Kobe Bryant, Luol Deng

Game of the night: Where you can’t throw anything new at Kobe

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Kobe has seen it before. On much bigger stage.

He knows how a Tom Thibodeau team is going to defend him. Whenever and wherever he got the ball Tuesday night he patiently waited to see where the double would come from, then he would try to pass to the cutter. Or he kicks it to a pressure-release guard and watches the ball get whipped quickly to the weak side for an open look. Or if the double doesn’t come he goes to work.

He knows how to beat it. The Bulls are a solid defensive team but they don’t have Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo making life even harder, really taking away those passes and punishing cutters. Kobe was able to execute, to facilitate. And he did it best when it mattered most.

Against the Bulls he had 20 points and an unknown but impressive number of hockey assists. A couple of those came on a string of threes in the fourth quarter from Shannon Brown, Matt Barnes and Steve Blake that sparked the Lakers 98-89 win over the Bulls.

The threes were the show but the real key to the Lakers pulling away was a defense that held the Bulls to 18 fourth-quarter points.

“I think we packed it in a little tighter, we didn’t let them extend us out (on the pick and roll) because (Rose) was breaking us down,” Blake said. “I think it was a little but of us, but at the same time they probably didn’t play as well in the fourth.”

Brown continues to just blow people’s doors off this season. The guy known for high flying dunks hit his first four three point attempts and finished with 21 points, mostly from the outside.

“He’s shooting the ball well this year and he’s got a lot of confidence,” Derrick Rose said of Brown. “He’s doing great for them. We should have made him a driver.”

That somebody said they should make Brown a driver tells you just how well he is shooting.

Rose had 30. An impressive 30, but that is the usual for him. He is one of the guys in he league that if you can you should pay to see live. You know he’s quick from watching him on television, you’ve seen the highlights of the crossover, but in person it just wows you. The jaded crowd at Staples Center — which gets to see Kobe heroics and Brown fly — audibly gasped at Rose’s crossovers. His herky jerkey drives are a beautiful creation of space his body control unmatched.

Ron Artest came out on Rose and did a good job with ball denial and keeping Rose from getting comfortable. As opposed to later in the first half when Steve Blake was on him and Rose was as comfortable as your dads recliner in front of the television. He was going to get his.

Joakim Noah did a good job limiting Pau Gasol to 12 points on 3 of 10 shooting. What Gasol did have was five blocks — he’s a better defender of the paint and rim than he gets credit for.

He helped anchor the Lakers defense, and that is still not bad. Combine it with a patient and smart offense, and there is a reason the Lakers are 13-2.

Marc Gasol heads ball into basket after drawing foul (video)

Marc Gasol
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This was not Marc Gasol‘s first attempt to head in the ball after a whistle, but this time, he converted.

Here was his January try:


James Harden’s defense: Stop and point while opponent flies to rim (video)


As Rockets general manager Daryl Morey once noted, cherry-picking James Harden‘s worst defensive plays to create a video is unfair. Many players would look awful by that measure.

But Harden provides serious ammo for these worst-of videos.

This non-attempt to stop Lance Thomas is just brutal.

At least Houston buckled down to beat the Knicks, 116-111 in overtime. The Rockets have climbed to 26th in points allowed per possession.

Jerry Colangelo says Kobe Bryant could still make 2016 U.S. Olympic team

Kobe Bryant, Zachary Stinson
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So, Kobe Bryant‘s NBA career is officially going to come to an end after the 2015-16 season. That part he announced on Sunday.

What’s still up in the air is Bryant’s participation in one last Olympics. Bryant has been in consideration to make Team USA this summer at the games in Rio de Janeiro, and USA Basketball chairman Jerry Colangelo tells ESPN.com’s Marc Stein that he hasn’t ruled that out yet:

Kobe was asked about this at his post-game press conference Sunday and said it was not a goal, but if it was offered he’d consider it.

“I’d be honored if that was there, it would be fantastic to be around that group and spend kind of the last journey with them,” Bryant said. “That being said, it’s not something that I’m obsessing over.”

‘When Bryant made it known that he wanted to play in Rio, he made it clear to Colangelo and Team USA coach Mike Krzyzewski that he wanted to earn a spot, not be given one as a lifetime achievement award. Watching him so far this season, it’s almost impossible to imagine him making the roster on merit.

