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Like blockbuster movies, the NBA is marketed around its superstars — it was Magic and Bird more than the Lakers and Celtics 20 years ago. Then it was Jordan vs. the world. Kobe and Shaq. The LeBrons.
Tonight two of the games superstars collide at Staples Center — Kobe Bryant and Alan Iverson (Fox Sports at 7:30). Kobe comes in off an overtime win last night in Sacramento where he didn’t score in the first quarter, dished the ball instead and by early in the third quarter the Lakers were up by 21. Then they stopped playing defense and gave it all back. Kobe took over parts of the game — he had 9 of the team’s 15 in overtime — but it was a pass to Smush Parker for a layup that got the game into overtime and saved the day.
Iverson comes in wearing the unfamiliar powder blue of Denver; he was traded just two weeks ago. Life in the frigid Rockies must feel a world away from the gritty streets of Philadelphia where Iverson seemed a natural. However, on the court Denver is a much better fit for Iverson — the Nuggets play at the fastest pace in the league (three more trips up and down the court per game than even Phoenix) and he is still the best open-court player in the league. And the talent around him is substantially better in Denver.
Kobe and Iverson are the NBA’s poster boys of scoring, each has won the league scoring title in the last two years. Both have reputations as guys who don’t pass even though Kobe leads the Lakers averaging 5.3 assists per game, and Iverson has averaged 8.8 since joining the Nuggets. Both are missing a number of their key players around them — Kobe is without Lamar Odom and Kwame Brown due to injuries, Iverson is without Carmelo Anthony due to him sucker punching a Knicks player — and both are more than willing to make up the difference in scoring themselves.
Of course, after all the marketing and hype, basketball is still a team game. And tonight, whichever team has its other players step up and help out the most will win the game. That just doesn’t sell as many tickets.