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Ginobili vs. Dracula, Chapter 6

Curse that cheap charm around Jefferson's neck! The lithe figure had not quenched her unholy thirst. She crouched and waited in a darkened booth at the Cheesecake Factory, pretending to munch on fried mac and cheese and Tex Mex eggrolls. She looked up over her untouched Mosquito Bite specialty cocktail. Sure enough, someone stumbled from the bar, and she followed. He smelled of scotch and crazy ideas, but he would have to do.

For his part, Coach Don Nelson was so blotto that he did not so much as flinch when she struck.

The feminine shade stumbled to her crypt. How much did that man drink? She hiccuped and drew her favorite quilt about her. She snuggled down, happy for the coming day and the dreams it would bring, dreams of sweet sips of Ginobili's blood.

The Golden State Warriors were star-crossed, injury addled, and without their coach Don Nelson (supposedly he suffered pneumonia). But Pop warned they were still a dangerous and unpredictable team. Indeed, the Spurs had no answer for the pint-sized Monta Ellis, who seemed to score at will.

Then, during an 11-minute stretch in the third quarter, the Spurs felt different. It was as if Manu had entered the game, even though they could see him sitting on the bench with calm eyes closed.  Each Spur felt a new will to win like trees feel the sun after a long night. Driving to the hoop, right-handed RJ favored his left hand, like Ginobili. George Hill threw an Ginobili-esque pass over the baseline to Roger Mason, who would not miss the three-point shot. For those 11 minutes, it was if they were all Ginobili and the Spurs outscored the Warriors 31-10 to take a commanding 108-88 lead.

Pop's plan was working.

* * * * * *

Kobe Bryant slammed the locker door. The master was back, and Kobe hated being anyone's sidekick.

Kobe would never forget when it all changed. Phil Jackson returned to coach the Lakers after a year-long sabbatical. He had spent time in Eastern Europe, and came back a different man. His meditation rituals were now held in complete darkness and he munched on a trail mix of assorted live insects. Kobe eventually discovered the source of Jackson's metamorphosis, but the Lakers began to win again for the first time since they traded Shaq. So he accepted it.

But then Coach Jackson called Kobe into his office. "Kobe, you can no longer wear number eight. He wants it."

The figure eight. Infinity turned on its side.

"Let me play him for it, one-on-one," Kobe pleaded.

Jackson scoffed, "Kobe, you know what happened to Jordan and the others -- you aren't good enough."

The words stung Kobe, even as the wins piled up. He was better than Jordan and the others, and he knew it. He would challenge Dracula. He had to.

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