a wounded bear.
Patrick Patterson - Bricklayer - It pains me to see Patterson precision clockwork shot clanging around. But he has had no off season, and I don't think any practices. It'll come around. His energy is there, and his strength. In the meantime Patrick, drive and dunk! Throw it down, Big Man!
Kevin Martin - Unmarksman - After lighting up the back-to-back-to-back Kevin Martin apparently suffered from time off and rest, losing his accurate stroke and willingness to drive the lane. He's never going to be a "finish through contact" guy, so he needs legit whistles. Many players do and we don't consider them flawed humans. Refs, we all know he worked the system, but now when he's driving for a layup and his arm goes down instead of up, likely that's a foul under any set of NBA rules.
*This stuff about Kobe's wrist is apparently yet another clod upon mountain of legend-burnishing boulders he's excreted upon us, because he seemed utterly fine. And that's precisely the kind of thing I dislike about him. There's alway some widely circulated story or other about how Kobe is bravely playing (oh so well) through pain that would simply kill 8 ordinary NBA players on the spot. Then when asked about it Kobe can then give a tough, terse,stoic, answer about he must carry on for his team, for himself, for pride, for freedom. And we all can salute the purple flag, as if no one else ever played through pain. If his character truly matched the image he's selling us no one would know he was in such pain (every single time). (CF Ming, Yao.)