MIAMI – After the Lakers sleep-walked through another in a string of sluggish, disinterested starts and lost to a Heat team just happy to be back at .500, did Kobe Bryant think it was panic time?
Did he think the Lakers needed anything dramatic to shake them from their doldrums on the road, where the defending champs are a pedestrian 9-8 this calendar year – with 10 of their next 13 games away from Staples?
After scoring 39 points and hitting the overtime-forcing jumper in his sixth game back from a five-game absence with a nagging assortment of injuries, Bryant’s most astute observation was not about his team, but about the opponent.
The guy who needs a little help was wearing a Miami Heat jersey Thursday night.
“He had 14 assists, but there’s still too much on him,” Bryant said after Wade did it all – 27 points and 14 assists – in Miami’s 114-111 overtime victory over the Lakers. “He literally had to make every play, had to try to penetrate and pitch in. That can wear you down. So hopefully, he’ll get somebody who can step up and make plays and give him a couple of plays off.”
This is a sensitive topic in these parts, and also in a certain city on the Cuyahoga River where free agency D-Day looms. Every crucial Miami basket Thursday night came from Wade or resulted in a play he set up with his play-making dominance. You watch him will his .500 team to a victory over the defending champs, and you wonder: Damn, how good would he be with some help?
In fairness, he got more than usual Thursday night – 25 points from Quentin Richardson, who along with Wade had Ron Artest’s head on a swivel all night. Q-Rich made 7-for-11 from 3-point range, including one off an assist from Wade that gave the Heat a 99-97 lead with 11.1 seconds left. Instead of that being the game-winner, Kobe casually accepted the ensuing inbounds pass, dribbled the length of the court, and drilled the tying jumper over Wade with 3.3 seconds left.
Wade also didn’t have to make the two defensive plays of the night. Those were turned in by Jermaine O’Neal in the final minute of overtime – a chase-down block of Jordan Farmar and a drawn charge against Bryant with 18.7 seconds left. But in the closing minutes of the fourth quarter and overtime, nearly every one of Miami’s baskets and scoring opportunities came from Wade. Of course they did. Who else?
“He’s a fantastic player,” Bryant said.
Despite Artest’s interesting comment that the Lakers won’t see Miami again “until June” – what, June 2011? – Wade will have to settle for being fantastic player happy to get the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. And there are no guarantees about that.
“When I had the ball and gave it up to Q to hit that three, that shows my teammates that I’m about winning,” Wade said. “I’m not about, ‘I need to hit this shot because Kobe just hit a shot.’ To me, it’s not about that.”
No, Wade doesn’t want or need Kobe’s pity – and that’s not how Kobe meant it, anyway. Hey, not every superstar has the good fortune of playing with two 7-footers, one of the most dominant shutdown defenders in the league, and a guy named Lamar Odom coming off the bench.
Not every team is so good it can sputter around for three quarters against one of the top three players in the world and still have a chance to win at the end. Cognizant of all this, the Lakers were appropriately nonplused by the evening’s events. The postgame comment that most closely approximated concern was this from Artest: “Unfortunately, I think we took this game lightly. … We have to start winning some games on the road. We have to.”
The only other perceptible bristling in the Lakers’ postgame routine came from Phil Jackson, who just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to tweak the referees and invite a sizeable fine for the good of the team. With 29 seconds left in regulation and the Lakers leading 97-96, Bryant air-balled a 20-footer. Only neither Bryant nor Jackson thought it was self-induced.
“Kobe shot an airball, but I’m sure he didn’t shoot an airball,” Jackson said. “It’s unconscionable that that call can’t be made at that point in the game.”
Informed of Jackson’s description, Bryant said, “That’s a good term. A good term. I actually stopped playing for a second. I thought I didn’t hear the whistle, honestly.”
For Bryant, there’s always the next game, with plenty of reinforcements at the ready.