Durant's Gold Medal performance less magic, more an omen

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If you were surprised, you need to work on your predictive logic. There was nothing surprising about Kevin Durant’s 28 point barrage to keep the good ship Team USA afloat in their FIBA Championship victory over Turkey. Nor was there anything shocking about his stunning 38 point dismantling of Lithuania in the semifinals. This is who he is. If you’ve been paying attention, this should make you shake your head in appreciation of just how incredible this kid, this 21-year-old kid, is.

The moral ascertations have already started rolling in about Durant, about how he’s the anti-LeBron, the new moral compass, and how he’ll be the best player in the NBA within a handful of years. All of these are not only entirely premature, but unfathomably lacking in perspective. Instead, let’s simply examine what Durant is revealing as his identity.

Durant’s three point attack was his particular weapon of choice today, hitting 7 of 13 from the perimeter. For all the struggles Team USA had this year in the halfcourt set, they did a remarkable job in finding ways to create space for Durant on the wing, and in the corner. From there, it was a matter of Turkey’s defense sneaking in to try and cover Team USA’s athleticism on the drive, and somehow not maintaining closing space on the best player on Team USA. The guy who had torched them from start to finish.

Durant was both opportunistic and patient. When presented with an opportunity to attack, he was aggressive. When they offered him perimeter shots, he rode that hot hand all the way to 28. He added five rebounds, two coming when the team needed to buckle down, and his defense was intent and focused.

While most of America was focused on opening weekend of the NFL, Durant put on a show in keeping Team USA afloat through three quarters of terrible shooting. It was only when Turkey ran out of steam, partially seemingly due to their frustration of being unable to make a significant dent in the American lead thanks to Durant tossing daggers like a circus performer, that the rest of Team USA woke up and buried the Turkish team once and for all.

The question we have to take from his FIBA performance is “What does this mean for his season?” Durant was already the scoring leader. His defense improved, probably more than it would have in just summer workouts alone, but still in an expected manner. His passing wasn’t more on display, nor his high post work, both limited by FIBA’s style.

But there was one thing that Durant probably made a stride in.

There were times last season, both in the regular season and their series with the Lakers, when for whatever reason, Durant wasn’t forceful in taking over in big minutes. He was brilliant, no doubt, but largely within the flow of the game. And that’s better than hogging shots and disrupting your team’s chances. But there’s something to be said for that leadership, and the leadership that comes only from riding the emotions of a team and being the focal point. Durant exhibited that leadership on all fronts in FIBA play, and that could spell huge things for the Thunder this year.

He’s already proved he can score however, whenever, over whoever. Now he may have learned how to overcome the very adversity that pushed him out of the playoffs. If his tangibles keep improving, and his intangibles make that leap?

Heaven help us all. He could have more gold sooner than we think.

Kobe Bryant on race for Podoloff Trophy: “We might see our first co-MVPs this year”

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The race between James Harden and Russell Westbrook for the 2017 NBA MVP has narrowed to a two-man race toward the end of the season. The Oklahoma City Thunder star is averaging at triple-double this year, and the Houston Rockets guard is doing things nobody has ever done on a basketball court before.

It’s a tough decision to decide between them, so much so that even former Los Angeles Lakers great and 2008 NBA MVP Kobe Bryant can’t do it.

Speaking on ESPN on Sunday, Bryant said he thought the league might have to just bite the bullet on Westbrook vs. Harden.

“We might see our first co-MVPs this year,” said Bryant.

That would be a huge step for the league, but I’m not entirely sure they would do it. There have been co-NBA All-Star Game MVPs in years past, but never league MVP.

Still, can you decide between Russ and Harden? The Mamba can’t.

Watch Rockets C Nene lead the break, eurostep past Enes Kanter (VIDEO)

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Houston Rockets center Nene is from Brazil, but on Sunday against the Oklahoma City Thunder the South American native went full euro.

On a fastbreak possession, Nene took on Thunder big man Enes Kanter near the rim and absolutely shook him with a nasty eurostep.

The play was so good that it forced Oklahoma City to call a timeout as James Harden and the rest of the Rockets bench met Nene on the court to celebrate.

Kobe Bryant says he didn’t even have NBA League Pass until a month ago (VIDEO)

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What has retired all-time NBA great Kobe Bryant been doing with his time? A little of this, a little of that. Apparently that doesn’t include watching non-national NBA games.

Speaking with ESPN’s Jemele Hill and Michael Smith on SC6, Bryant revealed that he went to go watch a little NBA while he was getting a workout in at his house and realized he didn’t have the NBA package hooked up on his cable.

Via Twitter:

I don’t know if I totally buy this. On one hand, Kobe is a busy guy and he did spend two decades living and breathing the NBA night in and night out. I would expect that after all that time he might want some kind of relief.

Then again, to think that Kobe doesn’t have multiple assistants that would have handled that sort of thing already is sort of silly. The only benefit here is Kobe trying to sell that he’s just relaxing and not paying attention to the league too much, which is hilarious.

Kobe, we all know who you are by now. You’re watching the league, man. You’re Kobe. We get it. You didn’t suddenly turn into The Dude.

Let’s just hope Kobe’s League Pass works right off the bat. We all know how much of a hassle it can be.

Damian Lillard dismisses playoff expectations as pressure, says it insults regular people

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The Portland Trail Blazers have had a disappointing season thus far. The team is just 34-38 before their game with the Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, and they’re battling it out for the last spot in the Western Conference playoffs with the Denver Nuggets.

This comes as after expectations rose greatly following the 2015-16 campaign which saw the Blazers finish 44-38, good enough for the No. 5 spot in the West.

Portland has looked better after trading Mason Plumlee to Denver in exchange for Jusuf Nurkic, but it might be too little too late. Meanwhile, team leader Damian Lillard isn’t bowing to the idea that last season’s good fortune raised the bar so much that it put undue pressure on his team.

Speaking with Sporting News, Lillard said he thinks the idea is really more about pressure vs. challenges.

Via SN:

Pressure, nah. Fam, this is just playing ball. Pressure is the homeless man, who doesn’t know where his next meal is coming from. Pressure is the single mom, who is trying to scuffle and pay her rent. We get paid a lot of money to play a game. Don’t get me wrong — there are challenges. But to call it pressure is almost an insult to regular people.

Look at the Wizards, they were kind of on the same wave as us. Didn’t even make the playoffs while we did. Now this year they’re the second-best team in the East. The adversity made them better. It can make us better, too. What I come from and my background made me who I am. As comfortable as I am with the good times, I’m also comfortable in adversity. Yeah, I might feel some type of way when somebody comes for me or says my name. But when it’s all said and done, it ain’t gonna rock me.

This is interesting to hear an NBA player say out loud. One, because I’m not sure I entirely believe it. You can have pressure without it having to be something that threatens your overall wellbeing.

Then again, maybe we’re arguing linguistics here. There’s definitely a different emotion from, say, trying to make sure you make rent and aren’t evicted to the street vs. trying to make the NBA playoffs. If one emotion is being defined as pressure, it makes sense to call the other a challenge.

It’s also interesting to hear an NBA player speak in those kinds of terms. There are a few guys around the league who seem to be relatively grounded and give out quotes like this from time-to-time. The absurdity of the NBA — playing games, making millions, and having folks worship you — would easily bend reality for most of us.

In any case, the challenge of making the playoffs for Portland is not going to be an easy one to overcome. Going into Sunday’s matchup with the Lakers, the Trail Blazers are a game behind Denver for the final spot.

Portland will face Denver on Tuesday, March 28 in perhaps their most important game of the season.