NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Bryant vows to return this season — Save for six games this season, Kobe Bryant has found himself in a spot he’s never been before during the season: watching games in a suit from the sidelines. As Bryant recovers from a knee fracture he suffered last week, he remains steadfast that he will not shut himself down for the rest of the season. Our own Sekou Smith was on the scene in Lakerland yesterday and has more from Bryant and what his future is looking like in L.A.:
Any suggestions that he might shut it down for the season Bryant insists are not only misguided but just plain foolish. He has an obligation to get through his latest rehab stint and get back on the court with the Lakers and chase the playoff berth they have been planning on since he missed out on it last season.
“No, not that I’m aware of,” Bryant said when asked if there was any chance six games would be the total of his workload this season. “My job as an athlete is to train, get healthy, get strong and come back and do my job.”
Some Christmas it turned out to be for him. Instead of squaring off against LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and the Heat under the brightest of lights, Bryant instead spent his day watching the action. Before he suffered that latest setback, Bryant had this matchup circled on his calendar.
“This was a really big measuring stick,” Bryant said of the matchup against the Heat. “Because of their speed, their activity and their size. I was really looking forward to this game to be able to measure where I was physically, especially with the time frame I came back. I was really looking at this game to measure what I can do and what I can’t do.”
When asked if he thought pushing to get back from the Achilles injury had anything to do with the knee fracture, Bryant resisted the urge to go off.
“Because it’s Christmas I will refrain from being a smart ass,” he said. “I don’t think one had anything to do with the other. I mean, we evaluated it pretty extensively. The fact of the matter is, any of us can get hurt at any moment. The key for us at athletes is to block that fear out. And when you have injuries that fear is enhanced. You kind of put yourself under a microscope and you start thinking about it too much. It can happen to anybody. So you just have to tune that noise out and go out there and perform.”
“The biggest part of my game the last two or three years has been getting to a space on the floor and then elevate and shoot pull up jump shots or get into the paint,” Bryant said. “It was a great test going up against Tony Allen, who in my opinion has been the guy who defended me the best individually since I’ve been in the league. And with four games in five nights, to be able to go up against him and respond to that challenge … I was feeling really good about things.”
With that feeling gone and another month or so to grind away getting ready for yet another comeback, Bryant has not lost any of his fire.
“My spirits are fine,” he said. “My spirits are fine. I feel more locked in now than I have my entire career because of this. My spirits are fine, focus is great and we’re just going to have to see what happens when I come back.”
No. 2: Report: Kidd calls out Nets after loss; Pierce continues to struggle — We pointed out in this space on Christmas Eve that Nets coach Jason Kidd was none too pleased after Brooklyn’s blowout loss to Indiana, going as far as to say his team was getting complacent with all the losing going on this season. Kidd was reportedly even more upset after yesterday’s 95-78 loss at home to the Chicago Bulls and according to ESPNNewYork.com’s Ohm Youngmisuk, he and veteran forward Kevin Garnett blasted the team following the defeat:
Following the Brooklyn Nets’ embarrassing 95-78 Christmas Day loss to the Chicago Bulls, an exasperated Jason Kidd called his players out in the locker room, according to multiple league sources.
Tired and upset with a lack of effort, Kidd’s outburst came after the Nets dropped their fourth straight game, sources say. The first-year head coach said Monday after a 103-86 loss to Indiana that the Nets were becoming too comfortable with losing.
The frustration is mounting. According to league sources, after Kidd yelled at the team on Wednesday, Kevin Garnett stood up and vented his frustration before walking out to the showers. Multiple sources stressed Garnett backs Kidd and that the veteran’s frustration has been building over some of his teammates’ lack of fight after the Nets lost by 17 points for the second straight game.
Sources also said Garnett’s walking out was viewed as him being one of the few Nets to care about the team’s downward spiral.
“At the end of the day, the coach can only hold you responsible for energy and effort,” Kidd said. “If you’re not giving it, I have to take you out. If you’re missing shots, that’s just part of the game. But if you’re not giving energy or effort, I’ve got to take you out.”
“I’m even surprised with this season, how it’s played out. It’s like a nightmare,” Deron Williams said after the latest blowout loss. “The way the injuries have been and the things we talk about every day: the lack of energy, the lack of effort. I didn’t see that being a problem when we put this team together.”
What Kidd said he has not been able to stomach is the team’s almost apathetic approach when adversity hits in a game and the opponent makes a run against them.
“I think it is getting very close to just accepting losing,” Kidd said of the mental state of the team on Monday. “We are kind of getting comfortable with losing.”
“And we got to make a stand with that because when things get tough, do we just give in?” Kidd continued. “And most of the time right now, we do.”
Garnett and Williams disagreed and said they don’t accept losing. But the Nets were still blown out by Chicago.
While Garnett reportedly went off on the team’s effort and play against the Bulls, his teammate, Paul Pierce, saw his season-long woes hit a new low against Chicago. He went scoreless for the first time since his rookie season and, as Howie Kussoy of the New York Post reports, is looking unhappy with his off-the-bench role:
Following Paul Pierce’s first scoreless game since he was a rookie — an 0-for-7 performance in Monday’s loss to the Pacers — the 10-time All-Star and former NBA Finals MVP had another miserable day Wednesday, shooting 1-for-8 from the field and finishing with six points in the Nets’ 95-78 loss to the Bulls at Barclays Center.
In the previous 15 seasons, there were only three games when Pierce didn’t start, but the veteran forward has now come off the bench in seven of the past eight. Pierce has shown discomfort in his new role, and also seems unhappy with rookie coach Jason Kidd’s distribution of minutes.
