VIDEO: The Fast Break: Dec. 28
NEWS OF THE MORNING
No. 1: Jordan pays tribute to Kobe — Kobe Bryant is in his 20th season as a member of the Los Angeles Lakers, so its easy to forget that Bryant was actually drafted by the Charlotte Hornets, and later traded to the Lakers. Bryant returned to Charlotte last night on his farewell tour for his final game in the Queen City, and while Hornets owner Michael Jordan couldn’t make it in person, the Hornets welcomed Kobe with a video message from Jordan before the game. As ESPN’s Baxter Holmes writes, Kobe appreciated the tribute…
Bryant said he spoke with Jordan on Sunday and knew the video would be shown.
“It was awesome. It was awesome,” Bryant said. “He and I — as he said in the video — we talk pretty often. But it was pretty funny to see some of the reactions of my teammates. I was sitting next to Julius Randle before the game. He was like, ‘Yo, that’s amazing!’ I was like, ‘What?’ [He said] ‘That was Michael Jordan!'”
Bryant added, “We talk fairly often. I know he’s enjoying a little vacation time. I told him I was a little jealous. He said, ‘You’ll be here soon enough.'”
While Jordan transitioned into an ownership role for an NBA team, Bryant said he doesn’t expect to follow the same path.
“No, he and I differ entirely when it comes to that,” Bryant said. “He’s a mathematician. He loves math. He loves numbers, loves dealing with numbers. I don’t. I could care less. I suck at math. So from that perspective, I’m not going to be looking at cap numbers and all that other stuff. I just have no interest in it.”
Bryant again was warmly received by a road crowd that chanted his name at numerous points throughout the game, including when the buzzer sounded.
“It’s been like that every city, fortunately,” he said. “Here it’s a little bit different because this is the city that drafted me, so my journey started here. As brief as it was, it still started here. That has a little more value to it.”
But perhaps no stop means as much — or carries as much personal history for Bryant and his team — as the stop Wednesday, when Bryant will play his final game in Boston against the archrival Celtics, a team Bryant faced twice in the Finals. The Lakers lost in 2008, then won in 2010.
“Love-hate fest sort of thing,” he said of what he is expecting from the crowd. “I’m bringing my family down because my kids have never even been to Boston. They’ve never even been to Boston. I’m looking forward to them getting a chance to see the city a little bit and then just experience the green. It’s just a different green. I want them to be able to see that.”
Bryant also said he misses playing the villain, which meant being booed at road arenas.
“Yeah. It was just so natural to me for so many years,” he said. “It became something that just felt comfortable. It felt a little awkward at first, to be honest with you, to get this praise, but I’m glad they didn’t do this many, many years ago because it’s like kryptonite. It would’ve taken away all my energy and all my strength because I relied a lot on being the villain. Sometimes, the best way to beat the villain is to give them a hug.”
VIDEO: Jordan Honors Kobe
No. 2: Cavs right ship with team meeting — It was only two games, sure, but when you’re a championship contender, back-to-back losses are unacceptable. So before yesterday’s game against the Phoenix Suns, Cleveland Cavaliers coach David Blatt called a team meeting to get everyone on the same page. The call to action apparently worked, writes Cleveland.com’s Chris Haynes, as the Cavs responded by beating the Suns to end their skid…
Head coach David Blatt called for the meeting before the team took the court for shootaround, sources said. Concerned about the psyche and spirit of his guys, Blatt used the time to address his team instead of going through the usual pre-shootaround film study.
“In tough times you’ve got to show a little bit of leadership and lift your troops,” Blatt told cleveland.com in confirming the meeting. “That was the whole purpose of it, to fire them up a little bit and lift them a little bit. They certainly this year have been doing their part, and I had to step in an do something myself.”
According to sources, the meeting lasted for about 15 minutes with Blatt doing all the talking. Players say they were encouraged with Blatt’s heartfelt message and encouragement.
“It set the tone,” guard Joe Harris said. “We went out and had a business-like shootaround. Guy were ready to go to work.”
Prior to the meeting, Blatt told reporters they had to look within for a solution to their problems and not focus on their opponent’s situation.
“We have to look at ourselves right now,” he said. “I don’t think we need to be too overly concerned with what’s going on with the other guy because it seems like the other guy comes ready to play every time we see a team. So, I think we need to do that.”
