Game of the Night: Dallas’ defense isn’t all that, but it’s good enough

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Dallas came into Wednesday night with the second best defense in the NBA. It’s true. We didn’t believe it either but they are giving up just 90 points per 100 possessions. Which is damn good. (The Heat are tops, by the way).

Of course the reality was they had earned that against the Bobcats, Clippers and banged-up Grizzlies — three very weak offensive teams. It’s a small sample size party and the Mavericks were invited.

Wednesday night it was Denver. A real offense. A real test.

When the going gets tough, the tough go zone. Or at least Dallas did. They went to it for much of the game, particularly down the stretch.

It didn’t work well, but it was still good enough. Dallas watched a Carmelo Anthony game-winning rim out and hung on for a 112-111 win.

Dallas’ defense gave up 108.6 points per 100 possessions for the game. Not great. But they won.

Denver threw smaller looks at Dallas as they had to go without Nene — Gary Forbes got the start. And who is Gary Forbes, you ask? He’s the guy who dropped 12 in the first half. He’s an undrafted player out of UMass who bounced around Europe and the D-League, played for the Rockets at Summer League and impressed them so much they didn’t even give him a good camp invite. So Forbes took one from the Nuggets and made the team with his play in the preseason.

The smaller Denver lineup meant some crisp ball movement, which got them good looks. They also got quality chances in transition. Then, there are the nights when Chauncey Billups knocks down those pull up threes that cause Nuggets fans to yell “noooo” at there televisions. It really does happen.

Denver was getting the ball inside and hitting the chippies. But it was the ball movement that got them those looks.  Dallas did what they wanted in the first half — shut down Denver’s primary option. Anthony was just 1-8 shooting. But Forbes was 6-11, Aaron Afflalo 5-8 for 12, Billups 4-7 for 13. You’re usually in for a rough night when the guys you dare to beat you do.

Then Anthony woke up (he was 7-12 shooting in the second half). Part of what makes Anthony fun to watch is the reason you don’ really want him on your team — he loves the contested long two. He hits them at a better rate than maybe anyone, and when they go in you are awed because they are hard shots and he looks good doing it. But it’s still not smart.

However it was working against the 2-3 zone Dallas employed especially late in the game. Denver stopped getting in the middle, they settled working the ball around the perimeter with no movement inside. The only time it did go inside is because Anthony took it there. And he scored.

Dallas made a key play, eating about a minute off the clock late thanks to two offensive rebounds. But still Denver hung around. And got closer. The Nuggets got to the point where they had a chance to win it.

That final play it was Shawn Marion on Anthony. ‘Melo got the ball a couple feet above the elbow, made a step then stepped back. Created the space, got the shot up, Marion was with him and got a hand up. The ball rimmed out.

The defense wasn’t that good. But it was good enough.

Here is Kobe Bryant’s letter given to every fan at Lakers’ game Sunday

Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers

LOS ANGELES — In a classy move — and one done in a very Kobe Bryant tone — every fan coming into Staples Center Sunday night to see the Lakers take on the Pacers received a letter from No. 24.

Inside a sealed black envelope, on quality, embossed paper, was this letter from Bryant (photo below):

When we first met I was just a kid.

Some of you took me in. Some of you didn’t.

But all of you helped e become the player and man in front of you today.

You gave me confidence to put my anger to good use.

Your doubt gave me determination to prove you wrong.

You witnessed my fears morph into strength.

Your rejection taught me courage.

Whether you view me as a hero or a villain, please know I poured every emotion, every bit of passion and my entire self into being a Laker.

What you’ve done for me is far greater than anything I’ve done for you.

I knew that each minute of each game I wore purple and gold.

I honor it as I play today and for the rest of this season.

My love for this city, this team and for each of you will never fade.

Thank you for this incredible journey.

It speaks to Kobe’s mindset over the years that he talked about the fuel from the rejection of Lakers’ fans motivating him. As a Los Angeles native (and former Laker blogger), let me tell you there was precious little rejection of Kobe from this fan base. There were questions and doubters early on, but even when Shaquille O’Neal was seen as the driving force of the team Kobe was beloved in Los Angeles. Something that continued through his trial in Colorado — Lakers fans have almost always had his back.

But Kobe finds fuel everywhere. Which is why he is a future Hall of Famer.


Jahlil Okafor tweets apology for recent off-court behavior

Jahlil Okafor

The off-court incidents have been piling up for Jahlil Okafor over the past month: first, an incident captured on video that showed Okafor getting into a fight with a heckler early Thanksgiving morning; then, a report that Okafor had a gun pulled on him in a previous incident; and finally, this morning’s report that the Sixers’ No. 3 overall pick in this June’s draft had been pulled over in recent weeks for driving 108 miles per hour in Philadelphia. Together, they aren’t a good look for the rookie.

On Sunday afternoon, Okafor apologized for his recent behavior in a series of tweets:

The recent incidents involving Okafor are surprising—going into the draft, he never had any red flags for maturity or off-the-court issues. He’s certainly saying the right things after the fact, and he’s only 19, so hopefully this is nothing more than a small rough patch where he’s made some bad decisions, and not an indicator of things to come.

Kobe Bryant announces this is his final season


LOS ANGELES — It has seemed like this was it for a while. Kobe Bryant has been frustrated; he hasn’t been able to produce like he expects — his play has been hard to watch — and the Lakers are a train wreck.

Kobe made it official Sunday via the Players’ Tribune — this is his final season. He did it via a letter called “Dear Basketball.”

You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.

It’s not coincidental this was announced a couple days before the Lakers travel to Kobe’s hometown of Philadelphia to face the Sixers. Also remember Kobe is an investor in The Players’ Tribune.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver quickly released this statement:

“With 17 NBA All-Star selections, an NBA MVP, five NBA championships with the Lakers, two Olympic gold medals and a relentless work ethic, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game.  Whether competing in the Finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game.

“I join Kobe’s millions of fans around the world in congratulating him on an outstanding NBA career and thank him for so many thrilling memories.”

Kobe will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats. Few can come close to his resume: Five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVPs, 15 time All-NBA teams, one MVP, 17 times an All-Star (and the All-Star Game MVP four times). And we could go on and on.

Good on Kobe for doing this now. After 55,000 NBA minutes his body has quit on him, and where his mind is still willing the flesh is clearly weak right now. He has not been able to adapt his game to the changing realities of what he can do.

Kobe has said he doesn’t want a “Derek Jeter Farewell Tour” but that will be the feel from here on out. Expect some special recognition at the All-Star Game in Toronto.

Bulls’ Dunleavy to see specialist after suffering setback with back injury

Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah
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CHICAGO—Over the past few weeks, Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy has seemed to be making progress in his back rehab. Dunleavy underwent back surgery shortly before the start of training camp and was initially given a timeline of 8-10 weeks. Recently, he’s been increasing his workload, and he traveled with the team on their recent west coast road trip.

However, his recovery may have hit a snag.

“Mike is going to see a doctor again tomorrow and then we should have a better update after that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after practice on Sunday. “He had a little bit of soreness. But we’ll have more on that tomorrow.”

An update to Dunleavy’s status is coming, but given Dunleavy’s age (35) and the frequency of back injuries to reoccur, this news certainly isn’t encouraging. Between Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, the Bulls have struggled at both ends of the floor on the wing. Getting Dunleavy back, whenever that happens, will be a huge help. But nobody knows when that will be.