... about the NBA:
1. And here come the Lakers. They returned home from a 4-2 Eastern road trip with serious questions about the depth that was supposed to be one of the team's strength. Then they beat one of their primary contenders in the West while getting a surprise contribution off the bench. D.J. Mbenga more than held his own against Yao Ming and the other Houston bigs on Friday, scoring eight points and blocking two shots in just 10 minutes of play. The stretch run belonged to Kobe as it always does, and he turned on the switch after having made only four baskets in the first 41 minutes of play, scoring eight quick points to give the Lakers their first double-digit lead of the game with 3:55 to play. The Lakers came away with a 93-81 victory that leaves them just a game behind suddenly struggling Cleveland for the best record in the league.
2. Yes, the game probably meant much more to Orlando going in. But after it was done, the Magic's 116-87 utter destruction of the Cavs had reverberations around the league. The Magic, which normally relies on its defense, upped the pace against the Cavs, which usually likes to slow it down, too, and the result was a 41-point Orlando lead in the third quarter. LeBron said he had never before, in the pros or high school, been down 40 points or more. Friday his team just had no answer for Dwight Howard, who dominated the inside with 20 points, 11 rebounds and three blocks in 27 minutes. Rashard Lewis nailed five of seven three-point attempts, and Rafer Alston had his first double-digit assist game for the Magic, dishing out 10 while scoring 11 points. The Magic are still a game behind Boston for second place in the East, but no one can doubt their ability to beat anyone in the league. And the Cavs, losers of two games in as many nights, look like they could definitely use the home-court advantage that goes with the best record in the league.
3. You wouldn't think the Heat could get away with less than 30 points from Dwayne Wade in a game when their opponents shot 51 percent, but they did in a fierce battle between two teams that really needed a win. The bench was the key in a 97-92 win over the Bobcats, as Daequan Cook scored 16 points, including two free throws to seal it with five seconds to go, and grabbed seven rebounds. The visiting Heat outscored the Cats by 19 points with Cook in the game, and by 18 with rookie Michael Beasley, who shot 7-for-9 for 14 points. The bench as a whole overwhelmed the Charlotte reserves, who were outscored 41-18. Miami, which had lost four of five to slip to sixth place, moves back into a tie for sixth place, while Charlotte drops to two and a half games out of the last playoff spot with just six games to play.