Kobe Bryant Guarantees a Lakers Playoff Spot; Tony Parker Dominates Chris Paul

We watched Thursday’s games expecting showdowns. We got two routs, with each one asking whether the result was more about the winners (San Antonio and Miami) or the losers (Los Angeles Clippers or Chicago). The answers aren’t black and white so, sorry if you expected a perfectly clear crystal ball with still about 25 games left in the regular season. All four teams did, however, leave powerful impressions. Let’s begin with San Antonio in the nightcap, a 116-90 victory that surely has to be the exception rather than the rule with Chris Paul‘s play. He had four points, three assists and his 1-of-6 shooting was nothing like his All-Star Game MVP performance; even Chris Bosh‘s All-Star embarrassment didn’t look as bad as Paul on Thursday night. Two things though: He won’t play a game this poorly the rest of the season and Tony Parker is the real story, not Paul. Parker did work like a surgeon with a dinner reservation, systematically dismembering the Clippers’ defense and then getting out as soon as the job was done. He only played 28 minutes and yet he had 31 points and seven assists while making 75 percent of his shots, those floaters and drives and dozens of angles he can execute from near the rim that are so hard to stop (though the best dish of the night was from Tiago Splitter, not Parker, by hitting Parker on a backdoor baseline cut). And he did it without Tim Duncan. Yeah, one of the greatest power forwards ever played just eight minutes and yet the Spurs stil rolled to their 16th win in 17 games. … Chicago gift-wrapped its 86-67 loss to Miami. So our main impression of the Heat’s big road win is that it was convincing in that it showed the Heat’s improvement at putting a boot on a team’s neck when they’re down. The other one is that the Bulls are a distracted team. Derrick Rose‘s brother shot off earlier in the day that the team’s lack of moves didn’t persuade his brother to come back any quicker from knee surgery. Our BS detector says Rose would put on for his city no matter what, but Thursday’s game was still hard to watch. LeBron had 26 points, 12 boards and seven dimes and had perfect shooting in the first half. He had the “oops!” moment when his wide-open dunk attempt flew out of his butterfingers but that was basically the entire Bulls performance with 27 turnovers. … … Hit the jump to read about Kobe Bryant’s guarantee

Who’s going to break it to Kobe Bryant that he’s wrong about the thing he cares most deeply about? The Lakers are going to be extremely hard pressed to make the playoffs. Three and a half games behind Houston doesn’t sound like much considering the Rockets have a squad making their first run at a bid together, but the Lakers are so inconsistent their team isn’t a better bet to flip the mysterious “switch” and make a run. Remember, 48 wins is the average No. 8 spot in the last five years and the Lakers have 26 wins with 27 games left. Still, #CountOnKobe to be the most confident man in the NBA about his team’s chances. “It’s not a question of if we make the playoffs. We will. And when we get there, I have no fear of anyone,” he told Sports Illustrated in an interview released Thursday. … The trade deadline picked up steam with about a half hour to go but even then it was about as exciting as a “Who’s Better: Oliver Miller or Eddy Curry?” debate. Josh Smith and Atlanta get to pretend like neither side really wanted to be rid of the other. He can call up Pau Gasol and see if that helped his confidence the time Gasol got non-traded to Houston and then entered the tailspin he’s never recovered from. Smith wanted out just as much as the Hawks don’t want to pay him a max contract, a situation that means Smith may be the only person who looked at Milwaukee in February and saw a short-term paradise. As it happens J.J. Redick is going to Wisconsin along with Gustavo Ayon. That was the most interesting trade of Thursday. Portland got better at backup point guard with Eric Maynor and Boston got a big-time scorer in Jordan Crawford, too. Maynor’s interesting because the hype of how vital he was to OKC — and his potential once he was healthy again — has never seemed to come true since his return this season from last year’s devastating knee injury. Is he mostly hype or were his so-so performances because of a loss of confidence following Reggie Jackson taking over his role in OKC? … Ever since getting Rudy Gay, Toronto’s GM has been talking to every outlet about how big things weren’t finished with their trade plans. Then they traded for Sebastian Telfair. Huge move in 2003. … Welcome back Kenyon Martin! The Knicks signed Martin to a 10-day contract after he’d been without a team the entire season. Will he be capable of decent play in short spurts or is his conditioning going to hold him back the entire length of the contract? … We’re out like Redick in Orlando.

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