Posts Tagged ‘Kobe Bryant’

Blogtable: Kobe, putting up numbers

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Kobe’s production | Westbrook’s place | Knicks in the playoffs



VIDEO: How far can Kobe pull his teammates along? That’s a big question for the Lakers.

> Kobe Bryant has averaged 25.5 points a game on 45 percent shooting in his career. So take a guess: What should we expect from him this season? Why?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: We should expect Bryant to join an hyper-exclusive club this season, namely, Players Who Averaged 20 Points or More at Age 36 or Older. There have been only three — Michael Jordan (2), Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (3) and Karl Malone (4) — doing it a total of nine times. Given Bryant’s relentless drive, his Jordan obsession and his shortage of scoring help on the Lakers, I expect him to put up the point totals. Keep in mind, though, that Jordan shot a combined 43.1 percent in his two seasons, averaging 21.2 points with the lowest PER numbers (19.9 combined) of his career.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.com: You’re asking this without a benefit of seeing a single preseason game, anything?  OK, going strictly on gut and what we know about Kobe, I have a hard time seeing him averaging less than 20 ppg. Maybe the shooting percentage is in the low 40s. Why? Because he’s driven to come back as the alpha dog. Because if his wheels are OK, he’s dead set on proving everyone who doubts him wrong. Because he’s going to get up his shots. Because he’s Kobe.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: Here’s the thing, look at the Lakers roster, somebody’s got to score, right? Pau’s not even there anymore for an inside option. This show is going to be Kobe’s and as long as he stays healthy he’s going to get off a lot of shots and get his points. He hasn’t averaged fewer than 25 ppg since the 2003-04 season when he averaged 24. This might not be the same Kobe we’re used to, but honestly, we saw that coming as far back as the 2011 playoffs. This Kobe will still score points, and a lot of them because he’ll have to. He’ll average at least 22.0 a game.

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: I can’t predict health. But if he plays, he plays well. If it’s a guess you want, let’s say 18 points a game and 42 percent. That’s not bad for a 36 year old coming off two major injuries and most of a season on the sideline. Plus, he will be playing with several teammates for the first time (Lin, Boozer, Randle, maybe Ed Davis and Jordan Clarkson). There will be a lot of timing issues moving forward, which is why the shooting numbers will take a hit.

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: With 36-year-old legs, without much help on the Lakers’ roster, and with No. 3 on the all-time scoring list in his sights, I don’t think he’ll be all that efficient, unless Steve Nash can somehow play 1,500 minutes and create easy looks for him. I’ll guess 26 ppg on 43 percent shooting (45 EFG%).

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: I’m not ready to close the book on Kobe just yet. Not now, not when so many are sure to doubt him. That’s the stuff he thrives on, what’s made him great for so long. A reasonable expectation, as long as he’s healthy, is for Kobe to go for 24.4 points a night on 46 percent shooting on a Los Angeles Lakers team that will need that and more from its best player. There’s no doubt he’ll get all the shots he heeds under Byron Scott and his supporting cast will be eager to defer to a rejuvenated Kobe.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog23 points per game on 42 percent shooting, in about 33 minutes per game. Kobe’s not the player he was a decade, or two decades, ago. But knowing what we know about him, the Mamba will be primed and ready to strike. And I think this season, with experience behind him and trusting Byron Scott, the Mamba will be able to temper himself a bit more and not feel the need to play 40-plus minutes every night. Which, in the long run, benefits everyone.

Davide Chinellato, NBA Italia: The 2014-15 version of Kobe Bryant will be the smartest, more passing…est version of the Kobe we’ve seen. I’m afraid part of his explosiveness is gone (due to his injuries but also his age), but he could still be a lethal weapon. He should share the ball more, play with his teammates and build from there. More or less what he tried to do in the six games he played in 2013-14, averaging 6.3 apg. My guess is 22.5 ppg and 6.5 apg, shooting 42 percent.

Simon Legg, NBA Australia: If his body stays right, I think he may average similar points per game (maybe 20-22 PPG) but will be less efficient. I only say this because I legitimately want him to abandon whatever it is the Lakers want to do with their roster full of short-term contracts and genuinely make a run at the all-time scoring record. He’s a chance to pass Michael Jordan for third all-time this season and I’d love to see him have a crack at Kareem beyond 2015. My advice to Kobe, jack it up!

Morning shootaround — Oct. 1


VIDEO: Kobe Bryant talks after his first practice with the Lakers

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Bryant, Nash take part in practice | Jackson wants to be a starter | Gay holding off on contract extension talk | Smith pledges to shoot less 3-pointers in Detroit

No. 1: Lakers’ Bryant, Nash participate in practice — The L.A. Lakers had one of their worst seasons ever, something that could be attributed to the number 21. That’s the total number of games that Kobe Bryant (six) and Steve Nash (15) played in for L.A. last season. With the start of training camp on Tuesday, though, the Lakers got good news simply in the fact both players suited up and made it through practice without issue. The Los Angeles TimesMike Bresnahan has more on Bryant and Nash’s first practice under coach Byron Scott, including Bryant’s trademark competitiveness showing up early on:

To hear everybody talk, Kobe Bryant was 26 years old, not 36. He was merely coming off a bruised thigh and scratched elbow, not a torn Achilles’ tendon and fractured knee.

The Lakers didn’t do any scrimmaging Tuesday, but Bryant made an impact while practicing for 2 hours 15 minutes, his first official action since playing only six games last season.

He had to be asked to leave the court. For his own sake.

