Prepare yourself for Kobe vs. Sefolosha


Thumbnail image for Bryant_game2.jpgLast season, one of the reasons the Rockets were able to take the eventual champion Lakers to a seventh game was the defense Shane Battier played on Kobe Bryant. Kobe got his points, but Battier’s hounding defense forced Kobe to work for each and every one of them, and it was a thrilling battle to watch. 

In this year’s playoffs, Bryant and the Lakers have a first-round date with another very good defensive team featuring a defensive specialist on the perimeter. The Thunder were a top-10 team in defensive efficiency this season, in large part because Thabo Sefolosha has emerged as perhaps the league’s best perimeter defender. Thabo’s combination of tenacity, athleticism, and length have earned him the unofficial title of “the next Bruce Bowen,” although though Sefolosha can’t knock down open threes as well as Bowen could. 
On the other side, there’s Kobe Bryant. Not only is he one of the best offensive players of all time, but he’s one of the few perimeter players who can destroy a team without needing to blow by his initial defender. With his series of pull-ups and post moves, Kobe is capable of scoring 30 points without taking it hard to the basket once. That means more one-on-one battling then you’ll see in any other superstar vs. stopper matchup this playoffs. 
Sports Illustrated’s Chris Ballard has gone to the trouble of breaking down the Bryant vs. Sefolosha matchup, and there’s plenty of interesting stuff to take a look at. Here’s a teaser:
“The last time the Thunder played the Lakers, on March 26, Sefolosha had one. During the 22-plus minutes that Sefolosha guarded Bryant, Kobe made exactly one field goal, and that was an end-of-shot-clock special. For the game, which the Thunder won, Bryant finished with 11 points on 4 of 11 shooting and committed a career-high-tying nine turnovers. Afterward, he even admitted that Sefolosha had bothered him. Copping to weakness? Now this is not the Kobe we’ve come to know and (pick your choice) love/detest/grudgingly respect/name our firstborn after.
No doubt, Bryant will use that game as fuel for the playoffs. As you read this, he’s probably holed up somewhere, masochistically watching film of Sefolosha while chanting whatever mantra Kobe chants when he’s doing some serious self-improvement. And as a result Bryant will likely come out focused and dangerous, which in years past would have led to a ritual thrashing of his opponent.
This year, I’m not so sure.”
On paper, this certainly doesn’t look all that good for Kobe. His team is coming into the playoffs without any momentum to speak of. He hasn’t been fully healthy all year, and had one of the worst statistical seasons of his career. He’s not old yet, but he’s not getting younger either. Now he has to go up against an ultra-tough, ultra-hungry team of young guns who feature the best perimeter defender in the game. However, if there’s one thing NBA fans know, it’s that counting out Kobe is a very, very bad idea. As bad as this matchup looks for Kobe and the Lakers, I’d be shocked if Kobe didn’t end up going off for at least one or two signature performances before the series is over. 

Celtics: Kyrie Irving to undergo ‘minimally invasive procedure’ on injured knee

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With uncertainty surrounding Kyrie Irving‘s knee injury, the Celtics announced a course of action.

Celtics release:

The Boston Celtics announced today that guard Kyrie Irving will tomorrow undergo a minimally invasive procedure to alleviate irritation in his left knee. Further information will be provided following tomorrow’s procedure, and the team will have no further comment until that time.

This is so vague. We barely know more than we did before.

Irving reportedly might need the pins removed from his knee, so that’d be the first guess at the type of procedure. But that’s just a guess.

The Celtics look vulnerable with Irving hobbled, which is big update from yesterday, when the Celtics looked vulnerable with Irving hobbled.

Tom Thibodeau denies report of Andrew Wiggins’ unhappiness as Timberwolves’ third option

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As soon as a rumor emerged Andrew Wiggins told teammates he was unhappy as the Timberwolves’ third option behind Jimmy Butler and Karl-Anthony Towns, Kurt predicted denials from Minnesota.

Here they are – at least one.

Wiggins, via Jerry Zgoda of the Star Tribune:

“It’s just someone’s word of mouth. It wasn’t no quote from me. Everyone that knows me knows I don’t talk much, I just go with the flow … I don’t whisper. If I say something, I’m going to say it clearly and loudly.”

Timberwolves president-coach Tom Thibodeau, via Zgoda:

“I know Andrew’s character. There’s no way in the world Andrew is saying any of that, particularly from a guy who’s taken the most shots on our team.”

