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Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant (front) wipes his face after missing a free throw late in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Hornets during Game 4 of their NBA Western Conference first round playoff basketball game in New Orleans, Louisiana April 24, 2011. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (Sean Gardner/Reuters)
Los Angeles Lakers' Kobe Bryant (front) wipes his face after missing a free throw late in the fourth quarter against the New Orleans Hornets during Game 4 of their NBA Western Conference first round playoff basketball game in New Orleans, Louisiana April 24, 2011. REUTERS/Sean Gardner (Sean Gardner/Reuters)

Seven in the morning

Kobe Bryant clutchless? The Predators have lore now and more... Add to ...

There are a few truths so ingrained that they rarely get questioned until reality slams into them and they shatter. The Liberals as Canada's natural governing party, for example, or Kobe Bryant as the NBA's best closer.

The bigger surprise might be that Bryant, the Los Angeles Lakers superstar, is not quite the late game sure thing his reputation makes him out to be.

Make a few high profile shots to win games and you can make a name for yourself in a highlight driven age. But the problem in an era when statistics lie less and less is that the discerning fan (or journalist) can make the distinction between shooting a lot late in games and being efficient late in games.

Bryant shoots a lot, but isn't always efficient. Last night down the stretch he had a hand in two late game Lakers turnovers and missed a potential game winner that his reputation suggests he always makes.

Fortunately it was only Game 1 and what looks like a pretty compelling Western Conference semi-final between the Dallas Mavericks and the Los Angeles Lakers is just getting started, so we'll start with that.

1. Jason Kidd -- an old dog with old tricks -- puts the bite on Kobe:

The Dallas Mavericks point guard has been outstanding so long that it's easy to overlook him sometimes when talking about the game's great players. At 38 he's still bringing it and last night he was everywhere for the Mavericks with seven points, three steals, five rebounds and 11 assists for Dallas. And then down the stretch he hounded Bryant into mistakes and misses and helped Dallas to a huge win and threw a wrench into David Stern's visions of a Lakers-Heat Final: In a series opener that was beyond crucial, the Mavericks had to dodge a bullet from the NBA's best gunslinger. Kobe Bryant with the ball in his hands and the clock ticking down is as scary a situation as there is. "To be honest with you, you don't want to see that,'' Tyson Chandler said. This time, the Mavericks stared down the barrel and survived, in part because the Mavericks had a rusty, old silencer named Jason Kidd that they could put on Bryant. Kidd in essence asked for the opportunity to guard Bryant at the end of the game and responded with a steal and forcing tough shots as the Mavericks overcame a 16-point third-quarter deficit for a 96-94 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers in Game 1 of their Western Conference semifinals series.How important was stealing home-court advantage away in the opener?The Lakers have a fabulous history in the playoffs when winning Game 1 (49-2). But coach Phil Jackson's even better. Going back to his Chicago days, his teams are 48-0 when they go up 1-0 in a playoff series. Those are steep odds to buck. And the Mavericks won't have to after winning a playoff game in LA for the first time in franchise history (0-10).

2. If not for the Canucks, Nashville would be a great underdog story:

I am not ashamed to say I'm open to the idea of getting excited by the Canucks' run to the Stanley Cup. Hockey is great; but it's hard for me to get excited about watching Tampa Bay and San Jose duke it out for hockey supremacy in June. Having a Canadian team in it keeps me in it and it's hard not to respect the excellence the Canucks exhibited over the regular season and be fascinated as they struggle to find themselves in the post-season (again). But for all that the Nashville Predators are an easy team to like for several reasons, not the least of which is that they've had the same head coach and general manager since the franchise was founded: When Barry Trotz first arrived in the middle of Tennessee, he had no office, no staff and no team to coach. This was a dream job? He and David Poile, the general manager foolish enough to hire him, did everything from scratch with the Nashville Predators. Right down to choosing the dressing-room carpeting. "We were picking out carpet and David said: 'Trust me, it's not that big a deal,' " Trotz recalled Monday, "because you're going to be gone before the carpet is worn out.'" Fourteen years and 13 National Hockey League seasons later, Trotz and Poile not only outlasted the floor coverings but survived some trap-doors to turn the Predators into a money-making team good enough to advance beyond the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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