NBA Minute: Bucher's Deadline Leftovers
Game A Measuring Stick For Revitalized Mavs
DALLAS -- Kobe Bryant speaks fluently in English, Spanish, Italian and hype.
Surely the latter is what Bryant was speaking when he suggested that the Dallas Mavericks' acquisition of Caron Butler and Brendan Haywood had put the Mavs on par with the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers.
Butler, a former teammate and close friend of Bryant, said he takes the Mavs-killer at his word.
"Kobe wouldn't say anything that he wouldn't mean. He's one of those guys," said Butler, whose stay in Los Angeles was limited to the 2004-05 season before he was traded to Washington for Kwame Brown. "I have a great deal of respect for him. I'm like a little brother to him and he's like a big brother. That meant a lot, but I know when that day comes and we compete against him, he's going to try to bury us."
That day is here. The West's runaway leaders and their resident superstar, who made his return from left leg and ankle injuries Tuesday night at Memphis, visit the American Airlines Center on Wednesday for the last of four regular-season meetings.
This one is noteworthy on several fronts. The Mavs (36-21) are shooting for their third five-game win streak of the season and first in more than two months. They can knot the season series with the Lakers at 2-2. And most interesting, it's the first of the four meetings in which both teams enter the game with the meat of their respective lineups intact, with a couple of caveats.
Bryant remains on the mend, and he could be limited coming off Tuesday's game, his first since Feb. 5. Mavs center Erick Dampier, a key defender against the Lakers' huge front line, is out with a dislocated finger. Haywood's acquisition tempers that loss, although the Mavs would love to see how they function with both big bodies available.The retooled Mavs, led by the re-energized Jason Kidd to a 4-1 record since the blockbuster trade, have had just one full practice to work in Butler and Haywood. Still, Butler called Wednesday's matchup a "meaningful" game.
It's safe to assume more meaningful for the recharged Mavs than the coasting Lakers, who won four of five without Bryant.
"Whether he meant it or not, he knows that we are a viable team right now, especially now that you bring these guys in," guard Jason Terry said of Bryant's comment. "It isn't going to matter until the playoffs, so we'll see what happens if we face them there.
Schedule: Wednesday, Feb. 24
Wednesday's Game Notes
• Kobe Bryant's game-winning 3-pointer Tuesday night at Memphis was his league-high 18th go-ahead field goal in either the fourth quarter or in overtime of a game this season. Behind Bryant? Dirk Nowitzki (15), Joe Johnson (14) and five players (including Caron Butler) tied with 13.
• Bryant's 25.3 career scoring average is eighth-highest in NBA history at the 1,000-game mark. The higher averages belonged to Wilt Chamberlain (30.83 ppg), Michael Jordan (30.81), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (27.8) Oscar Robertson (26.3), Karl Malone (26.1), Shaquille O'Neal (25.74) and Dominique Wilkins (25.71).
• Brendan Haywood tied a career high with 20 rebounds for Dallas on Monday; he had 20 rebounds for the Wizards earlier this season. Haywood is the third player in the last 20 years to have 20-rebound games for two teams in one season. Dikembe Mutombo did it for the Hawks and 76ers in 2000-01 and Olden Polynice did it for the Pistons and Kings in 1993-94.
Out With Old, In With New?
It may very well be Changing of the Guard Night in San Antonio on Wednesday. The up-and-coming Oklahoma City Thunder come into town to take on the veteran Spurs, a team the Okies have imitated so well that they've now passed the Spurs in the Western Conference standings. The Thunder enter the game in the improbable position of owning a lead of 1½ games over the Spurs, and it's quite possible that Oklahoma City could finish with a top-four seed in the West while San Antonio misses the playoffs entirely.
Of course, the opposite could happen, too: San Antonio may reassert its position near the top of the Western Conference, and the Thunder's youth may come back to bite them. We're talking about small margins here: It would take a swing of only a couple of games for OKC to find itself in the familiar position of looking up at San Antonio.
And so it goes out West. It seems the playoff chase is always a little wilder in the Western Conference, and that's certainly the case this season. Although the East playoff race features two clearly defined groups of teams that should identify themselves as the contenders and the roadkill in the playoffs, the picture becomes fuzzy when you reach the Mississippi.
The top seed in the West is settled -- L.A. leads by 5½ games and will continue to hold the conference's best record barring a total collapse -- but any other team could end up on the road when the playoffs open April 17. Right now, five teams are locked in a battle for spots 2 through 6, while we can expect another competition at the bottom of the table for the final two spots.