NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Bryant may try to play Sunday; says left ankle is improving — Three days ago, it was somewhat of a big deal that Kobe Bryant, who is still recovering from Achilles surgery, dunked in practice. On Wednesday, reports surfaced that Bryant would not play tonight when the Lakers travel to Sacramento. But after practicing Thursday and citing improvement in his left ankle, Kobe may be back in the lineup in a matter of days — perhaps even playing Sunday night when the Lakers host the Toronto Raptors (9:30 ET, NBA TV). ESPNLosAngeles.com’s Dave McMenamin and Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times have reports on Bryant’s progress and potential return.
First, here’s McMenamin’s report on a potential Sunday return:
Kobe Bryant continues to hone in his aim toward a return date after spending nearly eight months sidelined following Achilles surgery.
The Los Angeles Lakers’ home game against the Toronto Raptors on Sunday is his latest target.
“I’m trying,” Bryant said after practice Thursday when asked specifically about the Toronto game. “We got to see how it feels tonight. I’m going to try to get another hard session in and then [Friday] morning try to push it again and the same thing tomorrow evening. Continue to just keep on measuring it.”
Bryant wouldn’t definitively say Sunday would be the day, but if not, Tuesday’s home game against the Phoenix Suns seems to be his next most likely comeback date.
“I think days,” Lakers coach Mike D’Antoni said when asked to estimate how far away Bryant is from getting back on the court for a game.
“I’m not jumping through the gym by any means, but I don’t need to be able to do that in order to be a great player,” Bryant said.
The 18-year veteran said that he would “probably” have a reduced amount of playing time when he does return to game action. He averaged 38.6 minutes per game last season.
“Getting your sea legs, it takes some time to do that,” Bryant said. “That’s why we have preseason games and it builds to the regular season. It just takes awhile, no matter how much running and conditioning you do, to get out there and play is different. So, I’m sure I’ll be limited in some capacity.”
And here’s Bolch on Kobe’s improving left ankle, which is a key component to figuring out any return for the Lakers’ star:
Kobe Bryant practiced for a third consecutive day Thursday and said he felt improvement in his left ankle.
“It feels stronger this morning than it did yesterday before practice,” Bryant said, “and it’s less sore now than it was after last practice, so that’s progression.”
Bryant said he had already experienced enhanced range of motion in the ankle from a previous series of consecutive practices last month.
“After the first day or so the last time I practiced, my range of motion became restricted and everything kind of locked up and I wasn’t able to run and change directions and sprint like I really wanted to,” Bryant said, “I don’t feel like I have any limitations [now], really. The change of gear is not quite where I want it to be, but it’s easy to compensate through that and go out there and be effective.”
There was a rarity at practice: Bryant played with the second team, though it was only to allow the first-teamers to prepare for their game Friday against Sacramento.
Bryant spent the portion of practice reporters were allowed to observe shooting jumpers and free throws. He swished several long three-pointers and seemed to move with ease.
“I’m not jumping through the gym by any means,” Bryant said, “but I don’t need to be able to do that in order to be a great player.”
Bryant said he needed to break up lingering scar tissue in his ankle through movement and therapy. He said he was pleased with his conditioning but still needed to get into basketball shape.
No. 2: Crowd cheers Bargnani for ejection against Nets — Since coming over to the Knicks in an offseason trade with the Raptors, big man Andrea Bargnani has frustrated New York fans with inconsistent play and struggles (just like the rest of the Knicks have done all season, too). But his inspired play last night at Barclays Center against the rival Brooklyn Nets — and his refusal to back down to future Hall of Famer Kevin Garnett — got cheers from the crowd. Bargnani outplayed Garnett and was even trash talking him, too, which got him tossed from last night’s game, writes Marc Berman of the New York Post:
A large portion of the pro-Knicks crowd at Barclays Center stood up and cheered as Andrea Bargnani walked off the court with 8:23 left after his first NBA ejection for jawing with trash-talk king Kevin Garnett.
More impressive was as the 7-foot Italian headed for the tunnel after his second technical, the Knicks players on the court and bench were on their feet clapping too.
