Kobe Bryant

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Denver makes lay-ups, beats L.A.

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What you missed while breaking your New Year’s resolutions already…

Nuggets 99, Lakers 90: Best game of the night and there was a little fire to this one — second nights of a home-and-home often carry over some tension. Denver jumped out early with Kobe Bryant shooting only 1-of-10 in the first half and the Lakers as a team hitting just 32.4 percent of their shots in the first 24.

But the entire second half and fourth quarter was pretty close. It was 90-88 Lakers with 2:45 left when Denver closed it out on an 11-0 run. First Kobe took a three that Danilo Gallinari ran out on then released and nobody went with him — Kobe missed, the Nuggets rebounded and threw it down for a cherry-pick dunk. The Nuggets got their next bucket on a steal off a bad Kobe pass that became a 2-on-1 fast break. Teams can run on the Lakers and the Nuggets did it. Then Kobe missed another three (1-for-8 from deep, 6-for-28 overall for the game) and that was pretty much it.

Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum were 15-of-27 (55.6 percent), the rest of the Lakers 20-of-61 (32.8 percent).

Heat 129, Bobcats 90: This game was pretty much what you would expect (as opposed to last Wednesday when the Bobcats hung tight with the Heat). Well, except for the part where LeBron James was really quiet for the night (16 points but no buckets until late in the second quarter). This was Chris Bosh’s night, he was aggressive from the start and finished with 24 points on just 13 shots. Mario Chalmers and Norris Cole made a very efficient point guard combo. And we have your ridiculous Heat highlight of the night.

Magic 102, Raptors 96: Toronto was in charge of this game, playing aggressive and getting to the free throw line for a change, in part because Jose Calderon was attacking off the pick-and-roll (18 points, 13 assists, one turnover). Then midway through the fourth quarter Orlando went on a 16-0, took the lead and kept it for the win. Orlando did it first with defense, closing out Calderon and not letting Andrea Bargnani (28 points) just pick-and-pop at will. But in the crunch this looked like the 2009 Magic, with Hedo Turkoglu looking strong on the pick and roll and J.J. Redick stepping up with 21 points off the bench on Sunday (3-of-5 from deep).

Celtics 94, Wizards 86: The Celtics are better than they looked the first couple games. The Wizards are as bad as they looked the first couple games. Boston was in control of this one, mainly because Rajon Rondo putting up a triple double (18 points, 14 assists, 11 rebounds). Boston got a comfortable win while resting their starters for long stretches. John Wall looked better, heck Washington looked the best they have this season, but that’s not enough against Boston. Or most teams.

Cavaliers 98, Nets 82: Sloppy game. But it was close until midway through the fourth quarter when every perimeter shot the Cavaliers put up went through the hole and they went on a 20-4 run pull ahead comfortably. Among the hot hands late was Daniel Gibson who had 8 in fourth, finished with 19 points on 6-of-12 shooting and knocked down 5-of-7 threes.

Timberwolves 99, Mavericks 82: This ends the Wolves 18-game losing streak going back to last season. Kevin Love had 25 points (with five threes) and 17 rebounds and knocked the biggest shots of the game. This was a two-point game when Love drained two three pointers in a row leading the Wolves to pull away. Dallas… ugh. They are inconsistent and that felt like a step backwards.

Kings 96, Hornets 80: Who needs DeMarcus Cousins? Apparently not the Kings who got their second win, this one without him. Tyreke Evans had 27 but this wasn’t really about the Kings playing great as much as it was the Hornets playing terribly (once again without Eric Gordon) — Jarrett Jack had as many turnovers as assists (eight each) and as a team New Orleans was 0-15 from three.

Bulls 104, Grizzlies 64: Home opener for the Bulls and they came out and dominated the Grizzlies from the opening gun. It was 54-28 Bulls at the half as the Grizzlies shot only 26.8 percent. It got up to 31 percent for the game. We’re going to assume the Grizzlies had a really good New Year’s Eve and this is just the hangover.

A few injuries of note. Richard Hamilton didn’t play due to a groin injury and is day-to-day. Zach Randolph left in the first half with a sprained knee. He could have returned but what was the point in this thrashing? He says he is day-to-day.

Clippers 93, Trail Blazers 88: The Clippers came out with real ball pressure and that meant Portland started out ice cold, had just 17 points in the first quarter after shooting 33 percent for the first half. The Clippers pulled away as the game went on… then Jamal Crawford and Nicolas Batum almost changed it around. The Blazers bench stars combined for 24 in the fourth quarter and made a game of it, but the Clippers held on. Blake Griffin had 20, Caron Butler 19.

And of course there were big dunks.

Pelicans’ rookie guard Bryce Dejean-Jones has died at age 23

NEW ORLEANS, LA - FEBRUARY 04:  Bryce Dejean-Jones #31 of the New Orleans Pelicans drives to the basket during the first half of a game against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Smoothie King Center on February 4, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images)
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This is a sad and stunning development.

Bryce Dejean-Jones, the rookie guard of the New Orleans Pelicans, has died, the Dallas, Texas, County Coroner has confirmed to NBC Sports. Travis Hines of the Ames Tribune broke the news.

Dejean-Jones was just 23.

