VIDEO: The Fastbreak: Sunday, Nov. 8
NEWS OF THE MORNING
Kobe fades in what could be his final call at MSG | Drummond joins giants with another 20-20 night | Thunder embrace their true identity | Grizzlies rotation will tighten during tough times
No. 1: Kobe fades in what could be his final call at MSG — His first points in 1996. The 61 he dropped on the crowd in 2009. Some of Kobe Bryant‘s greatest memories have come on the floor at Madison Square Garden. He added 18 more in what could very well be his final time playing on that floor Sunday in a loss to the New York Knicks. Lakers coach Byron Scott admitted that he and Kobe have spoken about the fact that his 20th season could indeed be his final season in the league. If so, the farewell tour took a decided twist at MSG, where our very own Lang Whitaker was on hand to witness what could very well be Kobe’s final call at the Mecca:
Following Sunday’s game, Kobe reminisced about that first appearance at the Garden — “It was like one of those VHS tapes when someone hit the fast-forward button and the TV was moving really fast.” — as well as that ’98 All-Star game — “In the locker room, I look to my right and there’s Stockton, and I look to my left and there’s Drexler.”
“I don’t think you understand how much I watched this building growing up,” Bryant said. “I mean, Frazier and Monroe and all those teams, DeBusschere and Reed and all those guys. I was like, truly, truly a fan of watching all these games. Then the Bulls, obviously, and the Pacers battles, and all that stuff. To be able to come here and have the performances I’ve had in this building, it feels extremely, extremely fortunate.”
Accordingly, Bryant is still respected like few opponents at MSG. Even Sunday, whenever he pulled up for a jumper, there was roar of anticipation. When Bryant pump-faked on the wing with three minutes left and the game in the balance, several fans sitting behind him leapt to their feet in anticipation of a big bucket, one that never came.
These days, the riddle the Lakers find themselves trying to unravel is exactly what they want and need out of Bryant. Do they need a volume shooter who occasionally flirts with a 40-point game? Or is the best course for the franchise to focus on the future? The Lakers used a lineup in the fourth quarter on Sunday featuring Kobe playing alongside a seven-year vet (Roy Hibbert), a second-year player (Jordan Clarkson), and two guys who, for all intents and purposes, are rookies (D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle).
“I think they’re developing extremely well,” Kobe said of the younger players. “They continue to improve reading on both ends of the floor, actually. My communication with them has been very tactical. The little things.”
“All he has to do is be himself,” said Bryant’s long-time teammate Metta World Peace. “He doesn’t have to do anything extra. He don’t have to be what his fans want him to be. He don’t have to try to prove to the media that he can still jump over the rim, or he don’t have to prove to anybody that he’s not who he was a couple of years ago. All he gotta do is enjoy us, just be a part of us, and we’ll be a part of him. We’ll do it together. It’s not about any individual on the team, it’s about us. As long as we continue to have that mindset, we’ll be fine.
No. 2: Drummond joins giants with another 20-20 night — If you’ve overlooked a struggling Detroit Pistons team in recent years, now might be a good time to end that practice. The Pistons, 5-1 and off to their best start in eight years, look for real. They’ve got a wild card in point guard Reggie Jackson (who led the team with a career-high 40 points, 26 in the fourth quarter, in Sunday’s comeback win in Portland) and an absolute double-double monster in center Andre Drummond (29 points and 27 rebounds in the win). Drummond is averaging 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds, the first player since Wilt Chamberlain in 1970-71 to do so through the first six games of a season. He joins Chamberlain and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar as the only players to record three 20-20 performances in the first six games of a season. Drummond is elevating his game, and his name, into the realm of giants with his start to this season, as Rico Beard of the Detroit News explains:
Another night with a double-double — and in the case of Sunday night’s 120-103 win over the Portland Trail Blazers, an almost-absurd 29 points and 27 rebounds. It’s becoming common for the fourth-year center, who boosted his jaw-dropping averages to 20.3 points and 20.3 rebounds through the first six games.
He joined Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Wilt Chamberlain as the only players with three games 20-20 games in the first six games of a season.
On the offensive end, he displayed a fluid jump-hook and was a menace on the offensive glass, with nine, fueling the Pistons’ double-digit comeback, for their second win on the six-game West Coast trip.
“Andre’s numbers are phenomenal. I just told somebody if he didn’t get a rebound the rest of the trip, he’d be in the top three or four in the league in rebounding — he’d be averaging over 12 a game,” coach Stan Van Gundy said. “What he’s doing on the boards is phenomenal; he was just swallowing the ball down the stretch. It was an incredible turnaround.”
But even as Drummond started to get more comfortable — hitting 14-of-19 from the field, Reggie Jackson started to break out, scoring 26 of his 40 points in the final period. Van Gundy said he wanted to get the ball to Drummond more, but with Jackson on a roll, there wasn’t a need.
All season, Drummond has focused on team success rather than individual stats, but with his All-Star-caliber numbers, it’s hard to ignore.
“Whatever night we win is a great win,” he said. “Individually, I’m just doing my part to help my team win, no matter what the numbers are — 5 rebounds or 20 rebounds. As long as we win the game, it was a good night for me.”