“Basically, I had to ask Kobe to, you know, ‘Why don’t you shut it down? We’ve got another one tomorrow,'” Lakers Coach Byron Scott said, encouraging Bryant to sit out end-of-practice conditioning.

Bryant said he felt like himself, adding, “and that’s a good thing.”

It might not be glamorous, but this defense-first thing will continue for a while.

“Every day until I get to the point where I don’t think we need to. And I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Scott said. “I know in my years of playing and coaching that that’s something that wins championships.”

The running might not stop for a while either, though Nash joined Bryant in skipping the end-of-practice sprinting that left plenty of players huffing and puffing, with some even laying down or leaning against the basketball hoop support.

Nash, who will be 41 in February, practiced for about 90 minutes before heading to the sideline for some rest. Scott said he “was in great shape” after playing only 15 games last season mainly because of recurring nerve damage in his back.

The bigger deal these days is Bryant’s return to the court. Even Bryant acknowledged it.

“I think the Achilles’ injury just ignited a new challenge for me personally to see if I can do this, right?” Bryant said. “Because you don’t know. So it’s a challenge that presented itself to see if I can make this a successful comeback.”

Additionally, Lakers fans will be happy to see this bit of news from Yahoo! Sports’ Marc J. Spears:


VIDEO: Steve Nash talks after the Lakers’ practice on Tuesday

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Morning shootaround — Sept. 28


VIDEO: Nets’ expectations for 2015

NEWS OF THE MORNING

LeBron: ‘This is Kyrie’s show’ | Kupchak still talking titles in LA | Hollins installing new system one step at a time | Vogel still believes in Pacers

No. 1: LeBron: This is Kyrie’s show — The new look comes with a new outlook for LeBron James, whose return to Cleveland puts him in a position where he has to adjust his game significantly for the second time in four years. He had to make adjustments to the way he played when he left Cleveland for Miami in 2010 to play alongside fellow All-Stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh and will have to do so again now that he’s back home in Northeast Ohio playing alongside fellow All-Stars Kevin Love and Kyrie Irving.  While it’s clearly LeBron’s house, the world’s best player makes it clear that it’s Kyrie’s show now. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com explains:

With two championships under his belt and the storybook factor of coming back home on his side, the presumption was that LeBron James would be the unequivocal top dog of Cleveland’s new-look Big Three.

Instead, it turns out James is more than willing to share the spotlight, as well as when it comes time to decide which player will have the ball in his hands for the majority of the Cavaliers’ possessions.

“I’ll probably handle the ball a little bit, but this is Kyrie [Irving's] show,” James said Saturday following the team’s first practice of training camp. “He’s our point guard. He’s our floor general, and we need him to put us in position to succeed offensively. He has to demand that and command that from us with him handling the ball.”

James split ballhandling duties with Dwyane Wade most of the time during his four years with the Miami Heat, causing Mario Chalmers often to play off the ball on offense even though he defended the opposing team’s point guard on the other end.

Now, James will have another ball-dominant guard in Irving to play with, and not only is it something that he accepted in his return to Cleveland, it actually played a role in selling him on the move from Miami.

“Coming back, my [Sports Illustrated] letter kind of spoke for it, what this city and Northeast Ohio, what I mean to it. That had a lot to do with it, probably 95 percent of it. And the fact that Kyrie was here as well. That’s a huge part,” James said. “I’ve never played with a point guard like Kyrie Irving, a guy that can kind of take over a game for himself. We need it. So, that was a huge thing and that was way before we even got [Kevin] Love and signed Mike Miller and Trix (Shawn Marion) and the rest of the guys. That was very intriguing.”

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Morning shootaround — Sept. 27



VIDEO: Media Day: Top five teams heading into 2014-15

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Cavs in no hurry | Repeat won’t drive Spurs | Garnett back for 20th season | Big things from Kobe | Rondo breaks hands
No. 1: LeBron has the Cavs preaching patience — There was no smoke and flashing lights this time around, no pulse-pounding music and dancing on a stage like in Miami. LeBron James didn’t hold up his fingers and count off championships: “Not one, not two, not three…” The media day theme from James on his return to Cleveland was that everybody is going to have to wait on the whole plan to come together before anyone talks of titles. Dave McMenamin of ESPN.com had the lowdown:

“Patience,” said a subdued James when asked about the biggest lesson he learned in South Beach. “You need to be very patient with the process and understand. I think everyone always wants to see the end result and what’s at the end of the tunnel, and don’t quite understand what goes on from the start to the finish and what’s in between that. And I understand that and I know that, so patience is the biggest thing that I’ve learned.”
While the basketball world is already penciling in the Cavs to make a deep playoff run, new coach David Blatt echoed James’ patient approach.
“There are a lot of great names that have come into the organization … but I know from my multiple years of experience in the business that names don’t play, teams do, and teams do need some time to develop, to find their identity, to establish themselves, and to establish what they’re made of,” Blatt said. “Our goals are high. We’re not shying away from that. Does that mean championship today? I don’t know. I don’t know if that’s fair.”

