Does Kobe's extension really extend the Lakers' title window?

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Thumbnail image for Bryant_miss.jpgRe-signing Kobe Bryant was a major objective for the Lakers this year, even if it was largely a formality, given Kobe’s stated desire to remain in LA and the fact that, let’s face it, there’s nowhere better for a basketball player to be. The weather, the celebrities, the night life, and an organization that will always be in a position to spend enough to win. Still, Mamba’s a tricky snake, so getting him on their side until 2014 is a great development for the Lakeshow. And Bryant is worthy of the reward of a long-term contract for everything he’s given the team and its fans.

That said, what really are the effects of this deal?

Yesterday our fearless leader tried to tell you through yellow-tinted shades that the Lakers’ championship window is open through 2014. Four more years of Laker dominance in the West, is apparently the summation of the effects of Kobe’s gajillion dollar extension. But how accurate is that?

Next two seasons? Absolutely. Bryant will be 33 at the end of the 2012 season. Jordan was 34 when he won his last with the Bulls. But after that? Pau Gasol will be 32 the following season as his already questionable physical presence begins to shrink. Lamar Odom will be 33. Lakers fans love to talk about the Celtics’ age tearing them down. Take a look at that plus-30 core.

But let’s focus on Bryant. This season fans have noticed significant dip-nights in his shooting, like last night’s abhorrent performance, luckily in a game where Lamar Odom destroyed the Jazz (more on him later today). They’ve also noticed a surge of turnovers, particularly in big games like the Denver showdowns and both losses to the Cavs. So if we take a look at the numbers, we’ll see a drop in … nothing?

Bryant’s field goal percentage, turnovers, points, and assists are all within range of his averages over the last four years. So no worries. Unless we examine some higher metrics. Don’t roll your eyes, stats-haters, just hear me out.

Bryant’s PER is the lowest it’s been since 2000. His effective field goal shooting (which factors in three point shooting) is the lowest it’s been since ’06. His usage, which measures how many possessions he absorbs, is the highest since ’05. So usage up, production down. His per 36 scoring (points per 36 minutes of play) is the lowest it’s been since ’05.

Even with his injuries this season factored in, that doesn’t help his case, because those injuries only become more likely as age catches up with him in his mid-30’s.

So surely he’s not able to get the job done like he used to… Oh. And oh. And oh

So we’re left with conflicting information. Bryant’s still the best closer in the game. He’s always managed to adapt his game to his changing body and do what he needs to, like adapting the post-game this year. He has an indomitable will. But on the other side, by 2012 he’ll be 34, with an aging roster, and his numbers have at least showed signs of a fade. The next two years are a lock, but after that is when things get dicey. So betting on Bryant to be in title contention for four more years may be a risky proposition.

But betting against him?

That’s just suicide.

Marcus Smart wants to be back for Game 6 vs. Bucks

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Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart has been out for some time after injuring his thumb earlier in the year. The absence of one of Boston’s most important guards has been felt even more so after Kyrie Irving went down following knee surgery.

In short, the Celtics would like to have Smart back on the floor.

We’re now close enough that Smart has begun to give solid timeframes to reporters. Speaking to media on Sunday, Smart said that his plan is to be back for Game 6 against the Milwaukee Bucks. Boston took on Milwaukee on Sunday in Game 4.

Via ESPN:

Right now, [a Game 6 return is] the plan and we’re still on the same track,” Smart said before Game 4 on Sunday. “I’ve been doing everything but contact, so I will be able to go and start that.”

Smart said he believes the thumb is ready for contact.

“The surgery did its job,” said Smart, who injured himself March 11 while diving for a loose ball in a game against the Indiana Pacers. “Thumb is holding up well. I feel ready, I feel strong enough to get back out there. I’m just waiting on the OK.”

The series between the Celtics and Bucks has been tumultuous, a back-and-forth affair as an injury-riddled Boston squad takes on a healthy but offensively-sluggish Milwaukee team. Smart could add a shot of life for Boston in a much-needed way.