With his third game of 25 points and 25 rebounds, Drummond leads all active players, surpassing Dwight Howard and Al Jefferson, who have two apiece.
No. 3: ‘Thunder embrace their true identity — Playing to your strengths is always the best plan for a team adjusting to a new coach and a new system. And the Oklahoma City Thunder are certainly still adjusting to Billy Donovan and his system. But as long as the strength in Oklahoma City remains Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook, two of the most explosive scorers in the game, and a lineup filled with quality scorers, there’s really no mystery as to what will make the adjustment period tolerable for a team with designs on competing for a championship this season. Anthony Slater of the Oklahoman witnessed the Thunder’s offensive burst Sunday in a win over the Phoenix Suns:
Russell Westbrook entered at his customary time, early in the fourth quarter, and joined a unique but increasingly more customary lineup.
At shooting guard: Dion Waiters. At small forward: Kevin Durant. At power forward: Serge Ibaka. At center: Enes Kanter.
“Dangerous, man, dangerous,” Waiters said. “Lotta guys out there that can get buckets.”
When the group convened at the 7:56 mark of the fourth quarter, the Thunder led by 12. When the next substitution was made, at the 4:22 mark, the Thunder was up 22. In a spurt of fastbreaks and feathery jumpers, that offense-heavy five-man group sealed a much-needed 124-103 win over the Suns.
Westbrook started it with a layup off a nice Waiters assist. Then the favor was returned, with Waiters nailing a 3 set up by Westbrook.
Then it was Durant’s turn to take over. KD had 21 points at the time. He had 32 before the night was done.
Seven of those came within a 90-second span midway through the fourth, when he sandwiched a 3 and a 13-foot baseline turnaround with one of those patented Dirk Nowitzki one-legged fadeaways, uncontestable for 6-foot-1 Eric Bledsoe, who found himself stuck on Durant in the high post.
As he sauntered back down the court — his team on a 14-3 run, KD on a personal 7-0 run — Durant laughed and chirped at Bledsoe.
“E-Bled talks a lot of (stuff),” Durant said. “And I’m a (stuff)-talker myself.”
Durant followed his mini-spurt by turning from scorer to facilitator. His fourth assist of the night set up Kanter for a 12-foot jumper. Then the next possession down, the 12th of Westbrook’s 13 assists led to a Kanter dunk.
In less than four minutes, that five-man pairing rattled off a dominant 15-5 run, breaking away to a 22-point cushion. During the run, Ibaka, who had 10 himself on this night, was the only one who didn’t score.
“Everyone can score the ball crazy,” Kanter said. “Never played with a lineup like that.”
No. 4: Grizzlies rotation will tighten during tough times — Desperate times in Memphis require desperate measures from Grizzlies coach Dave Joerger, who is trying to figure out why his team cannot seem to find a rhythm this season. Joerger’s response, at this early stage of the process, will be to tighten the rotation. Something had to give and the first thing is the rotation, despite some insisting that it might be Joerger who was on the hot seat. But the Grizzlies are experiencing an identity crisis that Joerger will solve by tweaking his rotation. Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal details the looming changes:
Suddenly uncomfortable in their own skin, where do they stand?
The grit is all but gone.
The grind seems as fleeting as a gotcha moment.
Memphis (3-4) enters the final outing of a five-game trip perplexed as to how to get its mojo back. The Griz take more than a two-game losing streak into their game Monday night against the Los Angeles Clippers in Staples Center.
The Griz still are experiencing an identity crisis as they try to salvage a West Coast swing, having lost three of four. Last week began with an unfathomable 50-point loss to Golden State. Memphis beat Sacramento but dropped its next game to Portland.
That Memphis fell behind Utah by 21 points before an 89-79 loss last Saturday has coach Dave Joerger on the verge of shaking up the lineup because he can no longer stand by and watch his players not compete.
“I’m going to tighten the rotation,” Joerger said without saying which players will have minutes reduced.
However, Joerger did give a clue as to which way he’s leaning, based on his substitution pattern in that Utah game.
Joerger has routinely inserted Jeff Green for Tony Allen with the first substitution. But against Utah, Matt Barnes was the first to spell Allen, and Green later came in for Courtney Lee.
Joerger has increasingly grown fond of a lineup that has Barnes and Green at the wings. In fact, that combination was on the floor most of the fourth quarter. Allen didn’t play at all and Lee played just 94 seconds in the quarter.
“I was pleased with our effort overall,” Joerger said after the Grizzlies’ latest debacle. “We can get better. We know we can get better. We will get better and will keep plugging away.”
SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: LeBron James offered some constructive criticism to Kevin Love (egos checked at the door) and it worked. … Phil Jackson wanted more emotion from Derek Fisher and got exactly that in Sunday’s win over the Lakers. … Charlotte’s Kemba Walker is a traveling man. … The Miami Heat’s second unit proves to be first rate. … The Washington Wizards have been extremely generous, but vow to end their frivolous ways with the basketball. …
ICYMI: Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson helped lift the Pistons to their fifth win in six games with yeoman’s work Sunday in Portland …
VIDEO: Andre Drummond and Reggie Jackson go off for the Pistons in a comeback win over Portland