***

No. 2: Spurs won’t make repeat focus of season — Nothing ever changes with the Spurs. Not their roster, not their coach and definitely not their approach to every season. They’ll be defending a championship for the fifth time in franchise history, but coach Gregg Popovich told our Fran Blinebury that trying to repeat for the first time ever won’t be in the forefront of their minds at any time this season:

“We’ll talk about it a little bit,” he said. “You guys will write articles. It’s all the same every year. ‘Why haven’t we repeated?’ Because we haven’t.
“If we do, it would be great. If we don’t, life will go on, everything’s cool.
“Just to be clear, we’ve never had any goals whatsoever in a sense of winning X number of games or this year is our year to win a championship. We’ve never talked about it. We’ve never known what’s gonna happen at the end of the year or said this is what we want to happen.
“All we’ve said is that we want to be the best team that we can be at playoff time and that starts with the very first practice. It’s a building block sort of thing and then we hope that we can be healthy and fresh at playoff time. Those are the only goals we’ve had every single year, including last year and it will be no different this year.”

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No. 3: Garnett says he’s all in with Nets for his 20th NBA season — When you’ve spent nearly two entire decades laying it all out on the court in what will one day officially become a Hall of Fame career, it’s only natural that one takes time to reflect on the commitment it takes to continue playing the game. But as our John Schuhmann points out from the Nets’ media day, Kevin Garnett says he’s ready to bounce back from a career-low scoring and shooting season to be a starter and a driving force once again in Brooklyn:

“I must admit these last three years I’ve thought about life and where basketball is as far as priority,” Garnett said at the Nets’ media day on Friday. It was the first time he had spoken to the media since before Game 5 in Miami. “So yeah, in the back of your mind you think about it. But the decision is either yes or no. It’s not like 50-50, I’m in the middle of the road or gray area. I’m a person that when you commit to something you commit to it. It’s that simple.”
Garnett’s offensive game fell off last season. He averaged a career-low 6.5 points on a career-low 44 percent, rarely playing with his back to the basket, even when he moved to center after Brook Lopez’s season-ending foot injury. Though he had $12 million reasons to return for one more season in Brooklyn, it’s hard to imagine him coming back for season No. 21, which only two NBA players — Robert Parish and Kevin Willis — have ever reached.
But Garnett hasn’t reached that decision yet, and there will be no Jeterian farewell tour.
“I like to come in each year and assess it,” Garnett said. “I’ve always said the days when I’m not feeling basketball again, which is absurd, or when I don’t have the motivation to come in here, it’s time to move on. But that’s not the case. I’m very much motivated. I’m looking to have a better year than last year and I’m looking to enjoy this year.”
And this is not about proving that last season was a fluke or that he still has gas left in the tank.
“I don’t need to show people anything,” Garnett said. “That’s first off. Secondly, for myself, last year I think everybody had to [sacrifice] their own game and give a little bit for the betterment of [the team], and I did just that.”

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No. 4: Kupchak expects Kobe to come back strong — While the doubters are swarming and standing around with shovels to begin burying Kobe Bryant’s bid to return from Achilles’ tendon and knee surgery, Mitch Kupchak is not one of them. According to Eric Pincus of the Los Angeles Times, the Lakers general manager is expecting to see the old Kobe back on the floor this season:

“I think he’s going to have an excellent year,” said Kupchak on Friday at the Lakers’ practice facility.  “I’ve watched throughout the summer … He looks really good. He says he feels great. No ill effects on either injury.”

Bryant averaged just 13.8 points, with 6.3 assists and 4.3 rebounds in his brief stint. The Lakers struggled without him, finishing with the team’s worst record since moving to Los Angeles (27-55).
While the veteran spent all of last offseason recuperating from Achilles surgery, he’s been healthy this summer, steadily preparing his comeback.
“He’s been working every day. I get reports. I’ve seen him personally,” said Kupchak. “I know he’s working and speaking with [Coach] Byron [Scott] on a daily or semi-daily basis.”

“If he walked into the room, or he walked on the court and ran up and down the court, you couldn’t tell he blew out an Achilles tendon or broke a bone in his knee last year,” continued Kupchak. “He looks conditioning-wise, his weight is great.  I think he’s down 10-12 pounds over last year. There’s no limp.”
The Lakers didn’t make any drastic moves to improve over the offseason. Pau Gasol left to join the Chicago Bulls but the team added rookie Julius Randle, veteran Carlos Boozer and re-signed scoring guard/forward Nick Young to a long-term deal.
The team tried to lure stars like LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony this summer, but were unsuccessful.

Bryant will have to be the key to whatever success the team has this season.
“I think you’ll see a player, similar to what you saw two years ago,” said Kupchak.  “He’ll do as much as he has to do to put us in the best chance to win.”

***

No. 5: Is Rondo’s story of injury a clean break? — Word had barely begun to circulate about Rajon Rondo’s broken hand that occurred from a fall in the shower when the rumors took flight. Adam Kaufman of the Boston Globe says that while the Celtics and Rondo still have some explaining to do, there actually could be some positives to come out of the situation:

For starters, this setback for Rondo presents his team with yet another opportunity to imagine life without its star player without actually losing him. Coach Brad Stevens will get a very close look at how No. 6 overall pick and famed defensive stalwart Marcus Smart runs this squad in a starting role in his natural position, rather than serving as the first “combo-guard” off the bench until someone gets hurt or dealt.
Second, Rondo is righthanded. The passing-wizard can obviously handle the rock with either hand, but he’s dominant with his right and also shoots with that hand. The injury to his left hand may limit his cross-over mobility and stifle some of his creativity, but it should not terribly alter his shot — a shot that isn’t all that great to begin with. Rondo shoots a career 47.5 percent from the field, but was held to just 40.3 percent last season. For what it’s worth, his perimeter game did improve to a career-best 28.9 percent (minimum 50 attempts) from behind the arc in 2013-14.
Third, we can’t ignore the affect this will likely have on the standings. Whether or not you like Rondo as a person or player, the Celtics are a worse team without their elite-level talent when he’s at the top of his game. Less Rondo probably means more losses which, as we know, will lead to another chorus of, “Tank! Tank!” on the way to a season featuring 20-some wins and a return to the lottery.
And, maybe most important, this could save the Celts money in the long-run. Provided (Wyc) Grousbeck and (Danny) Ainge are true to their word and genuinely want to lock Rondo up for the foreseeable future, a second injury will limit his games (he’s already missed 95 over the last two years), potentially hamper his quality of play for the short-term, and shrink the number of suitors interested in his services. As Ainge has acknowledged, there aren’t many teams in the NBA looking for new point guards as it stands, and that was with a perceived healthy Rondo. Which ones would now entertain paying top-dollar for one? Rondo might be basically forced into a lesser contract to stay, keeping his hopes of recruiting a fellow All-Star alive.

