NBA: One man crew isnít enough for Lakers or Cavaliers
By TIM DAHLBERG
AP Sports Columnist
Kobe Bryant still hasnít gotten a chance to hit a buzzer beater to beat the Denver Nuggets, so LeBron James retains bragging rights for now among the two superstars battling to stay in the NBA playoffs.
As wildly inconsistent as the Los Angeles Lakers continue to be, Bryant may never get the chance for an iconic shot of his own. Then again, maybe heís saving it for Game 7, where the Lakers-Nuggets series now seems destined to go.
At least Lakers fans better hope it goes that far.
Bryant did his usual share of work, but the way his supporting cast stood around Monday night and watched as the Nuggets chased down rebound after rebound to tie the Western Conference finals at two games apiece had to make Jack Nicholson and the rest of the beautiful people feel a little queasy.
Maybe they should have headed down to Staples Center instead, where the WWE was staging the ďMonday Night RawĒ wrestling card that was supposed to have been held in Denver because no one ó including the teamís owner ó thought the Nuggets would make the conference finals. Actually, someone made up as Nicholson was there, as was a man posing as David Stern.
Say what you want about wrestling, but these guys know how to put on a show. There were villains and heroes, and a five-man tag team match featuring wrestlers in Nuggets uniforms bouncing off the ropes with those in Lakersí gear.
The Lakers won the match, touching off the kind of celebration the real team can only hope it gets upon its return home Wednesday night. They deserved it because, unlike the real team, they seemed to want it more.
Donít blame Bryant for that. He scored 34 points, including 14 in the fourth quarter, but he could have scored twice that and it probably wouldnít have mattered.
Not when the Nuggets grabbed 20 balls off the offensive boards. Not when they out-rebounded the Lakers by 18 overall and were busier all night than the team tattooist.
Bryant suggested afterward that perhaps his teammates didnít understand the urgency of the situation. They were happy to have won in Denver on Saturday, so they didnít play every possession like it was their last, didnít go sprawling after every loose ball like it was their last.
The Nuggets did, and thatís how you win playoff games. Itís really no more complicated than that.
ďThey played harder and they played better. Period,Ē Bryant said.
The top suits at ABC have to be a bit concerned about that because it seemed preordained when these playoffs started so many weeks ago that Kobe and LeBron would meet beginning June 4 in a finals that would match the two best players in the game and draw big ratings.
But if not for an ill advised inbound pass in Game 1, the Nuggets would likely be up 3-1 in this series. As it is, they head back to Los Angeles with momentum and a growing confidence that they are the better team and that Bryant canít beat them all by himself.
Things are even more precarious in the East, where Cleveland has to win on the road Tuesday night or risk going down 3-1 to the Orlando Magic. Like Bryant, James has been every bit the superstar he is in the series but, like the Lakers, the supporting cast for the Cavaliers has disappeared for long stretches at a time.
James made up for that in Game 2 with a 3-pointer that will live in playoff lore. But even Michael Jordan had to have teammates like Scotty Pippen around to win six NBA titles in the 1990s.
Jordan is selling underwear now and itís been 20 years since his famous shot lifted the Bulls to a first-round win over Cleveland, so a lot of instant historians wanted to declare Jamesí shot as the greatest shot in playoff history. Itís certainly in the top 10, but it wasnít that long ago that Derek Fisher and Reggie Miller hit similar shots in crucial playoff games.
Thatís not what James wants to be remembered for in these playoffs anyway. He knows greatness is always measured against titles and, as dominant as James can be, he has yet to lead the Cavs to a ring.
For James to change that, his teammates must step up and play as hard as he does. The same goes for the Lakers and Bryant, who was so exhausted from leading his team to a win in Game 3 that he needed IV fluids.
If thereís one thing these playoffs have shown, itís that one man isnít enough.