Sixty-Five on the Mind
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NEW YORK, N.Y., March 17, 2007-- Just when you thought it was safe to write off the Lakers, Kobe goes out and puts up a thoroughly dominant 65-point performance Friday against the Trail Blazers in a 116-111 overtime win, and everything changes.

It takes an outing like that from Mamba, a nickname Bryant gave himself after the largest venomous snake in Africa, to fear a team that still has injuries to key contributors (Luke Walton, Brian Cook, Vladimir Radmanovic) and, before the Portland game, had dropped 13 out of its last 16 games.

Kobe had 32 points entering the fourth quarter and more than doubled that amount over the fourth quarter and OT, an extra session made possible only by his clutch 3-pointer with less than 20 seconds to go as a super-sized Zach Randolph guarded him like he was a dog and Kobe was a junkyard.

And this wasn't the black mamba just biting small animals just to watch them suffer; he was looking for sustenance. On the basketball court for Kobe, that means a win. L.A. trailed by as many as nine points and No. 24's efforts are what kept the Lakers within striking distance.

Bryant finished going 23-for-39 from the field, 8-for-12 from deep and 11-for-12 from the foul line. Not included in the stat sheet is a minor scrum he got involved in with Jarrett Jack late in the game which seemed to stem from Jack's exasperation and Bryant's determination.

"Listen young boy, you're taking your beating today. That's just how it goes. Georgia Tech already lost in the tourney* too. Just suck it up."

(Not the actual transcript, but it would be cool if it was).

The 65-point gem is the third 60-pointer of Kobe's career (to go along with the 81 against the Raptors and 62 in three quarters against the Mavs) which ties him with Elgin Baylor for third on the list of most career 60-point games. Michael Jordan is second with four; Wilt Chamberlain is first with, gulp, thirty-two!

It also beats out Bryant's previous best nights of 58, 53 and 52 points earlier in the season.

And now, these are the 10 things I learned this week ...

1. Ode to Pat Burke

Seeing as it's St. Patrick's Day and that's about as important a day to my family as Christmas is, I just had to honor the Suns' back-up center Pat Burke with a top spot.

Why Burke you ask? Why does a third-year big man whose career high is 14 points and averages 2.9 points and 2.1 rebounds for Phoenix this season get a mention?

Because he's Irish, that's why.

Burke was born in Dublin, making him the first Irish-born player ever to play in the NBA. If Burke's stats are less than impressive, his story sure is. Burke came to America at the age of three and grew up in Florida. He attended the University of Auburn and after graduating in 1997, went back overseas to play professional basketball in Greece.

After five years in Europe, the Magic gave him a chance and after a year in Orlando, Burke latched on to the juggernaut that is the Suns.

He is the perfect guy to have at the end of an NBA bench - 6-11, 250 pounds, yet can hit the three plus has a good sense of humor and has literally a world's worth of experience to share with Phoenix's young players.

Cheers to Pat Burke.

2. Tricks of an old coach

When the Philadelphia Eagles lost to former Philly offensive coordinator Jon Gruden and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the 2003 NFC Championship Game, it was the worst. It seemed like Gruden still had some insight as to what Donovan McNabb was going to do and could place his defense on the field accordingly.

The same scenario popped up last week when Don Nelson beat his former team as the Warriors snapped Dallas' 17-game winning streak with a 117-100 drubbing of the Mavs.

Golden State held Dirk Nowitzki to 13 points on 3-for-11 shooting and became the only team this season to beat Dallas twice.

Nelson was the head honcho in the Big D from 1997 to 2005 and discovered Dirk. Many of the players on the Mavericks' roster, including Nowitzki, Jerry Stackhouse, Josh Howard and Jason Terry are there because he wanted them there.

Even Avery Johnson was Nelson's protťgť. It's sort of like Nelson moved out of his house but kept a spare set of keys.

3. Six questions with No. 6, Eddie Jones

The Heat came to town to play the Nets on Thursday and forget Shaq and Riles, the man I wanted to talk to was Eddie Jones. Jones started off his 13th season with the cellar-dwelling Grizzlies, averaging 5.6 points in 29 games before being released and promptly picked up by Miami where he spent five seasons previously. Since returning to South Beach, EJ is averaging 9.5 points and 25.6 minutes a game while playing for a winner.

McTen: What was it like leaving a last-place team for a great opportunity with the defending champions?

Jones: I donít think this is a great opportunity for me since our best player is out, but it is what it is. Iím just happy to be in a different environment, being able to just play basketball, enjoy the game and enjoy the locker room with these guys.

McTen: How hard was it knowing you had the ability to play still in Memphis, but having your role fluctuate from starter to bench player almost nightly?

Jones: In Memphis it was different. The reason it was different was they wanted to go young. I was just accepting my role. Coming here, Iím accepting my role here also. If Iím playing 15 minutes Iím happy with it.

McTen: How do you define your role with this Miami team?

Jones: All in all, we have a lot of injuries so Iím thrown in the fire and Iím happy to do whatever I can to be able to help this team get better.