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SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Hornets Jeff Taylor barred from team activities during domestic abuse investigation…Luol Deng ready to move on past controversy… Kidd says Bucks won’t hire Gary Payton to join coaching staff.

Blogtable: Training camp showdown

Each week, we’ll ask our stable of scribes across the globe to weigh in on the most important NBA topics of the day — and then give you a chance to step on the scale, too, in the comments below.


BLOGTABLE: Rondo’s future | Rising in the West | Camp showdown



VIDEO: Dennis Scott previews some questions facing teams as camps open

> Training camps begin this week. Is there a looming camp showdown between teammates that you see as especially intriguing?

Steve Aschburner, NBA.com: My top pick here would be in Phoenix, where Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas and Eric Bledsoe all are good-to-excellent point guards — but only if Bledsoe is back on a one-year qualifying deal. If he and the Suns actually come to terms on a more lucrative, long-term extension that was in the air Wednesday morning, then Thomas’ ability to challenge for minutes takes a serious hit, because contracts matter in this league. Here’s my backup: I expect Zach LaVine to see time and potentially push Ricky Rubio (another max extension seeker) hard at point guard for Minnesota, though training camp might be too soon.

Fran Blinebury, NBA.comKobe vs. the Lakers. He’s got pent-up, inflated expectations and they don’t have the talent to match.

Jeff Caplan, NBA.com: A looming camp showdown? Hmm … Yeah, the Suns and Eric Bledsoe. If a long-term deal gets done here within the week, then I think all hard feelings can be smoothed over. However, if he signs the one-year qualifying offer, it’s going to be interesting to see how he handles himself on a team that has expectations of improving on last year’s surprising start under coach Jeff Hornacek. Bledsoe is going to want the ball in his hands a lot as he eyes unrestricted free agency and big money next summer. How will that jive with Goran Dragic and the Suns’ overall plans?

Scott Howard-Cooper, NBA.com: Kyrie Irving vs. Dion Waiters, Cleveland. Unless maybe you mean a position showdown? In that case, it’s the shooting guards in Oklahoma City. Open job, championship implications, young talents — that counts as especially intriguing. Reggie Jackson got the playoff starts when the Thunder pulled the plug on the Thabo Sefolosha era, but Jeremy Lamb will get a long look and Jackson is valuable as the backup point guard. Newcomer Anthony Morrow will also challenge for minutes.

Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic (Bart Young/NBAE)

Eric Bledsoe, Goran Dragic (Bart Young/NBAE)

John Schuhmann, NBA.com: I’m curious to see who will replace Thabo Sefolosha in the Thunder’s starting lineup. Barring injury, Scott Brooks has used the same lineup for three years, and Sefolosha’s departure gives him a chance to shake things up, even if we have to wait another year before Kendrick Perkins is eventually replaced by Steven Adams. Brooks could go with Reggie Jackson for extra speed and playmaking, Anthony Morrow for shooting, Andre Roberson for defense, or Jeremy Lamb as a long-term investment that could pay off on both ends of the floor. OKC is a title contender that has historically gotten off to bad first-quarter starts. That could continue with Perkins still around, but there’s a chance to bring some more early energy with a new starter in the backcourt.

Sekou Smith, NBA.com: Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe was a splendid fit in Phoenix, even if injuries prevented us from seeing those two young Thundercats at full strength for an extended period of time last season. Dragic and Isaiah Thomas, however, is a bit more complicated. I’m not sure if they have the same chemistry and synergy. Two ball-dominant point guards is one thing when their skill sets are as different as Dragic and Bledsoe’s were. But Dragic and Thomas have some serious work to do in that department. Do these ultra competitive guys treat camp as a chance to decide who the man is? Or will they spend that time finding ways to make each other better? It’s must-see action either way.

Lang Whitaker, NBA.com’s All Ball blog: I’m keeping a watchful eye on what’s happening in Phoenix, where they have what feels like about two-dozen guards on their roster, all of whom are worthy of playing time. Assuming Eric Bledsoe comes back, he’ll be jockeying for playing time with Goran Dragic, Isaiah Thomas, Bogdan Bogdanovic, Tyler Ennis, Archie Goodwin, Gerald Green and P.J. Tucker. This is a good problem to have, sure, but I bet there will be knock-down games of two-on-two during practice.

First Team: KD evokes MJ in MVP season

In this five-part series, I’ll take a look at the best games from last season’s All-NBA first team. The metric I’ve used to figure out the best games is more art than formula, using “production under pressure” as the heuristic for selection. For example, volume scoring in a close game against a stout team on the road gets more weight than volume scoring against the Bucks at home in a blowout. Big games matter. Big clutch games matter more.

