Side Dish of Cinnamon Apples
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LOS ANGELES, March 31, 2007-- Kobe Bryant has now scored 344 points over his last seven games (49.1 ppg) and I was at the STAPLES Center last night to see numbers 292-344.

I was giddy from the start. When Kobe started off with eight points on 3-for-3 from the field in the first four minutes, I immediately signed off of IM so I didn't miss anything and started doing the whole, "eight points over four minutes calculates out to 96 points over four quarters" routine.

All the elements were there to make this a historic game:

1. Kobe had something to prove after his 40-point streak ended at five games. It didn't just end against Memphis, it came to screeching halt much the same way Tom Sizemore's career did.
2. Plenty of people criticized Kobe's numbers for being inflated because all five teams he scored 40 against (Portland, Minnesota, Memphis, New Orleans/Oklahoma City and Golden State) were sub-.500 squads. Well, here comes Houston: 20 games over .500, a healthy Yao, T-Mac having a career year and Shane Battier, considered one of best perimiter defenders in the league, looking to check Bryant. Even Kobe would admit this was a big enough fish to fry.
3. It's a Friday night, nationally televised game in L.A. It's a sellout. Spiderman and Jack are sitting courtside. Even Britney makes an appearance for about three minutes in the second quarter (causing my girlfriend to ask me after the game; "What was she wearing? Did she look fat and gross? I bet she did.") This is the stage on which Kobe needs to shine.

And it almost happens, except he struggles through a dreadful 4-for-18 shooting slump in the middle of the game -- most of the misses short, his legs tired from the recent amount of energy he's had to expend to keep the streak alive, not to mention the task of harassing McGrady on defense all night (T-Mac finished 7-for-24).

But, it ended up as a brilliant performance -- not his all-time best -- but still brilliant. Sort of like Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Talented Mr. Ripley vs. PSH in Capote.

The game story has already been written. You can read it to learn how the Lakers were down by 12 with 4:30 to play before Kobe scored 12 straight points for L.A. to make it a one-point game with 1:47 remaining.

The video has already been cut. You can watch it to see the Lakers down by three with 15.5 seconds left when Kwame Brown (who Jeff Van Gundy called "the worst foul shooter of all time" after the game) misses a free throw so badly that the carom goes all the way out to the 3-point line where Kobe just happens to be waiting like a catcher playing off of the plate on a curveball. As he's done so many times before, Mamba collected the ball, squared his shoulders, kicked his leg out, hoisted the shot up and the game is tied.

Use those links as the meat of your coverage of Kobe's eighth 50-point game of the season, 14th in the last two seasons and 19th of his career. They'll tell you how only Wilt (118) and Michael (31) have more. Use this sort of like your side dish of cinnamon apples from Boston Market. Or to those people out there who avoid fast food, it's just an extended game notes section.

And now, these are the 10 things I learned from the Lakers/Rockets game ...

1. Sneaker watch

Kobe had on his Zoom Kobe IIs with white patent leather and it occurs to me that other than the baggy shorts and the tongue wag and the shoulder shrug and the solemn fist pump that Jordan gave to the game, he also made patent leather become THE STANDARD for hot sneakers with the Air Jordan XIs.

On the Rockets side, Dikembe wears only one style of sneaker and I'm pretty sure it's the same one he's been wearing since about 2001. Iím also pretty sure Nike has discontinued the style. I'll have to investigate further down the line.

2. Will it be No. 8 or No. 24?

Gazing up into the rafters, I saw the Lakers' retired jerseys of Gail Goodrich (No. 25), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (No. 33), Magic Johnson (No. 32), Wilt Chamberlain (No. 13), James Worthy (No. 42), Jerry West (No. 44), Elgin Baylor (No. 22) and Chick Hearn (microphone). So what happens when Kobe hangs it up? Say he plays six or seven more years as No. 24, what's it going to be? Eight or 24?

This isn't a Michael Jordan situation. He only wore No. 45 for about half a season before he went back to No. 23. I guess it would be Kobe's decision, but I think at this point it would be wrong to see any other Laker in No. 8 or No. 24.

Sort of like how it was wrong seeing Luke Schenscher in No. 45 on the Bulls last year.

As far as I'm concerned, any number that Mike wore should be off limits, and that includes the nameless No. 12 he wore one game in 1990 that he had to wear because his jersey was stolen.

Check out Sam Vincent's 1990 Hoop trading card if you don't believe me.

3. They're supposed to be FREE throws

Along with Kwame, who Van Gundy gave the Chris Dudley treatment to after the game, the Rockets' Chuck Hayes can join the Desmond Mason Club for poor shooting strokes.

