With 5:26 left in the third quarter, the Charlotte Bobcats led the L.A. Lakers by a startling 20 points and who the worst team in the NBA truly was had been cast into doubt.
Was it the Bobcats clearly the worst for the past two seasons and losers of 32 of their past 36?
Or was it the Lakers the supposed Superteam that had turned into the definition of dysfunction?
I was irritated, Kobe Bryant would say later. Really irritated.
Kobe then did something about it, and the Lakers won 100-93 before a sellout home crowd of 19,624 in Charlotte that was evenly split between Lakers and Bobcats fans.
Kobe scored 14 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, even though he played only the final 6:51.
For most of the first three quarters, Kobe had tried to do his best Steve Nash imitation. He was passive and passed the ball constantly. The NBAs third-leading scorer seemed to be trying not to score in order to prove some sort of strange point.
At halftime, Kobe had taken two shots, missed both and had exactly as many points as you did zero.
The Bobcats, meanwhile, were continuing their inexplicable hold over the Lakers. The Bobcats hadnt lost to the Lakers in Charlotte since 2008 and had won the teams past three meetings in Time Warner Cable Arena by an average of 15 points.
The Bobcats were dunking off alley-oops. Kemba Walker was making Steve Nash look glacially slow.
I thought watching the Bobcats lose by 27 at Cleveland on Wednesday night was painful. But the Lakers took painful to a whole new subterranean level in the first half. They were awful.
Tickets were going for as much as $100 for upper-deck seats for the Lakers first appearance in Charlotte since 2011, one broker outside the arena told me. But Lakers fans didnt get their moneys worth early. The Lakers have had 50 games to get used to each other and still looked like a team with no identity.
Said Lakers coach Mike DAntoni: All the B.S. on the outside, weve just got to shut it off and play hard . We just got to be able to put earplugs in, or mufflers on, or a blender on.
Or, as Kobe said later: It cant be about individual touches. It just cant be about that.
At the end, it wasnt. It was about Kobe winning the game for the Lakers, as he has done hundreds of times over the years. Said DAntoni: Kobe controlled the game at the end.
Late in the game, Lakers fans started shouting MVP! MVP! The echoes could be heard throughout the arena.
The Bobcats (11-38) got good games from Byron Mullens (20 points, 12 rebounds), Gerald Henderson (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Walker (18 points, eight assists).
But when Kobe decided to be Kobe again even on a Lakers team that is only 24-27 it still wasnt enough. The Lakers gave them a run for it, but the Bobcats remain the NBAs worst.
Scott Fowler: email@example.com; Twitter: @Scott_Fowler.
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