Kevin Durant took his otherworldly scoring abilities to another level in his 2013-14 MVP campaign.

Kevin Durant took his otherworldly scoring abilities to another level in his 2013-14 MVP campaign.

There’s a sense Kevin Durant still hasn’t peeked at his peak. His length is unfair. His angel-hair pasta build is a rebellion against the MUSCLEWATCH movement that dominates the NBA. Myth has him closer to being 7-foot than his listed 6-foot-9. All of this leads to a virtually unblockable shot (don’t tell James Johnson!) that allows him to get a clean look whenever he wants.

The results:

1) NBA MVP
2) Five All-NBA first teams
3) Four scoring titles
4) All-Star MVP
5) Olympic gold medal
6) A host of honors too long to list here

Yet Durant is far from a finished product. There’s that untapped post game that Charles Barkley keeps hammering about. Can he win seven more scoring titles to surpass MJ? Could Durant, who turns 26 next week, snatch the top scoring spot from Kareem Abdul-Jabbar by the time it’s all said and done?

Last season, he dropped at least 25 points in 41 straight games to top His Airness’ modern-day record (only Oscar Robertson and Wilt Chamberlain have more). The night his streak was “broken,” he scored 23 points on 8-for-13 shooting in 31 minutes, then went on to rip off another eight straight at the 25-point level. He hit that mark in 63 out of his final 65 games.

In addition to scoring and playing more minutes than anybody else, he dealt a career-high 5.5 dimes per contest. He even tied for the league lead in technical fouls (16). The only thing Durant was missing last season was a nickname that stuck.

Here are his top games last season:

Jan.17, 2014 — Striking Down The Warriors

The Line: 54 points on 19-for-28 shooting

The Quote:He’s a special talent, a superstar basketball player, an all-time great.” — Warriors head coach Mark Jackson


VIDEO: Kevin Durant carves Warriors up for career-high 54 points

As he did for most of the season, Durant was playing without Russell Westbrook this night, giving him carte blanche with the rock. Klay Thompson and Draymond Green did what they could, but the easy truth about basketball is this: Great offense trumps great defense every time. On this night, Durant put it all together for a career night.

Jan. 21, 2014 — Extinguishing The Blazers

The Line: 46 points on 17-for-25 shooting, 6 3s

The Quote: “The way he was playing, he probably could have scored on Jesus.” – Trail Blazers guard Mo Williams


VIDEO: Durant goes for 46 points in lighting up the Blazers

The eighth night of The Streak was Fan Night on NBA TV. KD had his 25 by the end of the third quarter, but his team nursed a two-point lead going into the fourth. Without Westbrook and a tough Portland team promising to make matters difficult, his plate was full.

So Durant ate. First off a deadly mid-range game, then with a 3-point light show at the end, including a coup de grace over Nicolas Batum and Wesley Matthews.

Jan. 27, 2014 — Just Another Night

The Line: 41 points on 15-for-25 shooting, 3 blocks

The Quote: “He’s going to be an MVP candidate until he decides to retire.” – Thunder head coach Scott Brooks


VIDEO: Kevin Durant clips Hawks with game-winner to cap 41-point night

With no Westbrook again, Durant donned the hero cape. On the defining play of the game, the double team came from the left. Durant started right. Three hard dribbles later, with three Hawks in the vicinity, he confirmed another moment in a season full of them. Another game winner, another vicious January performance. Just another night, his 10th straight reaching 30 points.

Durant used January to make volume efficiency his M.O. For the month, he put up 36 points on 55 percent shooting, 44 percent beyond the arc. That. Is. Insane.

Feb. 13, 2014 — Rally On The Road

The Line: 43 points on 14-for-33 shooting, 19 in fourth quarter, 7 assists

The Quote: “He is one of the best I have seen in terms of really just playing through anything and everything.” – Thunder guard Derek Fisher


VIDEO: Kevin Durant ends first half with 43-point performance in L.A.

Durant’s final game before the All-Star break didn’t start auspiciously. He clanked his first eight treyballs and his team fought uphill all game. At the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Thunder were down 13 to a Lakers team that had lost its previous six home games.

But ‘Mr. Unreliable’ took over, almost outscoring the Lakers by himself (19 to 21). He topped the 40-point mark for the eighth time, matching the previous season’s high set by Carmelo Anthony and Kobe. No better way to end the best first half of his career.

March 21, 2014 — Making Fossils Out Of Raptors

The Line: 51 points (38 in second half and two OTs), 12 rebounds, 7 assists

The Quote: “It looked good when it left my hands and God guided that thing in the basket. That was the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of.” — Durant


VIDEO:
Kevin Durant finishes off Raptors in 2OT with game-winner, 51 points

What does a man have to do to get a double team? No matter how many times Amir Johnson stood on an island guarding the best scorer in the league, help never came. But you know what? It probably wouldn’t have mattered. Forces of nature are inevitable.

Down eight points with 49 seconds left, the Thunder ended the game on a 9-0 run. Who was responsible for those final points? Do you even have to ask?