Thibodeau sounds as if he’s just trying to shut down this talk, including maybe from Wiggins. That sure looks like a reminder to Wiggins that he leads Minnesota in shots. Thibodeau can’t know whether Wiggins complained to teammates. Thibodeau can defend his player publicly while implicitly warning his player to cut it out.

I’m unsure whether Wiggins actually denied it – whether he’s noting that he didn’t say it or just didn’t say it directly to the reporter, Darren Wolfson.

Wolfson is credible, and I believe he didn’t just make this up. But these things can sometimes get overblown as they get passed through the grapevine. If Wiggins is generally content in his role but told teammates he was struggling to get in rhythm a particular day because Butler and Towns were getting more shots, would that be noteworthy?

Wiggins’ statements to teammates could be inconsequential. They could signal a major problem brewing.

His response to the report doesn’t exactly lower the alarm. Wiggins doesn’t strike me as someone who speaks up loudly and clearly when confronted with an issue. When everyone in the world knew the Cavaliers were trading him for Kevin Love, Wiggins deflected. He remained vague when asked about the delay in signing his contract extension. To be fair, those were sensitive issues. But so is this.

Denied or not, Wiggins’ contentment on a team with Butler and Towns warrants monitoring.

Report: Grizzlies laugh and joke in locker room after 61-point loss

AP Photo/Chuck Burton

Marc Gasol lit into the Grizzlies.

And that was before their 61-point loss to the Hornets.

Gasol didn’t play in that one, but Memphis coach J.B. Bickerstaff took his turn with strong words after the game.

Bickerstaff, via Ronald Tillery of The Commercial Appeal:

“One thing when you’ve got a bunch of young guys is they don’t understand what it takes to survive in this league,” Bickerstaff said. “If you want to make it there’s a matter of bounce-back, a matter of pride, a matter of mental toughness that you have to show on every given night and every opportunity you get. What happened tonight… there’s no defending the way we played.

“You believe because there’s opportunities you can get out there, do whatever you want and it’s my turn to play. Everything in this league is hard earned. If you’re not willing to make that sacrifice then you shouldn’t be in this league. If you can’t prove to people that that’s what you’re about then you won’t be in this league.”


Bickerstaff nor Gasol were in the locker room when it opened for media after the game. Perhaps that was a good thing because several Grizzlies players didn’t appear to take the loss hard given the amount of laughter and joking between them.

My question for anyone who has a problem with this: What would brooding and sulking do for these players? Seriously. How specifically would that help?

Also, what’s the appropriate waiting period for laughing and joking after a bad loss? A day? A week? Are these players just supposed to be miserable until they win next – which, the way things are going, might be next season?

I have no problem with players enjoying themselves in the midst of a long and dreadful season. Joy is important – to basketball and life.

Maybe the young Grizzlies aren’t appropriately dedicated to winning. That very well could be. I just don’t think a few minutes of locker room kidding proves that.

Besides, Memphis trailed by 30+ the entire second half. There was plenty of time to absorb the magnitude of this defeat and reflect on it before the locker room opened to the media.

It’s tough on players when everyone knows the Grizzlies are better off losing and improving draft position. Maybe nobody told the players to intentionally lose, but tanking manifests in an attitude throughout the organization. I doubt Memphis players enjoyed last night’s game.

I’m not going to scold them for moving on and lightening the mood afterward.

Texas A&M sophomore Robert Williams, a potential lottery pick, declares for NBA draft

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A year ago, Robert Williams returned to Texas A&M despite looking like a probable first-round and potential lottery pick.

He cemented his place in the first round and increased his chances of going in the lottery this season. Now, he’s jumping to the NBA.

Austin Laymance of the Houston Chronicle:

Texas A&M sophomore forward Robert Williams is turning pro.

Williams announced his decision to enter the NBA draft and bypass his final two seasons of eligibility after the seventh-seeded Aggies lost to third-seeded Michigan 99-72 in the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament Thursday night.

At 6-foot-10 with a 7-foot-4 wingspan, Williams should be a center at the next level. He’s a major leaper who puts that skill to good use blocking shots and finishing inside.

Texas A&M’s poor floor spacing – Williams often played with another big or two – did him no favors, but it clarified his role. Williams made important improvements as a defensive rebounder in his sophomore season. He also stalled as a jump shooter.

Williams will likely look better in the NBA. Though teams would love 3-point-shooting centers who also defend well, there aren’t enough to go around. When the other four positions provide spacing, shots open at the rim for players like Williams – whose rim protection is also valued in modern systems.