Hayes is a much better shooter statistically than Kwame, he shoots 63 percent to Kwame's 43 percent, but his form is even more herky jerky.

I can teach these guys how to shoot better. I used to tell the kids I coached at summer basketball camps to remember FEAR - (set your) Feet, (focus on the rim with your) Eyes, (shoot the ball up instead of shooting the ball forward to give it some) Arch, (and get the shooter's roll by giving the ball a good) Rotation.

It works, trust me.

4. Is that a hobbit on the Rockets?

Watching Vassilis Spanoulis warm up for the Rockets was quite amusing. Seeing his disheveled hair and scruffy beard covering up his cherub-like face made me think for a half second that I was really seeing Dominic Monaghan filming a scene for a movie.

Vassilis ... Vass ... Can I call you Vass? You don't need the scruff. It's OK to have a young face. Look at B.J. Armstong, he probably still gets carded when he goes to see PG-13 movies, but you don't see him trying to grow a Rasheed Wallace beard.

Or maybe that's just me playing the pot and calling the kettle black.

5. Best pregame video hype

So far this season I've been to home games for the Nets, Knicks, Clippers and Lakers, and the Lakers' pre-game video package was unmatched. Before the player introductions, white drapes that were bunched up around the jumbotron fell from the ceiling to the court and on the white backdrop the Lakers projected a highlight video chock-full o' Magic and Kareem hook shots, Shaq dunks, Michael Cooper blocks, and George Mikan hearty handshakes.

It was like a living billboard with 60-foot tall images. Really amazing and really got the crowd stirred up.

I've been going to NBA games since I was 8 years old and that was the most impressed I've been with a pregame production ... ever.

6. My favorite Lakers lineup

Kobe had 10 points after the first quarter, which was nice, but far off my 96-point projection so I was elated to see Phil send out Kobe, Sasha Vujacic, Andrew Bynum, Ronny Turiaf and Shammond Williams to start the second period.

If that isn't a "let's get Kobe going again with some guys who will pass him the ball" lineup, I don' t know what is.

Score check three minutes later and Kobe boosted his game total to 18 points, while Ronny, Sasha, Shammond and Bynum all combine for a goose egg.

Love this lineup.

7. Two guys sitting courtside

There were two jokers sitting courtside that got up from their seats at least 17 times during the course of the game. One guy was in a bright red jacket and the other one had sunglasses so big they had to have been designed by Marvin the Martian.

But that's the point, see and be seen. At first they were distracting me and I was getting annoyed, but then I realized, their plan was working perfectly. They were being seen.

If Iím taking out a second mortgage to sit courtside then Iím making as many trips along the sideline to be seen by as many people as I can. Guy next to me needs a hot dog? I think I see the hot dog guy over there, donít get up, Iíll get it. Thereís a white Jeep in the parking lot with its lights on? I better go check on it, I drive a red Pontiac, but you can never be too careful, I mean, have you ever had to ask a stranger for a jump? You might as well be asking a homeless guy for some spare change.

8. Height issue

I got a message on Facebook last week from Cameron in Texas who wrote, "I recently went to a L.A. Lakers game and saw among other players, L.A. Lakers youngster Sasha Vujacic. I'm 6'1'' (I was seven rows up) and Vujacic seemed to be my height or at most maybe an inch taller. On, this guy's listed as 6'7''! Was he wearing heels for that measurement. It's one thing to be generous, but another thing to flat out lie. Isn't that crazy!"

It's not like there is some insider's conspiracy to exaggerate how tall our players are. Whatís that all about? If I hear one more person say, ďWell Allen Iverson is barely a hair over 5-10,Ē I donít know what Iíll do.

Charles Barkley was listed at 6-6, but by most accounts he is really closer to 6-4 1/2. Does any of this matter? If you can play, you can play.

9. Bullard and Novak

I couldn't help but notice Rocket commentator Matt Bullard watching Steve Novak shoot before the game. It was one tall, limited-athletically white guy with a lights-out shot in a suit admiring another tall, limited-athletically white guy with a lights-out shot in a jersey.

Bullard seemed to be enjoying himself, but if it was me, I'd be stewing inside with jealousy. It would be like if I went back to Syracuse and had to go to the parties in a suit and watch a younger version of me have the time of his life for four years.

10. MVP point

The Lakers lost in OT, 107-104. But Kobe still comes away looking like the MVP of the league.

Answer this question: How many guys can be down by 10 with less than five minutes to go against an opponent that is 20 games over .500 and put their team on their back and give them a chance to win the game? Nash has done it before, but he's also been known to run himself down by that juncture in the game. Dirk has been questionable in the clutch. Allen Iverson could do it four or five years ago.

Kobe is that guy now.

Start engraving the Maurice Podoloff Trophy.

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