 

Morning shootaround — Sept. 21


VIDEO: Chris Paul talks about new Clippers owner Steve Ballmer

NEWS OF THE MORNING

Playoff collapse lingers with CP3 | Crowded backcourt in Dallas | Taylor ready to go for Hornets

No. 1: Playoff collapse lingers with CP3 — The Los Angeles Clippers are happy to begin the season with new ownership. L.A. doesn’t look back too fondly on what happened on the court in last season’s playoffs either. With the conference semifinals tied at two games apiece, the Clips were up 13 with four minutes to go in Oklahoma City. Even after they let the Thunder cut that lead to two in the final seconds, they still had a chance to seal the game at the free-throw line. But Chris Paul lost the ball. He then helped OKC take the lead by fouling Russell Westbrook on a pull-up three. And on the final possession of the game, Paul coughed the ball up again. That kind of sequence is going to haunt a competitor like Paul for a long time. And, as Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times writes, it is certainly still on his mind as he gets ready to begin his fourth season in L.A.:

Paul was so devastated he cried in the locker room afterward.

Four months later, the emotional fallout lingers.

“It would be lying to you to say I’d forgotten about it,” Paul said during a break on set. “It’s one of those things that I don’t want to forget, to tell you the truth. I think for me, I feel like you have to remember things like that and therefore you don’t want that feeling again. I know I don’t.”

Paul wouldn’t go as far as to say the Clippers would use their Game 5 meltdown as inspiration a la the newly crowned NBA champion San Antonio Spurs, who suffered a similar playoff implosion in the 2013 Finals against the Miami Heat.

“I don’t know,” Paul said when asked if he saw any potential similarities between the situations. “I mean, the Spurs do what they do, we’ve got to do what we do. I think for us, it’s all about coming into training camp being ready to go.”

***

No. 2: Crowded backcourt in Dallas — With the return of Tyson Chandler and the addition of Chandler Parsons, the Dallas Mavericks could be back among the Western Conference elite. To get Chandler, they had to swap Jose Calderon for Raymond Felton. But they added Jameer Nelson and still have Devin Harris at point guard. That’s a crowded backcourt, especially when you consider that shooting guard Monta Ellis is the Mavs’ primary playmaker. But, talking with The Dallas Morning News‘ Eddie Sefko, they believe that it can work:

How the point guard logjam unfolds is what training camp is for, of course. Coach Rick Carlisle has proved to be a master when it comes to implementing his strength-in-numbers philosophy.

When there are multiple good options at one position, they tend to sort themselves out during camp.

“A team can never have too many playmakers,” Carlisle said. “They can all play with or without the ball, so in my mind, they aren’t just point guards, they’re basketball players.”

Which brings us to the possibility that the three point guards will do a lot of the NBA’s version of “bunking together,” i.e., playing together and perhaps with Monta Ellis on the floor whenever Carlisle elects to go with a small lineup.

***

No. 3: Taylor ready to go for Hornets — The Charlotte Bobcats were the most improved team after the All-Star break last season, and that was without second-year forward Jeff Taylor, who was lost for the season in December with a ruptured right Achilles’ tendon. Now, the Bobcats are the Hornets, and they’ve added Lance Stephenson. They’re also getting back Taylor, who provides depth, defense, and shooting on the wing. The road back was long, but Taylor used his time off to put on some weight, as Rick Bonnell of The Charlotte Observer writes:

Taylor injured himself Dec. 20 and he was given the option to put off surgery until after the holidays. That’s not Taylor’s way; he had the tendon reattached Dec. 22. He spent Christmas and New Year’s in a cast, followed by a boot, followed by a corrective shoe.

It’s the first time he was ever seriously injured, and the experience was enlightening.

“It’s been a long road,” Taylor said. “With an Achilles’ injury, you have to be really patient – slowly getting back all your strength, back to what you were.”

In one way, he is beyond what he was. With his lower body shut down for three months, Taylor beefed up his upper body. Constant lifting – the only exercise available to him from January through March – had a noticeable effect on his arms and shoulders.

***

SOME RANDOM HEADLINES: Ramon Sessions is heading to Sacramento. … Andray Blatche, hero of the Philippines, is taking his talents to China. … Jeff Green knows he has to be more consistent. … Kobe Bryant might soon own a piece of an Italian soccer team.

Getting out of NBA’s ‘Ringless of Honor’

Steve Nash's teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he's never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Steve Nash’s teams have been to the playoffs 12 times, but he’s never been in The Finals. (Noah Graham/NBAE)

Rings still are the things, even if it didn’t necessarily seem that way in June.

Because The Finals of 2014 were a rematch of the 2013 Finals, there wasn’t any chatter about stars who needed to win a championship. Both the Miami and San Antonio rosters were full of decorated performers, their “ring” box checked and re-checked through multiple title runs.

That wasn’t the case in many previous postseasons, when LeBron James and Chris Bosh (2011), Dirk Nowitzki and Jason Kidd (2010), Pau Gasol (2009) and Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen (2008) chased the validation that seems to matter most in the NBA. Tim Duncan and Kobe Bryant had won nine rings in 12 years, so unless someone was a teammate of one of them — or broke through like the ’08 Celtics, the ’06 Heat (Dwyane Wade on the rise) or the ensemble ’04 Pistons – he had his nose pressed against the window at title time.

The Duncan-Bryant era was a legacy blocker as surely as the Jordan era, back when Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippen were winning six titles in eight years with two different supporting casts in Chicago. By dint of competing during one or both of those consecutive eras – the Bulls last won in 1998, the Spurs first won in 1999 – an entire generation of All-Stars and Hall of Famers exited this league without jewelry, including Charles Barkley, Patrick Ewing, Karl Malone, John Stockton, Allen Iverson, Chris Mullin and Reggie Miller.

