"King James" Fails to Assume the Throne Against Kobe and the Lakers

January 20, 2009

In one of the marquee matchups of the year, the Los Angeles Lakers soundly defeated the Cleveland Cavaliers 105-88 on Monday night in Los Angeles. The game highlighted the two best players in the NBA, Kobe Bryant and LeBron James, and the teams with the best records in their respective conferences.

While neither star had a particularly great game, Bryant, who finished with 20 points (9-22) and 12 assists despite dislocating a finger early in the game, was clearly more effective in the 4th-quarter when the contest was still in doubt. On three consecutive possessions while being guarded by James midway through the 4th, Bryant hit a three pointer, hit an impossible high-arcing fadeaway jumper, and capped with a 15-foot floater while being fouled. Although he missed the free throw, the lead was 14 at that point and proved to be insurmountable.

James had his moments as well, including playing solid defense for much of the game against Bryant, who turned the ball over 5 times. Nonetheless James, who finished with 23 points (9-25), 12 rebounds, and 6 turnovers of his own, struggled to find his groove much of the night. When he went to the basket he was met with physical defense from either Andrew Bynum or Pau Gasol and in the second half LeBron was forced into long fadeaway jump shots. In short, this was not the same James who had been playing like the MVP all season long.


1. When Pau Gasol plays at a high level, the Lakers are close to unbeatable.

Despite the focus on the two stars, it was impossible to ignore the impact of Gasol on this game. He led the Lakers with 22 points (11-13) and 12 rebounds. Just as the game against the Celtics revealed (and unlike the Orlando game) Gasol proved that when he is aggressive and confident in the post, few defenses can handle him. Gasol looked like Kevin McHale on this night and their was little Ben Wallace could do to stop him.

2. The Cavaliers miss Ilgauskas more than they realized.

The Cavaliers simply cannot handle the Lakers' big men without "Big Z." His shooting and 7-foot 3 inch defensive presence can be forgotten against lower tier competition, but not against teams like the Lakers, Celtics, and Magic. Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao are serviceable, but not enough. It is particularly striking how Wallace is a shadow of what he used to be as a Piston.

3. Phil Jackson's player rotation is still a Zen-like mystery.

Can anyone really explain why Phil Jackson refuses to allow Andrew Bynum and Pau Gasol to play together more. Defenses simply cannot handle two big men who have the post ability of these two. Further, Bynum is a major defensive asset in close games and Jackson still inexplicably fails to utilize this. Finally, how many 3-pointers must Radmanovic (45.3% from 3) make before Jackson allows him to stay on the floor?

4. "Prince James" is more appropriate, at least for now.

Lebron James has undoubtedly stepped up his game this season. He is an incredible combination of speed and power and until this game, many would have been ready to say he is the best in the NBA. Unfortunately, just when you think he is going to remind you of Michael Jordan (or some Magic-Michael combo), he reminds you more of Vince Carter. Like Carter and Jordan, he has incredible leaping ability and a quick first step. Unfortunatley, too often he imitates Carter's unfounded love of the "fadeaway" jumper which hinders his ability to dominate. At one point James simply pulled up from nearly 30-feet for a brick. Unacceptable.

Kobe on the other hand, has shown an increased maturity that has allowed him to catch up to James' natural ability to get his teammates involved. Monday night was the 3rd straight game with double-digit assist figures for Bryant. He laid low in the first half and did not waste energy getting into a one-on-one show until it was necessary in the 4th quarter, all the while playing stifling defense.

For now, it should fairly be acknowledged that Kobe and Lebron are the two best players in the NBA - in that order.

Manish Pandya
Staff Editor for the DailySportsHerald.com

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