Updated: April 27, 2011, 8:33 AM ET

1. Kobe Stands Firm, Lakers Gain Edge

Adande By J.A. Adande
ESPN.com
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LOS ANGELES -- Guess there was no need for Kobe Bryant to get an X-ray or MRI on his sprained left ankle. You could've asked Emeka Okafor or Carl Landry or any other member of the Hornets and they'd say it checked out fine.

Talk about resonance. The waves from Bryant's soaring dunk over Okafor in the second quarter could be felt all over Staples Center. The crowd went from nervous quiet to energized roar. Bryant came back with a layup to erase the Hornets' last lead of the game, and the Lakers were on their way to their most convincing victory of this first-round series, 106-90, to put them up 3-2.

"All this talk about his ankle," Hornets coach Monty Williams said. "Did it look like his ankle was hurting? OK then."

To watch the final three quarters of Game 5 was to wonder why there was any concern about the Lakers at all. An athletic Kobe, a physical front line, a strong bench led by Sixth Man of the Year Lamar Odom ... this looked like the team that was supposed to sweep the Hornets out of the first round.

"We played better tonight," said Ron Artest, whose offensive consistency throughout this series is as stunning a development as his receiving the NBA's J. Walter Kennedy Citizenship Award six seasons after creating one of the league's darkest moments with his foray into the Palace stands. "We played ... young."

No one looked more youthful than Bryant, who also had something for Landry when he dunked left-handed over him in the third quarter.

"It was like he had his Afro back," said Shannon Brown.

It was a far cry from the look Bryant had when he left New Orleans Arena on crutches after spraining his ankle late in Game 4 Sunday night. Or from his non-impactful play in his one-point first quarter Tuesday night.

He said he opted not to have tests on the ankle because it didn't feel broken.

"And even if it was, it wouldn't have mattered," Bryant said. "I would have played anyway. So it was a waste of time. I would've had to go all the way up there and do that and then sit in 405 [Freeway] traffic for two hours."

You could have waited two months in stretches of this season and not seen the type of athletic plays from Bryant that he made in this game.

"It's there," Bryant said. "It's not something that I want to do all the time -- especially for an 82-game season. But it's there."

We can understand why Bryant, in his 15th season, picks his spots to take off. What remains mysterious is why the rest of the Lakers seem equally selective when it comes time to box out or scrap for loose balls or impose their will.

They allowed the Hornets to grab 12 offensive rebounds and score 20 second-chance points in Game 4. New Orleans scored 52 points in the paint in winning the opening game in Staples Center.

The Lakers controlled all of those categories in Game 5, with 42 points in the paint, a 42-25 rebound advantage and 22 second-chance points.

"We should do that all the time," said Pau Gasol, who didn't have to worry about Kobe glaring at him the entire flight to New Orleans thanks to his 16 points and eight rebounds. "We should play like that all the time. Tonight it was definitely a game that we needed to play physical and control the boards and use our bodies."

It wasn't even there in the first quarter, when the Hornets took it to the Lakers, shooting an absurd 81 percent, and Paul matched the most assists in a quarter by a Lakers playoff opponent (eight).

But with reserves Brown, Odom, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake on the court with Gasol to start the second period, New Orleans' nine-point advantage quickly became a one-possession lead that seesawed back and forth.

Bryant played less than 8½ ineffective minutes in the first quarter before Jackson yanked him (without the use of the Apollo Theater hook he joked about using before the game).

"Better get him off the floor," was the thought process Jackson revealed afterward. "He's a liability."

Bryant conceded that even after nonstop treatment over the previous 48 hours, the ankle still felt stiff in the early going.

"I had a hard time moving," Bryant said. "Liability's kind of strong."

Apparently the ankle was kind of strong, as well. And it looked fully operational when he drove down the lane and dunked on Okafor.

"I wasn't expecting him to do that," Okafor said. "It kind of surprised me. I wasn't preparing myself for a dunk.

"It just was the last thing on my mind. It caught me by surprise. I was expecting him to try some tricky stuff. My mind said, 'Stay on your feet, don't foul.' He cocked back, and by the time I realized, it was too late."

Bryant unleashed a 12-point quarter, accounting for all but seven of his points. The Lakers had a halftime lead that they continued to stretch throughout the second half. He played only 28½ minutes, but that was enough for him to score the most among the six double-digit Laker scorers. Balance and defense, the traits that led to the 17-1 stretch after the All-Star break.

The return of the Lakers was almost too late to avert a perilous 3-2 series deficit to the Hornets. There's still no promise they'll carry this to New Orleans. They've responded only when they felt threatened in this series, and now they have a cushion of a seventh game at home if necessary.

Jackson knows better than to take this type of performance as a sign of things to come.

"You hope for it," Jackson said. "You don't expect it."

The Lakers don't always know when they'll access it. But they were reminded Wednesday night of what they can do. They also saw it in Bryant's elevated play and in his words after.

It's there.


Dimes past: April 8-10 | 11 | 12 | 13 | 14 | 17 | 18 | 19 | 20 | 21 | 22| 23 | 24 | 25 | 26

2. Magic Team Shows Up At Last

By Michael Wallace
ESPN.com

NAME
Howard

ORLANDO, Fla. -- So now it officially becomes a guarantee, because Dwight Howard said so.

With the Orlando Magic down 3-1 and facing elimination entering Game 5 at the Amway Center, Howard essentially told reporters after Tuesday's shootaround that his team would be advancing.

Well, that is under one obvious condition.

"If we get one win," Howard said, "we're going to win the whole thing."

As guarantees go, that wasn't exactly Broadway Joe delivering the underdog New York Jets a victory in Super Bowl III. Howard's version was more of a definitely, maybe.

He gave himself an outlet path with the "if."

But then his teammates finally gave him an outlet pass -- a much-needed assist after four games of struggles to stave off elimination with a 101-76 victory. The Magic have at least guaranteed themselves a Game 6 appearance in Atlanta on Thursday night.

For the first time in this series, Howard's words were his biggest game-day contribution. The Magic got the one victory they needed on a night when Howard made just one field goal and finished with eight points and eight rebounds in 29 minutes.

Statistically, Howard wasn't a factor for the first time in a series in which he averaged 32.3 points and 17.5 rebounds in 45.3 minutes over the first five games. From an emotional and leadership standpoint, he was still the most dominant player in the building.

Read the rest of Michael Wallace's story »

3. Daily Dime Live

Zach Harper, TrueHoop Network bloggers and fans gave their in-game opinions on all topics throughout Tuesday's slate of NBA playoff talk in Daily Dime Live.

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