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.

Magic’s Aaron Gordon skies to finish amazing alley-oop (VIDEO)

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Aaron Gordon may not have had the best dunk contest this year — apparently drones and dunks don’t mix well — but the guy can still get up and finish with the best in the league.

As he did on this alley-oop against Detroit.

Elfrid Payton had to throw a lob that would get over Andre Drummond, but how many guys in the league can get that high, reach back and finish that? Damn.

Former Hawk Pero Antic’s celebration accidentally punches teammate in face in Eruoleague (VIDEO)

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Former Atlanta Hawk Pero Antic is now playing for Turkish powerhouse Fenerbahce, in case you were not aware.

Fenerbahce was facing Anadolu Efes in a EuroLeague game, it was tight late and former NBA player Ekpe Udoh was at the free throw line for Fenerbahce. He missed his second shot, but the rebound caromed out-of-bounds off an Anadolu Efes player. Antic was pumped.

Maybe a little too pumped.

Ouch.

That was Nikola Kalinic, by the way, the guy Antic now owes dinner to. Kalinic would like the dinner more than the hug and kiss he got from Antic right after the play.

Also, Anadolu Efes held on to win 80-77.

(Hat tip to Ball Don’t Lie.)

James Harden helped recruit Lou Williams to Houston

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The Lakers had been shopping Lou Williams around in the run-up to the trade deadline, the only question was would they get a first-round pick for him. Rumors around the league say that Houston had offered them one weeks before, it was on the table, but the Jim Buss/Mitch Kupchak front office held their cards close and hoped a better deal would come through.

While all that was going on James Harden decided to ease the process and did a little recruiting calling up Williams, the sixth-man guard told Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports.

“When James called, he asked me if I was interested in playing with them,” Williams told The Vertical. “I told him that I loved the Lakers, but James and them have a group that fit my personality, fit how I play. He said he was going to make it happen.”

Williams then laughed, sitting on the edge of a visiting court following a recent practice. “I’ve heard that before, so I didn’t really put stock into it,” Williams told The Vertical. “I guess James did put the word in, and the team made it happen.”

We all know what happened, Jeanie Buss removed her brother and Kupchak a few days before the trade deadline, Magic Johnston stepped in, called around, and quickly pulled the trigger on a trade that sent Williams to Houston (the Lakers also got Corey Brewer). Williams has averaged 14.5 points per game and had some strong performances with the Rockets, although he’s still finding his groove with the team on the court. Still, he’s been an upgrade for the Rockets’ bench.

Harden knew he would be, so he did his part to make sure it happened.

Take a look back at just how great Shaq was with the Lakers (VIDEO)

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Shaquille O’Neal was as dominant a force as the NBA has ever seen.

His peak years came with the Lakers, when paired with Kobe Bryant one the court — and Phil Jackson manipulating both of them — they won three titles (and arguably would have had more if they stayed together). Those Lakers teams were one of the NBA’s great teams.

Friday night, the Lakers unveil Shaq’s statue at Staples Center. Take a look back at some of Shaq’s Lakers highlights.