Ball Don't Lie - NBA

Cleveland 93, Los Angeles Lakers 87

It's only just one of 82. Honest. That's what I have to keep telling myself.

That with Mo Williams(notes) out, Kobe Bryant(notes) hurting (and sitting), and the Cavs really gunning for a Thursday night win while Phil Jackson seemingly gunned for patience and the long haul, this game was an exercise in scouting fodder for us. Nothing more.

And I've gone back and forth on what to write about this game, straying from declarative statements to dismissive write-offs and no points in between. At this point, with deadline approaching, let me just tell you what I do know — I am so, so glad I have this one stuck on the Tivo.

The Cavs really wanted this, and while I'm not going to tell you that the Lakers did not, this was obviously something that was more important to Cleveland. Hurt by the way the Lakers dominated Cleveland last season, and the recent news that Mo Williams might be out until it's time to fill out our NCAA brackets, the Cavs needed a pick-me-up.

What they got was LeBron James(notes), dominating. Dominating as best he could — that shot selection (why so many threes?) and Ron Artest's(notes) upper body got in the way at times — but dominating nonetheless. And all the pretty, impressive shots from Kobe Bryant early faded as LeBron piled up the dishes, and the points.

It's a team game, but you can't help but follow the Kobe vs. LeBron thing, a battle that some think still rages. Kobe's been a small step behind LeBron for a few years now, he doesn't contribut as much overall, and what he does contribute comes at a far less efficient rate than James, but some still cling to the idea of Kobe as an equal measure due to the fact that Kobe ... well, he's Kobe. They never did really make sense as to why he's supposedly as good.

He wasn't as good on Thursday, shooting 4-15 in the second half, and 12-31 overall. That's 23-64 against the Cavaliers on the year, and while playing with four working fingers on his shooting hand hurts these things (to say nothing of his flu, and back spasms), LeBron's just better right now. And that's OK. You have the best team in the league to follow, Lakers nutters. And the best team doesn't always have to feature the best player.

Huge parts of that best team struggled. Pau Gasol(notes) looked good for stretches, you'd wonder why the Lakers didn't get him the ball more, but he missed nine of 14 shots and a pair of big free throws late. Andrew Bynum(notes) wasn't a factor, Ron Artest missed seven of 10 shots and six of eight three-pointers, and it was a wonder the Lakers were even in this game on the road against a team like the Cavs.

Some will be upset at the way Phil Jackson kept Bryant on the bench for so long in the fourth quarter, sitting him for seven minutes to start. It was odd, but the Lakers were only -1 overall in that stretch with Kobe on the pine. And the Lakers are planning on playing until mid-June. So, I'm cool with that.

You just have to give it to the Cavs. Actually, you don't have to, because they took it. James scored 37 on 25 shots, he missed a key free throw late (Anderson Varejao(notes) was fouled tracking down the offensive rebound) but dished nine assists, and his defense was solid.

The cold water? Williams is out for a spell, and Delonte West(notes) could be out for just as long with an injury to his shooting hand. Sorry for the downs, but this could be an in-season highlight before the Cavs stumble until the end of the regular season. Something to look back on fondly ("by January 22nd, the Cavs had just come off an in-season sweep of the Lakers, and were four games up in the East, but injuries ...") before the bad news hit.

For now, though? Much respect, for both teams. Kobe's going to have to back off a bit, and stop putting his teammates on blast. He has a top-heavy team, we know the bench is no help, but his helpers at the top need consistent looks in the post. Merely giving this guy credit for playing through the injuries? Those days have to end. Kobe has to play like someone playing through injuries. He's going to have to stop taking 25+ shots. On this team, he should never have to take that many.

And Phil Jackson is thinking long-term, which is fantastic. As someone who hated it in winter and ... well, there was no "spring" in the regular season in Chicago; but as someone who couldn't stand the tinkering as a Bulls fan, every year you saw it pay off in the playoffs. Nobody likes to be patient, but everyone likes a winner. And the Lakers are still the class of this league.

The Cavs? They wanted it, and they took it, and it was great to watch. Here's hoping they can circle the wagons with a guard or two on the bench.


Denver 105, Los Angeles Clippers 85

An ugly game. Denver could not hold onto the basketball, it kept giving Los Angeles chances that the Clippers wanted nothing to do with, and it fell on Chauncey Billups(notes) and Carmelo Anthony(notes) to help Denver pull away.

Sorry for giving the game the short shrift, but the Clippers just had no interest in pulling this out. With Eric Gordon(notes) and Sebastian Telfair(notes) sitting, while working on the second night of a back-to-back (like, uh, the Nuggets were), the Clippers had every excuse; and as is usually the case with the Clips, they took advantage of all those excuses.

28 points and 10 boards for Melo, who was just quick as hell to the rim. Billups had 20 on only nine shots, which just seems mathematically impossible for anyone not named "Dwight Howard."

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