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February 3, 2009

An Eventful Evening in the Association

Filed under: Uncategorized — Kevin Pelton @ 2:19 am

What a night for an NBA fan. After using Online League Pass to watch Kobe Bryant put the finishing touches on his record-setting night at Madison Square Garden, I flipped on NBA TV at the office to see the Portland Trail Blazers complete a comeback from a 20-point deficit inside the three-minute mark of the third quarter. Wild stuff.

Yet it still qualifies as a bittersweet day for the NBA because of an unfortunate run of high-profile injuries. The day started with the news that Lakers center Andrew Bynum will miss 8-12 weeks with a torn MCL in his right knee. The news could have been much worse–it was impossible for me┬áto watch the footage and Bynum’s pained reaction to Bryant inadvertently taking him out at the knees without thinking season-ending ACL–but it’s still a tough break as Bynum had just seemed to get all the way back from last year’s knee injury about this time.

(I’ve enlisted Will Carroll to help me take an in-depth look at Bynum’s injury and its impact on the Lakers and the championship race, so check for that later this week.)

During the evening, a pair of All-Star point guards went down. Orlando’s Jameer Nelson dislocated his right shoulder during the Magic’s loss to Dallas. Later, the Hornets’ Chris Paul left the game with a strained right groin shortly after his team took the 70-50 lead that quickly evaporated in his absence. Portland outscored New Orleans 42-17 over the final 13 and a half minutes, with Jerryd Bayless torching Paul’s replacement (Antonio Daniels) en route to 19 points.

Paul is the only one of the two point guards who will find himself in the discussion of the league’s most valuable player, but together they might be as important to their respective teams as anyone in the league. The Magic are 11.4 points better per 100 possessions with Nelson on the floor; New Orleans is +22.5 with Paul, second only to LeBron James in the league. Fortunately, his injury doesn’t figure to sideline him for an extended period. Nelson is a different story; he could be out weeks. Not only is his backup (Anthony Johnson) all but done, the Magic does not have a third point guard after Mike Wilks tore his ACL during the preseason. Orlando GM Otis Smith already should have been considering acquiring a backup for Nelson by the trade deadline. Now that needs to become a priority.

In between the injuries, Bryant was brilliant on the league’s biggest stage, the venerable Madison Square Garden. His 61 points set a modern Garden record (dating back to 1968), eclipsing Bernard King‘s 60-point effort for the Knicks and Michael Jordan‘s record 55 points in 1995.

For a high-scoring game–for any game–Bryant was extraordinarily efficient, making 19 of his 31 shots and going a perfect 20-of-20 at the free-throw line. All told, Bryant needed 40 scoring possessions to get his 61 points, good for a 76.3 percent True Shooting Percentage–just barely better than his 75.0 TS% in his 81-point game. I was mostly only able to watch the fourth quarter, when Bryant was more dogged than spectacular. Give him credit for finding a way to get to the line time and again down the stretch to cap off his prodigious performance, the most memorable part of a busy day in the NBA.

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