The Opening Pitch: Kobe stopped doin' work -- and it worked.
Instead, Kobe started doing his best Billups impression -- selective shooting, setting up teammates. As it turns out, Kobe NOT being Kobe seems to be the only way the top-heavy Lakers can beat the deeper, more balanced Nuggets.
Heading into last night, Kobe had jacked an average of 23 shots per playoff game. In Game 5, though, Kobe took just 13 shots, instead drawing double-teams and dishing 8 assists, his most since the Lakers started running into tougher competition in the conference semis.
And the Lakers ran away with the game in the 4th quarter. Coincidence? Hardly.
In games when Kobe took 15 or fewer shots this year, the Lakers were 16-1. (Selection Bias: Many of those games were blowouts where Kobe didn't NEED to take as many shots.)
But it is worth noting that he has done it just one other time in the playoffs: The decisive Game 7 against the Rockets, when he took only 12 shots -- and the Lakers won by 19.
"Kobe as Dominant Scorer" has not worked for the Lakers against the Nuggets. "Kobe as Billups-ish Facilitator" delivered LA's best result yet.
If you can't beat 'em, co-opt their winning strategy.
New Calipari Scandal? Did Memphis take part in SAT fraud for one of its (cough! star) players from the 2008 Final Four team to make him eligible for his (cough! only) season? Not that Kentucky fans care; Memphis will take any NCAA punishment, not UK.
NBA East Game 5: Between the desperation and the home-court advantage, the Cavs won't lose this game. But the Magic are under absolutely zero pressure to win it -- ironically, giving them their best shot of wrapping up the series tonight. But they won't, really.
Stanley Cup: Wings-Pens -- and it will start Saturday, rather than on June 5 as originally scheduled. What a reasonable move by the NHL, which can't afford to dictate when casual fans might tune in; the better strategy is to maintain the mo' from the conference finals. Will it help (familiarity) or hurt (same old, same old) that it is a rematch of the '08 Finals? Can't hurt that it is the decade's most dominant team versus the league's most marketed player.
MLB Talking Points
• YouTube Moment: Zambrano goes off.
• VoteForManny.com: Get him in the All-Star Game!
• Milestones: Big Unit's Win No. 299.
• Battle for NL Central: Cards take the edge.
• MLB's Worst: Jays lose 9th straight (twice, virtually).
• Rookie Watch: Jake Fox
NFL: Plaxico to the Dolphins? Yes, the Fins need an alpha WR -- but do they really need the trouble that Burress brings? He got in enough problems with Manhattan's nightlife; can you imagine the damage he can do (to himself) on South Beach? Take a pass, Miami.
BCS Mess: As I said yesterday, Worst. Idea. Ever.
More CFB: Big Ten Expansion? You know how much influence Joe Paterno has over the Big Ten's expansion strategy? About as much as I do by saying here "Expand the Big Ten!"
Coaching Carousel: Billy Gillispie is a bit of a sore loser.
New PED Scandal? If the Nationals really are involved, that pretty much refutes the evidence that PEDs, y'know, help.
The Last Word: Barca wins! Brian Cook has a must-read about why Barcelona winning is a victory for all of us (except you Man. U fans, or maybe you Real Madrid fans. OK, or maybe you still-bitter Chelsea fans).
By the way: Let's clarify, because it has come up a bunch. Manchester is sponsored by AIG -- Boo! (Yes, your tax dollars at work.) But it's not that Barca is sponsored by UNICEF (Yay!) ... the team *pays* UNICEF, additionally promoting the cause on their kits.
Dan Shanoff writes The Wake-Up Call every weekday morning for SportingNews.com and blogs daily at DanShanoff.com. Got any comments, questions or feedback? Email Dan at shanofftsn-[at]-gmail-[dot]-com. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/danshanoff.
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