With 15 of 20 titles hogged by three franchises – and Hakeem Olajuwon‘s Houston teams grabbing two more – vying for the leftovers was a game of musical chairs. Gary Payton and Clyde Drexler managed to grab rings on their way out the door. The old-warhorse-to-the-Spurs-or-Lakers-seeking-his-ring became an annual tale of spring.

Guys like Pierce, Garnett and Nowitzki would be on the brink of joining that club to which no NBA star wants to belong – the Ringless of Honor – if not for the Celtics’ and Mavericks’ one-and-done peaks in 2008 and 2011.

Meanwhile, the waiting list gets refreshed, not erased. Here are the stars who – by virtue of their status and their career trajectories – are most on the clock as the 2014-15 season approaches (with each’s level of urgency noted):

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013

Carmelo Anthony, Nov. 2013
(Michael Bernstein/NBAE )

Steve Nash, Lakers (****) – Nash is about out of time, and might have been before he got to L.A. two years ago. At this point, his best shot at a ring will require a trade by the February deadline because the Lakers will have trouble even qualifying for the tournament next spring. The once-dazzling playmaker left Dallas too soon and got to Bryant too late.

Carmelo Anthony, Knicks (***) – If Anthony’s Hall of Fame career gets discounted for the lack of an NBA championship to bookend his NCAA title splash with Syrcause, he’ll have the man in the mirror to blame. He pushed out of Denver before the Nuggets’ plan had a chance to come to fruition, and he couldn’t capitalize in New York despite the Knicks’ monstrous payroll. Now, rather than choosing as a free agent to contend with Chicago or Houston, Anthony has re-upped for what clearly is a New York rebuild. He’s a strong candidate to find himself facing the Tracy McGrady fate in a few years, the scoring star latching on in twilight for a final shot or two.

Kevin Durant (**) – He’s young, so the ticking of the clock still is muted. But Durant has accomplished almost everything else he can – scoring titles, an MVP – which makes the open space on his trophy shelf more conspicuous. He doesn’t want to become Garnett, the constant around whom insufficient parts get haphazardly placed. Russell Westbrook fits in here, too, by association, though he still has individual awards to conquer.

Dwight Howard, Rockets (***) – The big fella seems destined to head into the sunset and five years later to Springfield with a big smile and no Larry O’Brien trophy. He plays at the mercy of his coaches and his point guards, yes, but Howard has yet to show the leadership skills or the passion – as in downright, focused orneriness – to carry his team when it matters most. James Harden is younger but he’s facing the same onus, especially with Houston’s relative whiff in free agency this summer.

Chris Paul, Clippers (***) – The Clippers’ playmaker might be in the most urgent now-or-never situation of all on this list. He has the coach, the teammates, the reset ownership and his best opportunity yet to be on a podium shaking Adam Silver‘s hand in mid-June. Injuries are always a concern with Paul, however, and at 29, so is the clock.

Joakim Noah, Bulls (**) – Noah is here because he’s older than his oft-injured and more esteemed teammate Derrick Rose. Rose’s overarching storyline is all about health, with championships way down the list. Noah had a breakthrough individual season in 2013-14, though, and has been the guy enduring all the comings and goings in Chicago (coaches, Rose’s layoffs, Luol Deng‘s ouster). A dervish of emotions on the court, Noah doesn’t hide how important winning is to him. But he hasn’t been able to achieve it yet, largely because of James in Miami and now, again, in Cleveland.

Zach Randolph, Al Jefferson, David West, LaMarcus Aldridge (*) – These are all top-tier NBA power forwards for the Grizzlies, Hornets, Pacers and Trail Blazers, respectively, still seeking their first rings. With the exception of Aldridge, who still has time, they’re not quite at the marquee level of the other names on this list. They’ll need help chasing down hardware.

Deron Williams, Joe Johnson (**) – It’s not so much that fans notice the holes in these Brooklyn stars’ resumes; they haven’t achieved that level of reverence yet. In fact, it’s more what a ring would do for each of them, perhaps elevating opinions and removing criticism.

Morning shootaround — Sept. 18

NEWS OF THE MORNING
Terry relishing new chance in Houston | Dragic, not Bledsoe, deserves extension? | Lakers forward Johnson works out with Bryant

No. 1: Terry relishing opportunity to help Rockets — The Houston Rockets lost out this summer on adding a star free-agent like Carmelo Anthony or Pau Gasol and also watched as small forward Chandler Parsons left town to sign with the Dallas Mavericks. Last night, the Rockets helped offset some of their offseason losses by officially completing the trade that has brought Kings sixth man (and longtime Mavs standout) Jason Terry back to Texas. Terry is glad to be a part of a playoff-bound squad and, after years of tormenting the Rockets as a Maverick, is ready to help them soar. Jonathan Feigen of the Houston Chronicle has more:

The Rockets general manager might not have used the term “Rockets killer,” but in one of his first conversations with Terry after reaching agreement on the trade that officially brought Terry to Houston on Wednesday, Daryl Morey told him that many Rockets fans have considered him one of their most bitter rivals.

Being regarded as a particularly vexing nemesis could have been considered a complement, but Terry said some of the same emotions that inspired his play against the Rockets will also allow him to return to that level now that he’ll play for the Rockets.

“It was always special playing in the Houston Rockets’ arena,” Terry said. “I don’t know if it was the fans, or the red seats – probably a little bit of both – the history of the franchise; it’s just a special place.

“There’s about six or seven arenas around the league that when you step foot in that arena, you feel like, ‘Man, I want to have a big game.” So every time I faced Houston … I always wanted to … perform at high level. Now that I’m joining the Rockets, hopefully I can provide that same energy, that same excitement that they faced for years.”

