Cavs beat Pistons, 79-74.
Pacers beat Bulls, 107-105.
Bobcats beat Lakers, 94-84.
Charlotte is now 1 game behind Chicago, and 2 games behind Detroit. The Bulls have played 2 more games thus far than either the Bobcats and Pistons have.
The weirdness of the Bobcats is that basketball intuition tells us their starters are reasonably good, and their reserves aren't that much of a downgrade. However, the starters, as a unit, are pretty darn good, while the reserves seem to have settled in to "survive until the starters get back" mode whenever they come in. That's exactly what happened as they defeated the Lakers in front of an energetic packed house.
A comparison of the two teams' leading scorers is a microcosm of how the game went. Kobe scored 25 points, but needed 28 shots to do it and only got 2 boards and 2 assists. He did swipe 3 steals and turned it over once, but Raja Bell got in his head. If you only listened to the crowd, you'd know when Kobe scored, because his legions of
bandwagon fans who never had anything to do with Los Angeles and only root for him and the Lakers because they were really good in the early 2000s and won't care either way when the Lakers drop off again admirers scream their heads off whenever he does something other guys do, like hit a jump shot.
Compare Kobe's evening with Gerald Wallace's. Crash completely outplayed Mamba, to the tune of 21 points on 16 attempts from the field, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, 5 blocks(!), and 0 turnovers(!).(!!!). Wallace didn't score as many points as Kobe, but he came close on far fewer attempts, and he did so many other things to help his team win other than jack up jumpers.
Of course, Raja Bell was a big part of Kobe's misadventures. Early in the game, Kobe swiped the ball from Raja as he attempted to shoot, and Raja earned a tech for verbally blasting the nearest ref. It was an early attempt to sway the officials, and Phil Jackson would follow with a tech of his own later in the game when the Cats had a stretch in which they got the imbalance of calls. It's a shame things have come to this, but those are the little edges teams need to push the odds in their favor.
Of course, just like the Celtics (as a team), Kobe can grab the jersey of his man going around screens and he can use his hands as much as he wants as long as he doesn't jerk a guy to the ground, and the officials won't call it. Then, on the other end of the floor, Jackson's complaining has the effect of occasionally giving Kobe a two foot protective halo around him. I'm sure a lot of opponents get frustrated by the shenanigans, but Raja's been through this enough that I suspect he knows the deal going in and doesn't let it get to him. He didn't get the kind of open looks he normally gets off of elbow screens, but it was okay, because his primary role was defensive stopper, and he played it well. Bell only took 6 shots, but he made 3 of them, and 2 of those were three pointers.
The Bobcats played tremendous defense all night, from starters to bench. While the Cats' bench guys merely survived their minutes grouped with two starters at a time, the Lakers' bench got smoked. Vujacic, Walton, Farmar, Powell, Mbenga,and Shannon Brown combined to shoot 5-22 from the field, and they only took 1 free throw amongst them, a technical shot by Vujacic. Among the starters, Kobe's 11-28 draws the eye, but Pau was 8-17, below his season average. And Trevor Ariza was a dreadful 2-9 from the field.
The Bobcats' sixth win in their last seven tries against the Lake Show counts as one of their four most impressive wins of the season, going with their win at Staples Center, beating Boston at home, and their utter dismantling of the Suns.
Heading to Boston for the second half of a back to back can't be all that delicious, but Kevin Garnett's been shut down and will likely miss out on all the fun. It's a playoff race, people. An honest to goodness playoff race.