There are plenty of heated story lines going into today's highly explosive matchup at the Staples Center between the Los Angeles Lakers and Miami Heat, from Mike Brown coaching against his former superstar to whether the Lakers can pass a major litmus test.
Although those stories are intriguing, there is no doubt the Kobe-LeBron dual is going to be the one headline that will captivate everyone.
Kobe Bryant raised eyebrows this weekend by saying that he's never had a rival throughout his NBA career.
Shot at LeBron?
For as long as we can remember, many people, especially Laker's fans, want to make the conjecture that Kobe is better than LeBron and their only argument is that he has five rings compared to James' goose egg.
However, that argument isn't fair. Championships are not individual accomplishments. Teams win titles, not players. Let's face it, Kobe's title-winning Laker teams have all been stacked with guys like Shaquille O'Neal, Robert Horry, Lamar Odom, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
LeBron, on the other hand, had Mo Williams and Zydrunas Ilgauskas for the most part. And he was still able to go to the Finals with very little help in 2007.
For the most part, it's hard to blame James for his lack of playoff success. The only fair argument would be last year's NBA Finals, but even then the only reason why Miami made the Finals was because of James.
And for Kobe to say that he's never had a rival when James has been absolutely tearing it up in Cleveland and Miami is foolish.
In fact, James' Cavs and Heat are 11-6 against Kobe's Lakers in head-to-head matchups and it can be argued that in most of those games the Lakers had the better team.
So what has lead to LeBron's success against the Lakers?
Here's a thought: James is the best player in the game and has been for a long time, and Kobe should take him seriously as a rival.
Folks, it's not only about points per game or rings anymore.
We don't live in 1944 anymore. Just like how there have been advancements in the field of medicine, there are advanced metrics in sports now that measure a player's true value. "Saying James has no rings. Kobe has 5. Therefore, Kobe is better." is like trying to cure an illness by exorcising a demon in the head of an ill patient.
Old. Outdated. Primitive.
Stats like John Hollinger's PER and websites like www.82games.com crunch numbers constantly to end debates like these are readily available.
The "Simple Rating" introduced by 82games is a variation of the Hollinger number and in both 2010-11 and this season, LeBron has a substantial advantage over Kobe. In fact, this season the gap between No. 1 (LeBron) and No. 2 is not even close.
The site itself says it's never accurate to completely evaluate a player based on one number, but it's still a pretty good metric. It's a lot better than championships.
In terms of head-to-head against the Lakers, LeBron has had success because of the Lakers lack of stability at the small forward position throughout the years. Because of LeBron's overall dominance and the fact that the team really hasn't had anyone to go up against James, it's easily explainable why he does so well against LA.
Since 2005-06, the Lakers have had a net PER (Hollinger number) at the small forward percentage greater than 2.0 just once. Net PER by position is the comparison of a team's production to the opponent production. From this we can learn whether the team has been getting a net positive or negative overall contribution from that position.
In comparison to other positions like shooting guard and center, that net value is pretty low. In recent years, the Lakers have been strong at those positions because of Kobe Bryant, Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum. Thus, the Net PER is high.
In their championship season, the Lakers PER in those positions was well over 5.0, thus exemplifying their strength.
In contrast, Miami's net PER at the small forward position was 8.3 last season and 11.3 this season. In other words, James is a pretty damn good player.
That's the simplest way to explain James' dominance against the Lakers throughout his career. He has completely exploited the Lakers small forwards.
Kobe, on the other hand, with better teammates has been unable to lead the Lakers to wins. Despite playing well against James' teams, James has just played better.
Bryant may be in for a rude surprise again this afternoon against James' Heat. And if the Lakers can find a way to make the NBA Finals, there's no doubt that we may see James quickly show Kobe the exit sign.
To say that James isn't a rival because they're not contemporaries is foolish. They've been in the league together since 2003. That's almost a decade. This isn't like Kobe and Jordan being in the league together for a short period of time in the late 1990s when Jordan was ending his career and Kobe was just starting it off the bench.
Kobe can talk all he wants and show off his well-deserved rings.
That's great and all and there is no denying that Kobe is one of the greatest players of all-time.
LeBron's just better.