Bargnani had set the tone of the evening with a monstrous driving dunk down the right baseline and then ended it in style with an ejection that earned him major kudos in the giddy Knicks’ locker room.
“We need him to get upset like that,’’ J.R. Smith said. “We need him to get engaged. He played great but it was the wrong referee [Joey Crawford] making the call.’’
But his grappling and jawing with Garnett was refreshingly out of character.
“He held it down for us,’’ said Carmelo Anthony, whose profane battle with Garnett cost the Knicks a game last season against the Celtics. “He played well. He got kicked out when he didn’t think he was supposed to. Sometimes you got to do that. Tonight he was the sacrificial lamb. He got kicked out tonight, but it might have been worth it.’ ’’
It began with 9:12 left when Bargnani and Garnett became entangled and both tried grabbing each other’s jersey on the way down and pushing as they tried to get up. They each received technicals.
That wasn’t the end of it. Less than a minute later, Bargnani, after draining a 21-foot catch-and shoot, started yapping at Garnett on the way back downcourt. Crawford blew his whistle and sent Barngani to the showers with the Knicks up 30 points.
Bargnani said he was speaking English. But when Garnett, who had six points, was asked what Bargnani had said, he cracked, “I don’t understand Italian.’’
Bargnani had the last laugh, though.
“We were both talking,’’ he said. “There is no point to talking about it. We were both talking. I got ejected. I was far away from Joey. He just pointed.’’
It clearly wasn’t a subject Bargnani wanted to discuss. Unfortunately, his career in Toronto was marked by criticism he was too detached and not fiery enough.
“It’s not important,’’ Bargnani said. “The game is important and that we won. We got to use this positive energy and start building. I don’t think you can be happy about an ejection but we got the game. My ejection was just part of the game. The most important thing is we played great.’’
No. 3: Lopez: Nets season ‘more bizarre’ than 12-win campaign — Nets center Brook Lopez is arguably the best player Brooklyn has healthy as it plays most nights without the injured Paul Pierce and Deron Williams. Lopez has been with the Nets his whole career and has seen highs and lows, both personally and team-wise, but perhaps the worst point for the Nets as a team was a 12-win season in 2009-10. In an interview with Fred Kerber of the New York Post following last night’s loss to the Knicks, Lopez expounds on the disappointing and strange season so far in Brooklyn:
“I thought I got the craziness out of the way early, I thought I’d be done with it,” said Lopez, pointing back to the nightmare of his second season, the nauseating 12-70 record in 2009-10 when the Nets were a mere 29 games out of the playoffs. “This is definitely more bizarre than that, though.”
Yeah, tumbling to a 5-14 record after a 113-83 embarrassment against the now 4-13 Knicks Thursday at Barclays Center could be considered bizarre. Coaches and players spoke of defensive systems being inserted on the fly. That’s sort of different from the championship aspirations both teams espoused in the offseason.
Now add various injuries, the hiring of a future Hall of Fame player but unproven coach, the most widely reported demotion of an assistant coach in memory to all those thus-far failed expectations and you have REALLY bizarre.
“It’s been tough,” said Lopez, whose 24 points and nine rebounds, eight offensive, went for naught. “Obviously, it’s not going the way I think anyone planned it would. But you’ve got to stick with it. We have a lot of guys that have been around the league, been through [it] on good teams and bad teams so we know what we have to do.”
So why haven’t they done it?
“I don’t really want to blame injuries because I still feel we’re better than a lot of teams we played. I don’t know if it’s chemistry either because I’ve rarely been on a team like this where everyone really gets along with each other and respects each other,” Lopez said. “I don’t know if it’s just energy or what.”
Only 25 and in his sixth season. With all he has experienced already, the longest tenured current Net just feels like he has been around a lot longer. And despite all he has seen, he is still susceptible to surprises. Case in point: this season.
“Absolutely,” said Lopez. “I couldn’t have predicted this at the beginning of the season. I feel like I have more seasons than I do under my belt. Absolutely.”
