The other Lopez is growing up

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Robin Lopez was able to play alongside his brother, Brook, at Stanford before both were drafted into the NBA in 2008. But while Brook’s production has skyrocketed him to a near-elite class of NBA centers (albeit while playing for the worst team in the league) during his short NBA career, Robin was buried behind Shaquille O’Neal during his rookie campaign and faced some serious struggles during the first half of this season. It looked for a moment like Lopez may have been more Taylor Griffin than Marc Gasol, doomed to live in his brother’s shadow throughout the duration of their respective careers.

But Robin’s mid-season renaissance has him playing with more confidence than ever, and while his contributions don’t quite match Brook’s, he’s making meaningful plays for a team that matters. Robin Lopez is becoming a difference-maker in the middle for the Phoenix Suns. From Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic:

Since being inserted into the starting lineup Jan. 18, the Suns are 16-8, and 14-4 in their past 18 games. Since the All-Star break, the Suns have held five of 12 opponents to fewer than 100 points. During that stretch, Lopez poured in 30 points against the Clippers and promptly messaged his brother, Brook, who plays for the Nets. “Until I score 33, he still has the family record for most points in a NBA game,” Lopez said.

With Lopez on the bench, the Suns were outrebounded in 25 of their first 41 games. Since the change, they have won or tied the rebounding battle in 19 of 24 games. Now, a soft-serve franchise suddenly is besting its opponents by an average of 4.4 rebounds per game. But this isn’t about numbers. Simply put, Lopez has changed the personality of this basketball team.

That’s a tall claim about a guy who could barely crack the Suns’ rotation a year ago. But Robin Lopez is coming into his own, and he’s using defense and rebounding to significantly alter the complexion of the Phoenix Suns. There was a serious need for Lopez’s particular skill set, and he’s merely stepped in to do what he’s always done best.

If anything, stories like Robin’s only preach to the patience that NBA prospects deserve. Phenomenal talents like LeBron James, Derrick Rose, and Tyreke Evans can step into the league and be dominant players from day one. But other draftees are simply better suited as bit players during their early careers.

Maybe they’ll someday develop into a star or maybe they won’t, but during a prospect’s crucial formative stages, confidence is key, and that confidence comes from within, from their teammates, from the coaching staff, and from the fans. The weight of expectation can be enough to drag down anyone’s career, and while Robin Lopez wasn’t faced with an unbearable burden, he may have been unfairly counted out despite the fact that his NBA career is still in its infancy.

Watch Stephen Curry, Kevin Durant trade shots Saturday night

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Kevin Durant won the one-on-one battle — he dropped 40 points on the Golden State Warriors, while Stephen Curry had “just” 26 and needed 26 shots to get there (but did add 10 assists).

But the Warriors built up a lead thanks to their depth and were able to withstand a late Thunder run to get the win.

Enjoy watching Curry and Durant putting on a show Saturday night in the Bay Area.

Nerlens Noel uses length for ridiculous reverse jam

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Nerlens Noel‘s 7’4″ wingspan can come in handy at times.

Such as when driving on Brook Lopez, and getting forced under the basket, he can just reach around the Nets’ center for the impressive dunk.

Noel finished the game with 18 points, Jahlil Okafor had 22, and the Sixers picked up a win against the Nets 103-98.

Kobe Bryant’s 25 points not enough to upset Spurs

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SAN ANTONIO (AP) — The San Antonio Spurs have watched helplessly as Los Angeles Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant has tormented them for the better part of the past two decades.

Bryant did so again in his final appearance in San Antonio, but the Spurs were able to enjoy this one.

LaMarcus Aldridge scored 26 points and the San Antonio Spurs overcame a throwback performance by Bryant to beat the Los Angeles Lakers 106-102 on Saturday night to remain unbeaten at home.

“I thought it was great,” San Antonio point guard Tony Parker said. “It was a great game, fans were into it. It felt a little bit like the old days in the playoffs, Spurs and the Lakers.”

Kawhi Leonard added 20 points and 13 rebounds to help the Spurs win their 28th straight home game to open the season. The Spurs’ 37th straight home victory dating back to last season was surprisingly difficult.

Bryant had 16 of his 25 points in the third quarter, going 3 for 6 on 3-pointers in guiding the Lakers to an 81-79 lead entering the fourth.

“I watched him growing up,” said Lakers guard and San Antonio native Jordan Clarkson, who finished with 21 points and four assists. “I watched him kill the Spurs.”

San Antonio has trailed for only two minutes in the fourth quarter at home this season, but the Lakers led for all but 23 seconds in the opening seven minutes of the period.

Bryant finished 9 for 28 from the field, but was 7 for 18 in a dynamic second half that electrified a pro-Bryant crowd.

“It’s like watching Michael (Jordan),” San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich said. “I was just watching. It was great. It was great. We made some mistakes. He took advantage of it. He’s fantastic.”

After rising to drain a 3-pointer with Leonard squarely in his face contesting the attempt, Bryant turned to an injured Tim Duncan on the bench and shrugged his shoulders.

“He was like, `No way,’ and I was like `Dude,’ ” Bryant said. “What could I do? I miss the easy ones and make some B.S. like that. I don’t even know what to tell you. It was Tim’s version of a yell, so it was a strong whisper.”

The Lakers trailed 101-99 lead after trading 3-pointers following Bryant’s improbable shot, but the Spurs’ were able to hold Los Angeles to just three points in the final 2 minutes.

“Missed defensive assignments,” said Lakers guard D'Angelo Russell, who had 12 points. “They executed their offense to perfection. We were young and that’s an excuse I could give you.”

Bryant had a sore right shoulder, but he was not about to miss one last game against his fiercest rivals. He has faced the Spurs 90 times in the regular season and postseason, his most against any opponent.

TIP-INS

Lakers: The Spurs honored Bryant with a 3-minute video. The Spurs’ Big Three of Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili all paid tribute to Bryant’s competitiveness along with San Antonio coach Gregg Popovich. Bryant walked over to the Spurs’ bench prior to tipoff and hugged Popovich, sharing a few words with San Antonio’s longtime coach.

Spurs: San Antonio’s 12-game lead in the Southwest is the largest ever since the division was formed in 2004-2005. … In addition to Duncan and Ginobili, the Spurs were also without Matt Bonner. The reserve forward suffered a left calf strain Friday against Dallas, which was just his 20th game of the season. … Pop star Selena Gomez sat courtside, wearing a Tony Parker jersey.

 

Spurs honor Kobe Bryant in his last game in San Antonio (VIDEO)

LOS ANGELES - MARCH 30:  Kobe Bryant #8 of the Los Angeles Lakers stands next to Tim Duncan #21 of the San Antonio Spurs on March 30, 2006 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, California.  The Spurs won 96-85. (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
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The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.

So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below: