NBA finals, Lakers Celtics Game 4: Can the Celtics keep Kobe Bryant from beating them?

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kobe_garnett.jpgKobe Bryant has not had a great NBA finals. Sure, he put up 30 points in Game 1 and 29 in Game 3, but he is shooting just 39.4 percent. He is not efficient. He got 29 points last game, but it took him 29 shots to get that.

Boston’s defense is giving Kobe problems.

That shouldn’t be a surprise, the Celtics defensive strategy has long been to take Kobe out of the game offensively, to get the ball out of his hands. (Pau Gasol sometimes gets the same treatment, although Kevin Garnett has been less effective in that matchup). The Celtics efforts on Kobe have continued this series.

“They are really getting up underneath him on his shot, so he is not getting a clear lift on his shot,” Phil Jackson said after Game 3. “It keeps him from turning his body, he can’t get the right turn and they are doing a good job.”

Kobe’s a scorer. He doesn’t see it that way. But he also realizes that if two men stick to him, other guys are open.

“I wouldn’t say they are defending me any differently, I would say we are a better team,” Bryant said. “That enables me to continue to be aggressive, and put pressure on defenses. I made shots (in Game 3) in stretches, missed shots in stretches, a lot of them were tough shots with three seconds on the clock. But I think we’re just a better team.”

The Lakers have started to use Kobe as a decoy more — such as the 1-2 pick-and-roll he ran with Derek Fisher at the end of Game 3. Fisher got open looks — ones on the move that the Celtics will live with him shooting, but open looks — because when Kobe sets the screen nobody leaves him. There is no showing out by Kobe’s man, he stays put. That allowed Fisher to turn the corner and penetrate.

Look for the Lakers to keep using Kobe in that way. To use him to spread the defense out, or to create lanes for others. Because the Celtics are not going to stop bodying him, sticking with him. They are not going to give him a chance to do to them what he did to Phoenix in Game 6 of that series. They are going to make another Laker beat them.

Kobe is betting that, compared to two years ago, the Lakers are a better team.

Victor Oladipo’s practice dunk better than anything he – or maybe anyone – did in dunk contest (video)

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Victor Oladipo has grown into far more than just a dunker.

In fact, in Saturday’s dunk contest, he didn’t look like a dunker at all.

The Pacers star missed all three attempts of his first dunk, and a Black Panther mask was by far the biggest draw of his second. Oladipo was eliminated after the first round.

Maybe Dennis Smith Jr. wasn’t the only eliminated dunker who left something in his bag. This Oladipo dunk – 180 degrees, throwing ball off the backboard with his left hand while in mid-air, dunking with his right hand – while preparing in Los Angeles was awesome.

Larry Nance Jr. had the contest’s best dunk. This would have rivaled it.

Pelicans owner Tom Benson hospitalized with flu symptoms

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METAIRIE, La. (AP) — New Orleans Saints and Pelicans Owner Tom Benson has been hospitalized with flu symptoms.

A statement released Wednesday by the NFL and NBA clubs says their 90-year-old owner is resting comfortably at Ochsner Medical Center, a hospital which also serves as a major sponsor and which owns naming rights to the teams’ training headquarters.

Benson has owned the New Orleans Saints since 1985 and bought the New Orleans Pelicans in 2012.

In recent years, Benson has overhauled his estate plan so that his third wife, Gayle, would be first in line to inherit control of the two major professional franchises.

 

Report: Seattle hosting Kings-Warriors preseason game

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Kevin Durant spent his rookie season in Seattle, before the SuperSonics moved to Oklahoma City and became the Thunder. He has said Seattle fans deserved to see him grow up in the NBA after supporting his promising start.

They’ll get their chance.

Ailene Voisin of The Sacramento Bee:

The Kings and Golden State Warriors have scheduled a preseason game next season in Seattle, according to multiple league sources.

The Oct. 6 meeting between Northern California teams will be the first NBA game in the Key Arena since the Sonics moved to Oklahoma City after the 2007-08 season and became the Thunder.

This game will be loaded with storylines. Not only Durant, but the Kings considered moving to Seattle a few years ago. And of course, the return of NBA basketball to Seattle.

At some point, Seattle will get its own team again. For now, this preseason game creates intrigue there.

Report: Kawhi Leonard cleared medically, seeking second opinion

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Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said he’d be surprised if Kawhi Leonard played again this season, a stark reversal from just a month ago. Back then, even while announcing Leonard was out indefinitely with a quad injury, the San Antonio coach said Leonard wouldn’t miss the rest of the season.

What’s going on?

Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN:

After spending 10 days before the All-Star break in New York consulting with a specialist to gather a second opinion on his right quad injury, All-NBA forward Kawhi Leonard bears the burden of determining when he’s prepared to play again, sources told ESPN.

Leonard has been medically cleared to return from the right quad tendinopathy injury, but since shutting down a nine-game return to the Spurs that ended Jan. 13, he has elected against returning to the active roster, sources said.

The uncertainty surrounding this season — and Leonard’s future which could include free agency in the summer of 2019 — has inspired a palpable stress around the organization, league sources said.

At first glance, this sounds like Derrick Rose five years ago. Even after he was cleared to play following a torn ACL, the then-Bulls star remained mysterious about when he’d suit up. His confidence in his physical abilities seemed to be a major issue, and he was never the same player since (suffering more leg injuries).

But the Spurs famously favor resting players to preserve long-term health. They seem unlikely to rush back Leonard. They might even sit players who want to play more often. And Leonard isn’t Rose.

Still, it’s clear something is amiss in San Antonio. Maybe not amiss enough to end Leonard’s tenure there, but the longer this lingers, the more time for tension to percolate.