No. 4: Blazers turn to iPads for in-game video — Across the NBA, teams have perhaps the deepest amount of video analysis of games, players and teams than ever before (heck, even fans can get nitty gritty with video on NBA.com/stats). The addition of SportVU cameras to every NBA arena before the season to track player movement along with the video research every team does on its own has made scouting deeper than ever. But the Portland Trail Blazers are taking that video-based scouting to a new level with their use of iPads during games to provide their players with assessments of what’s happening and what they can improve. Joe Freeman of The Oregonian has more on this new scouting format that Portland is using:
Projectors are long gone, replaced with sophisticated computer software and tablet apps that have transformed scouting, game preparation and in-game management. Look closely at a Blazers game on television and you might spot LaMarcus Aldridge or Wesley Matthews sitting on the bench staring at an iPad. They’re watching video clips of themselves from earlier in the game, hoping to find tendencies or tips that might give them an edge.
But the Blazers’ use of iPads extends well beyond a couple of players scrutinizing video a couple of times during games. This season, the Blazers have started using iPads extensively as a tool, handing out the easy-to-use Apple devices to every player on the roster and loading them with scouting reports, defensive assignments, game clips and more. Before practices, before games — even after games on planes — the Blazers have access to hours of video at their fingertips.
“I think the league is kind of on the cutting edge, on the forefront, of video technology,” Stotts said. “With the sports in-house cameras and all the statistical data that they provide, the use of video replay and the continued use and expansion of video replay; it’s well thought out, it’s trying to make the game better, improve players, coaches, management. I think the NBA has always been on the cutting edge of digital video and this is the next step.”
Each of the Blazers has a personalized iPad, complete with a sticker on the back featuring his uniform number. When players walk into the locker room at the practice facility for a workout — or into any locker room in any NBA city before a game — the iPads are usually waiting on their chairs.
They feature a full scouting report of that night’s opponent and a variety of video clips tailored to each player, featuring clips of themselves and their opponents. Before that game against the Suns, Freeland had access to his offensive possessions not only from recent Blazers games, but also from the first meeting versus the Suns, which provided insight into how the Suns might defend him later that night. He also had access to the offensive clips of every player he might guard that night — including Plumlee, Channing Frye and Alex Len — which allowed him to look for tendencies and go-to moves just before tipoff.
Every team in the NBA uses video for scouting in one way or another. For years, organizations have housed video departments and employed video coordinators — Jonathan Yim fills the role for the Blazers — who have been instrumental in helping coaches make in-game adjustments. That used to be relegated to halftime meetings, when coaches would show clips on screens in locker rooms and tweak defensive coverages or offensive sets.
But the NBA altered its rules prior to the 2012-13 season. Now, teams are allowed to review video from any game — including the one they are playing — on the bench as long as it does not feature a live video feed. Aldridge and Matthews are the Blazers players who most often take advantage of the rule change, and they regularly peruse clips in-game on iPads.
During the first half of Wednesday night’s victory over the Oklahoma City Thunder, Aldridge was pulled from the game and, about two minutes later, an intern from the video department left the video room with an iPad and delivered it to the bench. Aldridge went on to have a monster game, recording a career-high 38 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, perhaps aided by a tip he picked up from the iPad.
Not only do players have access to the iPads for pregame scouting and in-game adjusting, they also have the ability to watch them when they travel. After every game, Yim instantly loads each player’s iPad with clips from the just-completed game in case they want to watch them as they head to the next city. It’s not mandatory that players watch video during a flight, and some purposely avoid doing so to clear their heads. But others say it helps to watch as soon as they can.
“That’s part of the reason why I don’t sleep,” Matthews said. “I’m playing the game over and over in my head. It’s easier for me to look at it right away. It’s better for me because I can look at it and I can see everything right away, rather than make it more dramatic in my mind.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Hawks are planning an in-game acknowledgement of Kyle Korver once he breaks the consecutive games with a 3-pointer streak … Wizards center Marcin Gortat is concerned that rookie Otto Porter, Jr. might not hold up in an NBA game … A sore knee will likely keep Sixers rookie Michael Carter-Williams out at least one game
ICYMI Of The Night: Nothing like a nice at-the-rim denial (from DeAndre Jordan on Jon Leuer) to get your weekend started right …