By Sam Rubenstein

I started putting this together on Sunday night, hoping to give praise to Kobe’s 65 point game and how he saves his best for the Blazers for some reason, then give equal time to the NCAA tourney and NBA developments over the weekend.

Never mind that, it’s Kobe time. 65 and then 50. Before we start to ask if this puts him right there with Nash and Dirk or any name you’d like to enter into the MVP race, let’s get one thing out of the way: we have never come to a consensus what it means to be MVP. It’s become something that everyone defines for themselves. Is it the most essential player to his team? The best in the league no matter how many other great players he plays with? The definition is vague enough, so you can argue it anyway you want. I think the league likes it that way, so people will argue about who wins the award for years and it gets them to talk about the NBA more, which is always good for marketing and promotions.

Kobe Bryant is a lethal basketball machine, no matter what you think of him. 65 and then 50 for a team on a horrible losing streak clinging to a playoff spot. Two amazing games in a row, and he’s been known to get hot and throw up 40 plus every night for weeks at a time. We’ll see what he’s got in store for us. This season he’s been saving his best for Friday and Saturday nights as a way to discredit the Player of the D.A.Y. standings, which don’t account for those games. After his 65 pointer on Friday night, I decided he would be the winner on Monday (later today) no matter what, unless something truly sensational happened. Well… he was the one that gave himself competition, so this is the most obvious one yet. A guy who was going to win by executive decision went out and earned it for good measure. That’s just proper ethics, which you love to see. Tonight there are two pretty boring games in the NBA, and that’s all. Unless somebody goes bananas, I might give Kobe a make-up Player of the D.A.Y. tomorrow as well.

The Lakers got this huge jolt of excitement as a team, and now they have Odom and Luke Walton back. They are still clinging to that 6th seed, with no realistic chance to catch the Rockets, who are seven games ahead of them. Denver is playing better, and Golden State is riding the high from the Dallas win and looks ready to claim its spot in the playoffs, which was not a given for most of the season. The closest threats to the playoff picture in the West are now the Clippers, Kings, and Hornets. I don’t know if anyone needs to be too concerned about losing their spot to that elite group. Phil Jackson and Kobe were on the edge of missing the playoffs for the second time in three years, but the weekend Kobplosion has saved them. They needed every single point he gave them, with both games being close.

The funny thing to watch now is this: Denver is surging but are stuck with the 7th seed at the moment. That is where they want to be, if you saw what they did to Phoenix over the weekend, and that’s who they would play. Golden State is in at the 8th seed, which would give Nellie another crack at Dallas, whom the Warriors have owned this season.

And now we turn to College basketball. YES! Truthfully I did not sit around all weekend watching TV. Friday night I was out, and yesterday I went to see the Bodies exhibition (which is incredible by the way). The one day I binged on the tourney was Saturday, and I got lucky cause it was the only great March Madness day so far. By the time the UCLA game was in crunch time, I was out celebrating the greatness of the Irish people, and I almost accidentally picked up an Irish lass (sorry, taken!), based on my tourney bracket, fulfilling the dream of this entertaining Cultural Oddsmaker column. It’s a long story that I will keep to myself. Forever. That was a tourney highlight, and you thought Double OT and Ohio State nearly going down in flames was exciting. But let’s go to the SLAMonline brackets.

The overall leader is Spartdog, with MS427, Popolo Pueos, and Big Nick Da Beast right behind him (I assume he’s a he). Of that group, all of their Final Fours are still intact, except for Pueos who had Texas going there. The field is still pretty wide open, and the prize is still being discussed.

Okay, a few more NBA thoughts. This is a strange season. The Knicks played the Raptors in a game with actual playoff implications in the Eastern conference, though the Raptors are basically guaranteed to win their division and make the playoffs. Never thought I would write a sentence like that. The Knicks won with Stephon Marbury playing great with 21 and 9, but this video via deadspin via Truesportsfans might be his finest performance. Remember that Steph and Ray Allen were traded for each other the day they were drafted. Ray has gone on to become one of the finest thespians in athletics, and I believe he even has a SAG membership card. Have you seen his recent commercial with his daughter promoting women’s basketball? It’s a nice idea, but his acting there is wooden at best. Has Ray regressed as an actor? Is he being out-acted by Steph? I think so.

The Suns two game mailing it in streak has illustrated something for me. Mike D’Antoni might be a genius for implementing his system and style of ball, revolutionizing pace and spacing, applications of the pick and roll, inbounding the ball while the other team is still celebrating, etc. But at the end of the day, some of these top flight athletes just respond better to having somebody yell at them. CBS showed Bruce Pearl firing up his Tennessee team before their game yesterday with some fire and brimstone “We gotta take it! They ain’t giving us nothing! You gotta want it!” while he was wearing bright orange suspenders. If I was in that locker room, I’d be like “Where’s your body paint, pretty boy?” But big time athletes tend to respond to that rah rah go out and kill ’em schtick, and you can’t argue with success. Avery Johnson gets his team to feel disrespected, and they play with a chip on their shoulder. The Suns are more fun to watch (IMO) and they proved they can win a big game in Dallas, but now I’m nervous about their killer instinct again.

The Nuggets are figuring out what they are, and Iverson was unstoppable in the Suns game. 44 and 15? That means he was responsible for 74 points by himself, and he must have assisted on a few threes and set up teammates that were fouled and added assist-free points from the free throw line. You could mention that this was the worst case scenario of Nash and the Suns non-defense playing style, but I’d say it was more a case of a team not even showing up and laying down before the game started.

The Spurs lost to the Celtics at home, giving San Antonio a two game losing streak. Of course they did. Miami finally lost a game, with Orlando knocking them off, so no 17 gamer for Miami in this season of streakiness.

Aaaaaaand we’re caught up.