The Bucks won Game 4 and the series is now tied, 2-2. Game 6 would be on Thursday, April 26 if need be.

Manu Ginobili leads Spurs over Warriors

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Although the San Antonio Spurs were outmatched against the Golden State Warriors, Manu Ginobili was an integral part of the Spurs staving off elimination against the reigning champs on Sunday. San Antonio beat the Warriors, 103-90, to put the series at 3-1.

The 40-year-old wingman scored 10 of his 16 points in the fourth quarter in San Antonio as Ettore Messina logged a playoff win at the helm of the team. Gregg Popovich, who sadly lost his wife this past week, did not coach.

Ginobili was 5-of-10 off the bench, adding five assists and three rebounds in the win. LaMarcus Aldridge led all Spurs scorers with 22, notching a double-double with 10 rebounds.

Meanwhile, the only Warriors player to score more than 12 points was Kevin Durant, who rose above all scorers with 34 points to go with 13 rebounds. Klay Thompson shot an embarrassing 25 percent from the field, scoring just 12 points.

Ginobili put the dagger on the Warriors with 90 seconds to go, hitting a spinning flip shot over Draymond Green to give San Antonio a 10-point lead.

The series heads back to Oakland for Game 5 with the Spurs trailing, 3-1.

Kevin Durant on Giannis Antetokounmpo: ‘I would tell him to play for himself’

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Kevin Durant was once the big star in a little city. The former Oklahoma City Thunder star now plays for the Golden State Warriors, and has a championship ring to his name after making a switch in 2016.

So Durant has at least some experience similar to that of Milwaukee Bucks star Giannis Antetokounmpo. The Greek Freak is currently leading the charge for the Bucks against the Boston Celtics in the first round, and he’s seen as the future in Milwaukee. Antetokounmpo signed a 4-year, $100 million contract in the summer of 2016, so presumably he’ll be in Wisconsin for some time.

Meanwhile, Durant had some advice for Antetokounmpo, should he ask for it. In a feature on ESPN, Durant was quoted as saying he felt Antetokounmpo should be sure to have fun, and to play for himself.

Via ESPN:

What I would say to him, I would tell him to play for himself,” Durant said. “Because he’s the one out there putting in the work, he’s the one out there getting up in the morning staying committed to the game. Obviously [the comments about staying put] sounds good to the fans in Milwaukee and to the ownership, because he cares so much about wanting to please them and play well for them, and I get it. But his career is about him; it’s about whatever he wants to do and however he feels is right for him. And what type of basketball does he want to play? He’s not going to stay in Milwaukee if he’s not having fun playing the game.

That’s some pretty good advice, although factors surrounding Antetokounmpo will likely weigh the same as they did on Durant in OKC. The Bucks presumably need a new coach once their season ends. They’re currently helmed by interim coach Joe Prunty, who took over when Jason Kidd was fired earlier this year.

The Bucks also need to fill out their roster and find a way to stay healthy. The Thunder famously had roster issues (read: the James Harden trade) and eventually the lack of playoff success drove Durant to switch teams.

Milwaukee doesn’t seem close to that kind of juncture, although eventually things will flip for the young Bucks and fans and management will expect some kind of production in the postseason.

Giannis Antetokounmpo beats Celtics with late-game tip-in; series tied 2-2

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It was an exciting finish in Milwaukee on Sunday, where the Bucks took home a win on their home court to level the series against the Boston Celtics, 2-2.

The game came down to the wire, with 2016-17 NBA Rookie of the Year Malcolm Brogdon giving the Bucks the lead after a corner 3-pointer with just 33.5 seconds left. The Celtics responded with a sideline out of bounds play that resulted in Al Horford tying the game with free throws.

On their final possession, the Bucks again went to Brogdon, who missed on a layup driving to the left side of the floor. Luckily, Giannis Antetokounmpo was there to follow with the tip-in with just five seconds left.

Via ESPN:

Boston was unable to convert on a final play, and Milwaukee grabbed the win, 104-102.

Game 5 will be in Boston on Tuesday.