But nobody should begrudge him if he wanted to extend the farewell tour just a little bit longer.

Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Kobe Bryant makes it official, shows why it’s time

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It’s time. If you’ve watched Kobe play at all the past couple years, you could see it was time. But it took a while for Kobe to realize that. His announcement that he would step down after the season became the story of the night in the NBA Sunday. By far.

1) Kobe Bryant makes it official, he is going to walk away from the game after this season. Kobe Bryant’s body has been telling him for a while it was time to hang it up, but Kobe is as fierce and stubborn a competitor as the league has ever seen and he wasn’t going to listen. The man who willed himself to be one of the game’s greats was going to will away 37 years, 55,000 NBA minutes, and the effects of a torn Achilles and blown out knee.

Except he couldn’t. And now he has come to accept it is time to retire at the end of the season, as you could see from his postgame comments on Sunday night.

“I’ve known for a while. I’ve always said if anything changes, I’ll change my mind. The problem for me, you can’t make a decision like this based on outside circumstances. It has to be an internal decision. Finally, I just had to accept it, I don’t want to go through this anymore. And I’m okay with that….

“I honestly feel really good about it. I really do. I’m at peace with it… I’ve worked so hard and I continue to work really hard even though I played like s—, I’ve worked really, really hard not to play like crap and I do everything I possibly can. And I feel good about that.”

Laker GM Mitch Kupchak was honest about the Laker organization needing to rebuild and that being tough on Bryant.

“Well, we didn’t make it any easier on him with the team we have on the court — and that’s not to say that they’re not a talented group of players, but they’re certainly young and unaccomplished. And at an advanced age, I think we witnessed it’s difficult to play this game, and I think he’s struggled at a tempo and a pace that I think younger players (prefer).”

2) Then Sunday night Kobe shot 4-of-20 and showed why it was time for him to step down. His game against the Pacers Sunday summed up where Kobe is right now with his game. He was struggling from the field against a good Pacers’ defense, shooting 2-of-15, yet Byron Scott kept him out there, so Kobe kept gunning.

Then suddenly for a flash it was vintage Kobe — he hit two late three-pointers that made it a game and brought the Lakers within two points of the Pacers late.

Then vintage suddenly looked old. With the chance to tie the game and Staples Center on its feet willing the storybook ending, Kobe popped out off a down screen, caught the inbounded ball, curled around the top of the arc and…. air balled it. Pacers win. Kobe finished the night with 13 points on 4-of-20 shooting, bringing him to shooting 30.5 percent for the season.

3) Meanwhile, Paul George remains a beast, showed it against Lakers. The Pacers’ star was nothing short of brilliant wearing the Hickory High throwback uniform against the Lakers. He was pressuring on defense and had a couple steals (and disrupted more plays), plus poured in 39 points on 21 shots.

4) The Sixers lost, falling to 0-18, setting up a “showdown” with the Lakers on Tuesday. This has happened a few times lately: The Philadelphia 76ers hustle, scrap, play hard and are in a game, only to get crushed late in the game because when the other team cranks up the defensive pressure and gets serious the Sixers are overmatched. It happened again Sunday, the Sixers led by three going into the fourth quarter against the Grizzlies, but Memphis won the fourth 28-17 and the game 92-84.

That drops the Sixers to 0-18 on the season, tying the NBA record for the worst start ever. It also sets up a showdown on Tuesday night — the Lakers come to town. A “showdown” game. These are the two worst teams in the NBA, and the Lakers don’t have the talent (or comfort with their style of play) to crank it up and just out-talent the Sixers late, so this could be a real game — and a real shot for Philly.

5) Stan Van Gundy called out Andre Drummond’s effort after Nets beat Pistons. Andre Drummond put up another big line — 20 points and 18 rebounds — but after a loss to the lowly Nets, Pistons’ coach Stan Van Gundy was not impressed:

“I didn’t think he brought much energy to the Milwaukee game, and I didn’t think he brought much energy tonight. Why that is, I don’t know. But we need a lot more from him than we got tonight.”

I get the idea of calling out your star in the media to both motivate him and light a fire under the rest of the team. It’s a solid tactic. But I’ll add in some ways it seemed a more mature performance from Drummond. A couple of seasons ago, when he got frustrated as he did early in this one, he would have hung his head and mentally checked out of the game, he fought through it to put up numbers Sunday. That’s a start.