McTen: Have the Miami fans welcomed you back readily?

Jones: I was born and raised there so they always had a lot of love for me. Iím just happy to be able to give them all I can give them.

McTen: What's it like having Shaq as a teammate again?

Jones: I donít think much of it. I had Shaq as a teammate when I was in L.A. I donít think much of it.

McTen: Is winning a ring weighing heavily on your mind?

Jones: Of course. Itís the only thing I think about. My goal is to win. Thatís what I want. I missed out last year and I want to be part of that. I think Dwyane can definitely rehab. I had the same thing happen and I ended up waiting until the end of the season for surgery and I think he can definitely come back.

4. Miami's win streak

While on the topic of the Heat, how about this win streak of theirs? Miami has now won nine straight without the services of Dwyane Wade and have gone from looking like a team that was going to go from championship to the lottery, to a team that can become the first team to repeat since the Lakers won the title in 2002.

The nine-game tear includes six wins against playoff teams if the postseason started today (Detroit, New Jersey, Utah, Chicago and Washington twice).

5. State of the Bobcats address

When Michael Jordan talks, people listen, and we were all ears on Tuesday when MJ announced that this will be Bernie Bickerstaff's last season as head coach of the Bobcats.

Jordan is still publicly panned for his biggest front-office move of taking Kwame Brown with the No. 1 pick when he was with Washington. This is his chance to make up for that with his first major hire in Charlotte.

6. Terry Stotts out

I thought Rob Peterson's head was going to explode.

My editor had just finished his Central Intelligence for the week, left his desk to go talk about the Cavs' resurgence on NBA Radio, came back and all of the sudden his dream job was vacant. Just like that.

There were people to call, articles to read, another column to write!

Stotts was relieved of his coaching duties on Wednesday after compiling a 63-83 record (.432) in less than two seasons at the helm.

7. Larry Krystkowiak in

Before Peterson had a chance to fax his resume to Bucks GM Larry Harris, a successor was named in Milwaukee.

Larry Krystkowiak, a Bucks player from 1987-92, returned to roost after various coaching stints including the head jobs at University of Montana and in the CBA tutoring the Idaho Stampede.

It didn't take long for Coach K to make his impact (hey, if it's OK to abbreviate for Krzyzewski, why not for Krystkowiak?) as Milwaukee snapped San Antonio's 13-game winning streak with a 101-90 win his first game as head coach.

After the game Ruben Patterson was the first Buck there to offer up Krystkowiak a congratulatory hug. That's got to be a good sign for Milwaukee fans that a tough, (sometimes surly), vet like Patterson is on the new coach's side from the get-go.

8. One more Bucks point

Not to go all CI on you, but did Maurice Williams pull a Wally Pipp when he got tossed from Wednesday's game?

Pipp, a baseball player for the New York Yankees back in the 1920s, infamously asked for a day off because of a headache and rookie Lou Gehrig was plugged into the starting lineup in his place. The story goes that Gehrig started the next 2,130 games, never relinquishing the spot back to Pipp.

Williams didn't exactly ask out of Wednesday's game, but he did punch his ticket to the locker room by picking up two technicals and rookie Lynn Greer stepped in to score 14 fourth-quarter points in his stead.

9. Game of the year

I can't believe I got all the way to No. 9 before mentioning the Mavs-Suns instant classic double-overtime thriller on Wednesday.

By now you've read everything there is to read about the Suns pulling out the 129-127 win, but I'll offer up three quick thoughts:

1. If Amare is going to continue to play this well (41 points on 16-for-19 from the field and 10 rebounds vs. Dallas), Phoenix will be the favorites. When STAT is drawing double and triple-teams inside, Nash, Marion, Bell, Barbosa and James Jones are given all the space in the world to shoot outside.

2. Who would you rather have the ball in their hands when you need a big shot? Nash, or Nowitzki? Love Nowitzki's ability to up fake and shoot over smaller defenders, but you've got to make the shot. I see Nash hitting an impossible three against New Jersey earlier in the year and nailing the trifecta to send the Dallas game to OT, and for Dirk? I see a missed free throw, a miss late in regulation and a miss at the end of the second OT.

3. Dallas followed up the disappointing loss with a road win at Boston. Phoenix followed up the big win with a letdown home loss to Detroit.

10. *The tournament

Speaking of 65 ... Syracuse should be in! I need to get this off my chest. Monday was the hardest day of work I've had at the office since Kobe went M.I.A. in the second half of Game 7 vs. the Suns last year. I mean, while all my colleagues were buzzing with excitement, I was printing out my NIT bracket. I wanted to devote my whole McTen to the reasons why the Orange were snubbed, but it was a fantastic week in the NBA so I wouldn't do that to my readers. I'll leave you with this though: 22-10 record, 10-6 in conference, 7-3 in their last 10 games, the only team to beat Georgetown in the No. 2 seed Hoyas' last 917 games, AND even Bill freaking Clinton said they deserved to be in. The tourney is dead to me.

Have a question or comment for The McTen or care to share what you learned this week? Send an e-mail.