Los Angeles Lakers (28-29) vs. Denver Nuggets (35-22)
The Lakers are making their run. By golly, all the bluster and promises that their season starts now -- or is it now? -- is starting to come true. Dwight Howard said he did not have his conditioning right at the beginning of the season and has begun getting more comfortable or accepting the fact that he will not feel completely comfortable this entire season with his back and shoulder injuries.
Now he is setting hard screens and looking much more aggressive on defense. That is the key for the Lakers to turn this thing around.
And riding high after a big road win over Dallas, Los Angeles has a lot to feel good about right now.
The Lakers are 8-3 in the last last 11 games and have significantly closed the gap for the eighth seed in the West. They now sit only 3.5 games behind the Rockets for that final Playoff spot. Los Angeles is just continuing to go down the path and salvage this season.
And Kobe Bryant remains the important cog. The straw that stirs the drink, so to speak.
He led the Lakers to that emotional victory in Dallas on Sunday and has continued to defy all odds and perform at his scoring best even as it seems like he should be slowing donw. Perhaps things are beginning to click for Los Angeles. Or perhaps this is all a flash in the pan against weaker competition.
Whatever it is, the Lakers have found a formula finally. And they will need to test it out and hope it sticks once again out in Denver.
Other Storylines to Watch
-Kenneth Faried has had a strong start to his career. He was recognized at All-Star Weekend for his hustle and energy in the BBVA Rising Stars Challenge and in the Slam Dunk Contest (where he actually did not do half bad). Faried's biggest accomplishment has been as one of the first NBA players to support gay marriage and homosexual equality. He spoke candidly about his stance with NBA.com recently.
-As we have mentioned numerous times today, don't wake the sleeping bear. Mark Cuban needled Kobe Bryant and his status with the Lakers and immediately regretted his decision. Not even Dirk "Baxter" Nowitzki could talk that bear down. Bryant turned in an insane performance, scoring 30 points and shooting 60 percent from the floor for the first time in his career. Even Kobe can reach new heights, I guess.
Tonight's Other Games
Washington Wizards (17-37) vs. Toronto Raptors (23-33)
The Wizards were apparently in trade negotiations with the Clippers and had an offer on the table to re-acquire Caron Butler in exchange for Trevor Ariza. Donald Sterling apparently put the kibash on that, opting to keep Butler in Los Angeles rather than bring Ariza in. Looks like the Wizards may keep shopping for a while.
Atlanta Hawks (31-23) vs. Detroit Pistons (22-36)
Josh Smith said he is feeling much more comfortable now that the trade rumors have stopped. Sources told HoopsWorld that Atlanta backed out of all Smith deals less than 10 minutes before the deadline. Smith will finish the year out in Atlanta, beyond that is a complete and utter mystery. Atlanta is in the playoff hunt and that is where the team will continue play. But John Paxson seems fine with losing Smith in free agency and Smith is looking forward to cashing in... if he still can.
Boston Celtics (29-27) vs. Utah Jazz (31-25)
There are still moving pieces on these two two rosters. D.J. White is still not cleared to play as he finishes his paperwork in his signing. He will wear No. 12 when he is finally cleared. Raja Bell is also still on the moving line. Bell has not played at all this year and is seeking a buyout from Utah. That appears to be close and then Bell needs to find someplace to play. There are reportedly more than a few takers.