His reputation, however, likely comes from the 2004-05 playoff series against the Rockets when the Mavericks came back after losing the first two games of the series to win in seven games. Terry averaged 18.3 points on 52 percent shooting and 60.6 percent 3-point shooting, reveling in his successes with his “Jet” pantomime around the court.

He played 35 games with the Nets last season, averaging a career-low 4.5 points, before he was traded to Sacramento. The Kings allowed him to return to Dallas to rehab his knee, and Terry said he is now ready to play as he never could last season.

“I’m 100 percent now,” Terry said. “Last season, coming off surgery, I never gave it a chance to heal properly and then strengthen. I tried to rush back. That just set me back even further.

“I worked extremely hard every single day to strengthen the knee and to get back at full strength. In my off-season training, I’ve been able to go extremely hard and I’ve been able to do everything. That was something I was limited in last season.”

“I definitely look at it as a situation when Jason Kidd came to the Dallas Mavericks, what he did for me on and off the court, teaching me how to play the game the right way and how to take care of your body, putting the extra work in,” Terry said. “I’m not saying they don’t know, but there are things I’ve picked up … that I can show them. I’m going to be there to provide that type of leadership.”

Still, Terry said he is coming to Houston to play. He was surprised by the deal, but said he became excited when he spoke with Rockets coach Kevin McHale. Terry had said in July he did not want to be a part of the Kings’ rebuilding. Hoping to play at least to 40-years-old before going into coaching, he said he wanted to chase another championship.

“Hearing his voice assured me I was heading to the right destination and that I was in a winning situation,” Terry said. “That’s all you ask for when you’re at this stage of your career, having an opportunity to win a championship. I think that’s what the Rockets have presented to me.” (more…)

Mr. Big Shot one cool customer


VIDEO: Veteran Billups calls it a career

There are players such as Kobe Bryant, LeBron James and Blake Griffin, whose careers throw off smoke and sparks and noise like drag racers, right from the starting line.

Then there’s Chauncey Billups, who simply hummed as quiet and cool as an air conditioner.

For 17 seasons and seven different NBA teams, Billups was the proverbial duck who might have been paddling furious beneath the surface, but never gave the appearance of doing anything but gliding across the water.

He moved fast by taking it slow and he always seemed to be taking it slow, even when pushing the ball down the court in the middle of a fast break. He was the strong man who never felt a need to flex his muscles until the game got late and there was heavy lifting to do. He played with a warm smile on his face that could chill a defender. He was often the shortest one on the floor, yet the player who stood tallest when it was needed most.

Mr. Big Shot.

The standard line about the 2004 Pistons is that they were the last team to win an NBA championship without a superstar.

But that’s if you measure a star only by its brightness, as one that grabs headlines along the way to the more critical task, which is grabbing games by the throat.

Billups, Rip Hamilton, Rasheed Wallace, Tayshaun Prince and Ben Wallace did work in concert, a symphony orchestra in high tops and shorts. But it was Billups who stood on the rostrum with the baton in his hand, making sure everyone hit the right notes.

“He’s at the head of the table and he determines how people eat,” none other than Kevin Garnett once said when they were teammates in Minnesota.

That’s the way Billups had always been since his days as a teenager at Denver’s Skyland Rec Center, when he was often the youngest player on the court. He not only found a way to fit in, but developed a way to earn the respect and the trust of the older kids.

Funny thing is, it took a while to gain that same respect in the NBA. After a standout college career at Colorado, he was the No. 3 pick in the 1997 draft by the Celtics. But the franchise that prides itself on recognizing smarts didn’t keep around. Neither did the Raptors, Nuggets, Magic or Timberwolves.

So Billups finally wound up in Detroit in 2002 with a resume list of ex-teams that was longer than his arm, but not even a trace of doubt.

“My demeanor, how I am, it never swayed,” he said back then. “A lot of guys in this league when they’re not playing a lot of minutes, they get a chip on their shoulder, they’re mad at everybody. I’ve never been that way.”

Billups came to the Pistons at a time when then-president Joe Dumars was constructing a team in the “three-peat” era of the Shaquille O’Neal and Bryant off-court bickering, where he wanted talent to work together like five fingers inside a glove doubled up into a fist, where effort took a backseat to ego.

The point guard with the butler’s name and the sniper’s nerveless confidence was the perfect choice to pull it all together and be the driving force. Billups was the steady hand on the reins of disparate personalities that knew how and when to take clutch situations in the biggest of games into his own grasp. Thus, the nickname, Mr. Big Shot. The player who could miss his first 10 shots of the night and then coolly put No. 11 into the bottom of the net with a game or a playoff series on the line.

You could picture him in a tuxedo ordering a vodka martini, shaken, not stirred.

Billups, Chauncey Billups, was always the player who could lock and bar the door, the one that took the guessing and drama out of that final minute. Send him to the line and he’d drill those six straight free throws to seal a win. Leave him an opening and he’d stop up and drain that long 3-pointer without thinking twice.

“Who else would you want with the ball in his hands at that point than Chauncey?” Dumars asked.

He was a five-time All-Star from 2006-2010, was MVP of The Finals when the Pistons took down the mighty Lakers in 2004, a two-time All-Defensive second team member and, notably, in 2013 was named NBA Teammate of the Year by a vote of his peers. The only question left is whether Hall of Famer voters five years from now were really paying attention.

Let the others throw off loud sparks. For 17 seasons Billups just hummed. Perspiring, but never letting you see him sweat.