“You’re coming off the bench, you’re not a primary option, and you sort of try and force things,” Pierce said. “You don’t get the looks every night that you’re used to getting over the years, and I’ve grown accustomed to that. I’m usually the third or fourth option when I’m on the court, and sometimes it’s going to be like that. Minutes over the last few games have been different. I played less minutes last game, less minutes this game. When you have inconsistency in your minutes sometimes, you have some inconsistency in your play.”
No. 3: Bogut’s spirit wears down Clips, Griffin — If the hubbub of Christmas Day got you worn down and you missed the Clippers-Warriors game last night, it was a dandy. While the final score was close — a 105-103 win for home-standing Golden State — what most folks are talking about this morning is the chippy play between the squads that led to Blake Griffin and Draymond Green getting ejected and a postgame scuffle between the teams as well. Our own Scott Howard-Cooper was on the scene and looked at how Warriors big man Andrew Bogut didn’t cause any scuffles, but did what he could to get under the Clippers’ skin:
Bogut being in the middle of conflict is part coincidence — he didn’t do anything at the end to deserve the parting gift from Barnes — but also surely part plan. He wanted to wear on Griffin just as he would be willing to instigate his own teammates in practice if he felt the Warriors needed to rumble to find their inner fight. He will create havoc to generate stability.
“The little thing between me and Blake, I don’t think he should have been thrown out,” Bogut said. “Just get up and brush it off and go down to the other end, in my opinion. That kind of stuff doesn’t bother me too much.
“It’s not like I go home and pencil the Clippers in and say, ‘I’m going to be physical and try to get a technical foul and try to give the league money.’ That’s just the way the game went. He was being physical, I was being physical, and we both didn’t take a step back and that’s how it should be. I think it’s good spectacle for you guys (the media) and the fans.”
For all the attention that goes to his defense, rebounding and passing, demanding intensity through toughness is one of the primary contributions Bogut provides that’s largely unseen in public.
Early in his career here, after he arrived via a trade with Milwaukee and as he was healing from a lengthy ankle injury, he said he wouldn’t hesitate to start a fight in practice if he felt teammates needed to be, um, called out. He would be insistent and unforgiving in the way a lot of rosters need to be held accountable.
There have been times in practice where fights seemed possible — “We’ve been close,” Bogut said, “we’ve gone at it. Guys are talking smack and it gets pretty testy” — but the Warriors have yet to cross that line with punches thrown, he said. It doesn’t seem necessary with this team that will play hard without the internal conflict, however temporary.
But Wednesday against the Clippers, it was a different story.
“Blake Griffin was hot and I tried to do everything in my power to try and frustrate him and stop him,” Bogut said. “I didn’t want him to get thrown out. I just tried to make life tough for him, and that’s the way it worked out. I’m going to give extra-effort plays and dive on the floor and take charges, and I think guys see that. I think without words, you see a guy doing that, and I think it can give us a spark.”
No. 4: Concerns about the Spurs as contenders? — At 22-7, the San Antonio Spurs have the Western Conference’s third-best record and are a mere 1 1/2 games behind Portland and Oklahoma City for the No. 1 spot. That would cause you to think there’s no reason to worry in the land of Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Co., but you might be wrong about that notion. Our own Fran Blinebury was at last night’s Rockets-Spurs game from the AT&T Center and saw first hand how another upper-crust team in the West — Houston — had their way with the Spurs:
The Rockets may or may not yet be a real contender, depending on the day of the week or their interest in being professionals who show up with the same level of commitment each game.
For a holiday night, at least, the most noticeable difference wasn’t those form-fitting jerseys with sleeves, but the way the Rockets strutted into the AT&T Center and did everything this side of ripping the drumstick off the turkey and clubbing the Spurs over the head with it.
It was the difference in 3-point shooting, in having a fourth-quarter closer in James Harden, a defender in Jeremy Lin who wrapped up Tony Parker in pretty paper with a bow, an inside tandem of Dwight Howard and Terrence Jones and in energy.
The Rockets, when they have their heads on straight, are as powerful and devastatingly effective as a blizzard and they buried everything about three feet under with an opening quarter of howling wind.
Meanwhile, the Spurs are looking like one of the polar ice caps that is thawing and melting from climate change.
Despite their gaudy overall record, the Spurs are now 0-7 on the season against the top six teams they’ve faced, giving up 115, 112, 111, 111, 115, 113 and 94 points.
In their four home losses this season — Rockets (2), Thunder and Pacers — they have trailed by double digits every time and were down by at least 18 in three of them. It was the 10th time in their last 14 games that the Spurs have given up at least 100.
For years the Spurs have kept holding open the window on a championship era that was said to be closing and last season perhaps convinced everyone that the Big Three of Duncan, Parker and Manu Ginobili can grow older than Methuselah and never fade away. Then there is this.
For weeks now, the Rockets have shown fleeting glimpses of how often they can stomp down on the accelerator, how good they can be, how far they can go. Until the next night when they just don’t.
Sometimes a game is just a game and sometimes it’s a snapshot that shows generations changing.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: The Heat are well aware of just how quickly the clock can tick on a career … Why did Chandler Parsons sport a nearly shaved look on Christmas Day? It was to pay tribute to a fan riddled with cancer … The Magic are expected to either cut or find a way to trade former Most Improved Player of the Year winner Hedo Turkoglu by Jan. 7 … Lakers big man Chris Kaman is taking eating healthier to a whole new level … Bulls coach Tom Thibodeau is trying to figure out how to best manage the minutes of D.J. Augustin and Kirk Hinrich at the point
ICYMI Of The Night: If you somehow managed to NOT see the Dwyane Wade-to-LeBron James off-the-glass fast break alley-oop yesterday in Los Angeles in person, you missed out on one of the all-time great Christmas Day game plays. But, at least you can relive it here …