NBA Playoffs, Lakers Jazz: As if the Jazz don't have enough problems, Kobe is back

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nba_bryant2_250.jpgAt one point in the first round, Kobe Bryant was showing all the leaping ability of Ron Artest. You could hardly tell them apart… well, except for the hair. And the build. And the fluidity of motion. Okay, so it wasn’t that bad.

But it wasn’t good either. Oklahoma City was blanketing him with very good defenders like Thabo Sefolosha and Kevin Durant — they deserve a lot of credit for making his life difficult. But Kobe was not his explosive self. He is the master of creating his own space then elevating for a jumper where he gets a good look. But the elevator was not going all the way to the top.

It is now. He has 61 points in two games against Utah, and that is with him largely deferring to the Lakers huge matchup advantage in the post.

Through the magic of MySynergySports I rewatched all of Kobe’s shot attempts from the first two games, as well as games three and four of the first round, and this is a different Kobe. He has said as much, as reported in the Orange County Register.

Bryant said of the Lakers’ two losses in Oklahoma City: “Played on one leg, basically.”

It’s just a matter of the explosion of the moves. Kobe in this series is moving with a real aggressiveness, a purpose, he pushes his way to the spot he wants on the floor. He is spinning and driving baseline with quick moves, something he just could not do last series.

A few times — like his second basket in game one or the late game-winning layup that same game — he comes hard off the pick to find no defense there and he has driven for a virtually uncontested layup. Blame the Jazz defense if you want (and you should) but Kobe did not do that last series because he lacked the speed to attack the same way.

Last series, Kobe slid around the picks, he glided. Given space he would take his jumpers (and he still hit them with regularity from the spots he likes, such as the elbow), but he could not create the space. He was slower.

But against the Jazz the Kobe that pushes and spins his way to those spots, then explodes for the jumper, is back. He has taken advantage when the Jazz got stuck with a smaller man on him (Deron Williams, for example). Kobe is backing guys down again. The elevation is back.

Kobe is still shooting a lot of jumpers — he is not 25-year-old Kobe with that raw athleticism that make him impossible to matchup. He picks his spots now. His game has matured.

But he is getting the shots he wants again. And that makes him a very, very dangerous player.

Just want the Jazz needed. Another nearly unstoppable problem.

Watch LeBron James’ speech after getting his ring in Cleveland

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“At this point, if you’re not from here, live here, play here, dedicate yourself to Cleveland, then it makes no sense for you to live at this point — Cleveland against the world!”

And with that, the Q went nuts.

LeBron James and the Cavaliers got their rings and raised a banner in Cleveland — the first title banner in that city in 52 seasons (although the Indians are trying to have their say on the matter across the street). It was emotional for everyone in the building, and particularly the hometown boy LeBron.

Check out the full ring ceremony.

Best foot forward: 76ers’ Embiid set for long-awaited debut

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) shoots against Memphis Grizzlies center Marc Gasol, of Spain, during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Tuesday, Oct. 11, 2016, in Memphis, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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PHILADELPHIA (AP) With a dunk contest, half court shots and “Juju on that Beat ” dancing contest finished, Joel Embiid turned back toward Philadelphia 76ers fans at an open practice.

Instead of scurrying off to the locker room, Embiid stuck around for selfies with fans sitting on all sides of the court, stretching mobiles high over his 7-foot-2 frame to squeeze as many fans as he could into each snapshot .

Embiid even entertained in 1-on-1 games – against little kids.

Embiid has the joyous personality of a kid himself. Social media posts include him crushing on Rihanna or teasing an Australian-born teammate that he’ll get deported if Donald Trump is elected president of the United States. The 76ers posted a Vine last season of Embiid throwing down a between-the-legs dunk at warmups that blew up NBA-centric Twitter feeds and offered fans a fleeting look at the potential ahead.

“Philadelphia’s going to love him,” coach Brett Brown said.

The city has waited 29 months to love the 22-year-old Embiid for his impact on the court.

The Sixers have stripped the bubble wrap off Embiid and the No. 3 overall pick of the 2014 draft is set to make his debut Wednesday night against Oklahoma City after two foot surgeries, countless days of rehab, gallons of Shirley Temples and inherited expectations that he is the savior for a woebegone franchise that has made a farce of competitive basketball.

Embiid, who grew up playing soccer and volleyball and didn’t play basketball until 2011, is no longer the raw project out of Kansas. He’s grown 3 inches and beefed up to about 275 pounds to better handle the daily grind of battling the NBA’s biggest big men.

“Where I was three years ago, I’m not even close to what I am right now,” Embiid said. “My game has gotten so much better. The past three years, if you watch the game tape, I’m not the same guy.”