To ignite a spark Tristan Thompson was inserted in the starting lineup, replacing the struggling Timofey Mozgov. Blatt said that lineup will hold for a while.
The Cavaliers battled a desperate Suns team that had absolutely nothing to lose. Phoenix had dropped 10 of its last 11 games; had recently lost Eric Bledsoe for an extended amount of time; had seen Markieff Morris serve his second game of a two-game suspension; and fired two assistants on Sunday.
It had all the makings of a trap game for Cleveland, which lost a close one to Golden State on Christmas Day and then the following night got hammered 105-76 by the rebuilding, shorthanded Portland Trail Blazers.
At the midway point of their four-game road trip and winless, Blatt saw a window to reinvigorate his players.
“I just had a hard talk with them, that’s all,” Blatt said to cleveland.com. “That was a tough loss against Portland. And honestly in the grand scheme of things, I understand where it came from. It was a huge emotional letdown after the game before [in Oakland].
“[It’s] a long trip. A hell of a [expletive] road trip. I just wanted to lift them up. Let them know I’ve got their backs and they don’t need to worry about anything but playing. That’s what they’ve got to do, come out and play hard and they did a good job. They really did.”
No. 3: Spurs find ways to win — No Tim Duncan. No Gregg Popovich. No problem. The San Antonio Spurs hosted the Minnesota Timberwolves last night without Duncan, resting a sore knee. Pop got ejected in the second quarter, which meant the Spurs had to turn to… Boban Marjanovic? Well, sure, why not. And the Spurs went to 18-0 at home with the impressive win, which as Jerry Zgoda writes, just showed that the Spurs can continue figuring out ways to win…
Trailing by as few as four points in the final minutes, the Wolves lost their fourth consecutive game. The Wolves, owner of the NBA’s best free-throw shooting percentage, missed 10 of 24 free throws and big men Karl-Anthony Towns and Gorgui Dieng got into third-quarter foul trouble.
“That might be as perfect a team, between them and Golden State,” Wolves interim coach Sam Mitchell said. “Those two teams, every time you make a mistake they just punish you. And we didn’t make a lot of mistakes. You got to play almost the perfect basketball game, especially in this building and we came close.”
Popovich was ejected late in the first half for arguing too vociferously an official’s decision. Before his night ended early, Popovich was asked about his first impressions when Marjanovic arrived at training camp sight unseen by Popovich.
“He’s tall,” Popovich said.
On Monday, Marjanovic was more than that. He was pivotal in the Spurs’ third-quarter turnaround, when he grabbed rebounds and made short hook shots over the crowd.
Friendly with the Wolves’ Nikola Pekovic, Marjanovic scored nine of his 17 points in the third quarter, as the Spurs turned a seven-point deficit in that quarter into an 85-76 advantage by early in the fourth.
“He’s not a big stiff,” said Spurs forward David West, who started in Duncan’s place. “People love his size and sort of think he’s a big stiff, but Boban is a helluva player.”
No. 4: Report: Burks opts for surgery — The Utah Jazz ended last season still in rebuilding mode, but with a healthy amount of optimism, considering their collection of talented youth. But an injury this summer to rotation player Dante Exum destabilized their rotation, and broken leg last week to third-leading scorer Alec Burks further threw things into flux. But according to an AP report, Burks has decided to undergo surgery on his leg, which should accelerate the healing process and get him back on the court sooner than later…
A person familiar with the situation says Utah Jazz guard Alec Burks has chosen to have surgery to help accelerate the healing process from a broken left leg.
The person spoke on condition of anonymity Monday night because the team had not announced the decision.
The surgery should allow Burks to place weight on his fibula after two weeks instead of four and begin rehabbing sooner than without surgery. The team originally said he would not have surgery.
Burks injured his leg during a fall Saturday.
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Has Jimmy Butler changed as a result of his new contract? … Paul Pierce says he’s taking it year-by-year at this point in his career … Markieff Morris could return to the Suns today … The Grizzlies are reportedly signing Ryan Hollins … Movement in the Atlanta Hawks front office … Justise Winslow is day-to-day with a sprained ankle … Nick Young managed to compare Michael Jordan to Kanye West, and himself to Kobe…