NBA basketball player Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers smiles to fans upon his arrival at a stadium during his 2011 China Tour in Changsha

Kobe speaks in China about Yao Ming’s impact

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Yao Ming is expected to officially announce his retirement Wednesday at a press conference in China. (And good on the NBA league office for clearing Rocket officials to go to the event in spite of the lockout).

As you read this, Kobe Bryant is in China, the latest of his annual trips to China to promote the game, the NBA, his brand and Nike. Kobe is the biggest American-born player in China, leading the way in jersey and shoe sales for years. (He also has his own Web site for China and his own charitable foundation for the country.)

It was inevitable that Kobe would be asked about Yao, and the New York Times has his response.

 “In terms of opening up doors for Chinese basketball players to come to the NBA, or for the youth here in China to believe that it’s possible to achieve the dream of being an NBA player, all that started from Yao,” Los Angeles Lakers guard Bryant said.

“The movement that started in the NBA of the influx of European players coming to the NBA was started by Vlade Divac, Dino Radja and those guys.

“Even that movement didn’t have the impact and magnitude that Yao Ming has had. And on top of that, he’s just a heck of a basketball player to boot,” Bryant, who is in China on a promotional tour, added.

Kobe and his Lakers had some great battles with Yao and his Rockets, something our own Matt Moore looked back at over the weekend in his RetroBall series.

Khris Middleton dunks, Jimmy Butler can’t stop him (VIDEO)

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Khris Middleton has more expectations and more pressure on him after a breakout season in Milwaukee, followed by him getting him PAID this summer.

Well, he looked pretty good on this play against the Bulls, making the steal then throwing down despite Jimmy Butler‘s efforts to stop him.

Middleton finished with 10 points on 5-of-7 shooting for the Bucks. However, Butler had the last laugh as he went off for 23 points on 12 shots and led the Bulls to the (meaningless) preseason win.

Somebody looks comfortable: Paul George drops 20 in first quarter

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Paul George‘s first experience starting as a power forward was going up against Anthony Davis — not just one of the best power forwards in the game, one of the handful of best players in the game period. That didn’t go well for George, and he wasn’t happy about it.

His second experience was in another preseason game Tuesday, going up against the Pistons and their four, Ersan İlyasova. He’s not quite as intimidating.

George scored 20 points on 7-of-8 shooting, 4-of-5 on threes — and that was just the first quarter (you can see it all in the video above).

As we have said before, George at the four is not a bad call by the Pacers, but some of that depends on the matchup. On the nights the Pacers face Davis or Blake Griffin or LaMarcus Aldridge or Zach Randolph (or a handful of others) the Pacers’ coaching staff is going to have to adjust. But there are a lot of nights where George at the four is going to force the other team to adjust, and that will play into the Pacers’ hands.