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Battle of the Network Stars

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It’s all about promoting stars in the NBA — and two of the biggest collide at 12:30 (on ABC 7) when Kobe Bryant and his Lakers take on LeBron James and his Cavaliers. A match-up made in NBA executives’ dreams (and their dreams all involve ratings and marketing tie-ins).

What ABC talking heads will likely fail to mention is that both of these guys are scoring less than last season. In the case of Kobe, it’s because he’s passing to teammates (a strategy that has not worked well the last couple of games as his teammates have gone cold). Kobe is taking seven fewer shots a game than last season, but the team is winning more. It’s a trade-off that a team’s real fans will make, but network execs and newspaper columnists looking for only drama will lament.

The bigger secret is “King” James isn’t playing as well as last season, when he had his NBA coming out party in the playoffs. This season he’s averaging 6 fewer points per game, his shooting percentage is down and he just hasn’t been as impressive. The reason is that other teams have adjusted – they know that James doesn’t have a lot of teammates who can score so they are rotating to make LeBron beat two or three defenders every time he tries to score. James, on the other hand, hasn’t adjusted his game – if he hit midrange jumpers (as Kobe does so well) he could score at will. But rather than spend the time to work on that part of his game he just tries to get to the basket, he just goes for the spectacular.

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And there will be some spectacular plays today, Kobe and LeBron will make the execs smile plenty. But the guy that gets the win will be the one that gets the most help from his teammates. Just don’t tell the ABC marketing suits that it takes five to win.

(By the way, if you miss this one the two teams play again Thursday, 7:30 on TNT. It’s time for their suits to salivate.)

Photo via AP