Embiid had a fantastic freshman season with the Jayhawks, averaging 11.2 points and 8.1 rebounds. He blocked 72 shots to earn Big 12 defensive player of the year honors.

He might have been the No. 1 overall pick in `14 – a spot that went to Minnesota’s Andrew Wiggins – had he had not suffered from a balky back and needed surgery for a stress fracture in his right foot shortly before the draft. Embiid, who knew only his native Cameroon before college, failed to really adjust to life without daily organized basketball. His weight ballooned, and he was booted from a road trip because of a petulant attitude. Part of his weight gain was blamed on a junk food diet washed down with that mix of ginger ale and a splash of grenadine garnished with a maraschino cherry commonly known as a Shirley Temple .

His personal life was rocked in October 2014 when his 13-year-old brother Arthur died in a car crash in Africa.

“It’s been really hard,” Embiid said.

Embiid was expected to anchor the rebuild in 2015 for a Sixers organization that had scorched their roster and abandoned a competitive season in hopes of gobbling lottery picks. But a second surgery of the navicular bone on the right foot in August 2015 cost him his sophomore season.

Embiid was devastated but handled his time off with greater seriousness in his workouts and a mission to return as a dominant center. The 76ers even shipped Embiid to a sports science facility and sports medicine hospital in Qatar to rehab.

“When I left college, I felt I wasn’t ready for NBA life,” Embiid said. “But since I’ve been in the league, the support I’ve had around me from (former president) Sam Hinkie, the coaching staff, they’ve just been on me. That’s what I usually need. When somebody’s on me, I can usually do better.”

The Sixers played it safe this year and held Embiid out of summer league. Brown, in his fourth season, entered training camp with a cautious plan to limit Embiid’s minutes and games when the schedule is packed.

Embiid, well, he left his training wheels in the dust.

He averaged 11.6 points over all seven preseason games. Embiid played 20 minutes a game as the preseason ended and Brown said he would consider playing his starting center more often. Brown would ideally lessen Embiid’s load early and help him avoid the same fate of other centers who had careers curtailed by foot injuries, like Yao Ming and Zydrunas Ilgauskas.

In the preseason, Embiid flashed some wow moments that had his teammates hooting and hollering on the bench. But Embiid sometimes tried too hard to be the showstopper and was a turnover machine.

“At times, he just reminds me of a yearling, trying to find his balance,” Brown said. “He wants to score. He wants to dominate. How about the passion he plays with? You can’t coach that. And he has `it.”‘

So who plays with him? The Sixers have had more key players out with injuries under Brown than they have had competing for playing time.

Ben Simmons, the No. 1 overall pick this year, is sidelined indefinitely with a broken bone in his right foot. Nerlens Noel, the No. 6 pick in the `13 draft, is out at least a month after surgery on his left knee. Starting point guard Jerryd Bayless is sidelined with a ligament injury in his left wrist. Jahlil Okafor, Philadelphia’s leading scorer and rebounder, is restricted as he recovers from surgery on his left knee.

The Sixers went 10-72 last season and have won 27 games in Embiid’s two seasons on the bench.

“Having to sit on the bench and watch us lose almost every night has been hard,” Embiid said.

Embiid took note of the hype that happened across the street during one of his visits to the Philadelphia Eagles sideline. Carson Wentz went from unknown rookie to whipping fans into a “Wentzamania” frenzy with his quick start.

“I think it’s our turn,” Embiid said.

WWE’s The Undertaker is at Cavaliers ring/banner celebration

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 23: The Undertaker recovers during his fight against Brock Lesner at the WWE SummerSlam 2015 at Barclays Center of Brooklyn on August 23, 2015 in New York City.  (Photo by JP Yim/Getty Images)

Remember during the NBA Finals LeBron James and a number of the Cavaliers players were wearing WWE star shirts? LeBron in particular wore an Undertaker shirt before Game 5, then had on The Ultimate Warrior shirt after Game 7.

Well, guess who is going to be at the ring and banner ceremony Tuesday night in Cleveland?

The Undertaker is there is full regalia — Cavs fans are going to love this.

Who was most excited to meet The Undertaker? The Birdman, of course.

(Hat tip

Carmelo Anthony, Chris Paul, other NBA stars talk “togetherness” in new video


Carmelo Anthony and other NBA players have talked about wanting to take the conversation created around the national anthem protests and turn that into action in their communities.

A new video featuring Anthony, Chris Paul, Kyle Korver, Dwyane Wade and other NBA stars is along those lines — it speaks to unity. It’s about we as a nation learning to talk to each other again — to listen and have empathy, not just talk at each other.

It’s a step. One of many we all need to take.