“It is with deep sadness that the Pelicans Organization acknowledges the sudden passing of Bryce Dejean-Jones,” the Pelicans’ organization said in a statement. “We are devastated at the loss of this young man’s life who had such a promising future ahead of him. Our thoughts and prayers are with Bryce’s family during this difficult time.”

The coroner’s office would not give a cause of death, but Shams Charania of The Vertical at Yahoo Sports had the tragic detail.

The account of him being shot has been confirmed by multiple sources.

Dejean-Jones was undrafted out of Iowa State, he was picked up on a 10-day contract by New Orleans this season, but the rash of injuries the Pelicans suffered pushed him into a starting role for 11 games. He averaged 5.6 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 1.1 assists per game, and to his credit did shoot 37.5 percent from three. On Feb. 19 he took a hard fall and fractured his wrist, which eventually required surgery and ended his season. He was a guy known for attitude problems at the start of his college career at USC the UNLV, but had seemed to mature and his game had as well. He looked like someone who could stick as a reserve guard in the NBA.

Our thoughts go out to his family and friends.

LeBron James first player to reach six straight finals in 50 years

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It speaks to an incredible level of talent — talent that was honed in countless hours in the gym.

It speaks to an amazing durability.

It speaks to leadership.

LeBron James has a long resume of accomplishments — two titles, four MVPs, and he hasn’t missed an All-Star Game or an All-NBA team for a decade — but he reached one of his more impressive milestones in leading the Cavaliers past the Raptors to the NBA Finals on Friday night.

LeBron has reached six straight NBA Finals.

He’s the first player to do so in 50 years.

The last guys to do this were Bill Russell, Tom Heinsohn, K.C. Jones, Bob Cousy and other members of the 1950s-60s Celtics dynasty. Nobody since has done it — not Magic, Bird, Jordan, Wilt or the rest.

Yes, it helps cement LeBron’s legacy as one of the all-time greats, but more than that it’s something we need to step back and appreciate. These were all LeBron-led teams — he has been the leader on and off the court, setting the tone. That requires incredible talent and skill on the court, plus knowing how to make those guys better not just drag them along on your coat tails. It also takes incredible physical durability. It’s an amazing accomplishment.

“There’s only one LeBron James,” Raptors coach Dwane Casey said after his team was eliminated by James and company. “He makes a difference on whatever team he plays on.”

I can feel the typing in the comment section already: “But he’s 2-4 in the Finals, Jordan was 6-0” or “But he’s done it in a weak East” or “He keeps just jumping teams to where he has the most help.” It’s all just sad. Because LeBron James is the first NBA superstar of the social media age he faces a volume of criticism that past stars did not. It’s not that LeBron hasn’t brought some criticism on himself, but there is a need to tear him down that the mythologized Jordan never dealt with. We savored Jordan at the time; LeBron has never gotten that. Jordan took 13 NBA teams to the playoffs, six made the Finals; LeBron has taken 11 and seven are in the Finals. The thing is, it’s difficult to compare across eras in the NBA:

All of this is not to say LeBron’s record is better than Jordan’s, you and your buddies can debate that while sitting on bar stools until last call, but LeBron has been on an epic run through the peak of his career the likes we haven’t seen in a long time. If you’re a fan of the game, you should appreciate that, not try to tear it down (as if Jordan’s legacy somehow needs protecting).

What LeBron has done is a stunning accomplishment. If you’re in the same sentence with the legendary Russell Celtics teams, you’re doing something right.

Warriors/Thunder Game 6: Four things to watch as Oklahoma City tries to close out series

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK - MAY 24:  Stephen Curry #30 and Draymond Green #23 of the Golden State Warriors react in the third quarter against the Oklahoma City Thunder in game four of the Western Conference Finals during the 2016 NBA Playoffs at Chesapeake Energy Arena on May 24, 2016 in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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For the Thunder, it is a chance for validation and an opportunity to get the ring Kevin Durant (and Russell Westbrook, and the rest of them) crave. For the Warriors, it is their biggest test of the last two seasons. Game 6 is Saturday night in Oklahoma City, here are four things to watch.

1) Dion Waiters and Andre Roberson need to play better for the Thunder. After a couple of series where Waiters suddenly has been reborn as a quality NBA player who is the third playmaker the Thunder need, and after Andre Roberson dropped a career playoff high of 17 points the game before, both were MIA in Game 5. Roberson was 2-of-5 shooting and had as many points as fouls (six). Waiters didn’t hit a shot all night. This was tied to the Thunder returning to the bad habits of too much Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant taking on the world and OKC not enough ball movement in the halfcourt. The Scott Brooks Thunder of the past few seasons showed up in Game 5, if the Thunder fall back to those bad habits again, they will lose again.

I expect the Thunder to treat this like their Game 7 and play much better. They will have a real sense of urgency; their defense will again be energized. The question becomes can the Warriors match it?

2) Can Andrew Bogut keep the Thunder from scoring in the paint?
In Game 5, the Thunder were 8-of-18 shooting in the restricted area, and 7-of-19 in the rest of the paint. That’s not going to get it done. A lot of that was the impact Bogut had in the paint — plus he got help, the Warriors switched pick-and-rolls more, they packed the paint more and took away driving lanes. It all worked, in part because Bogut and Draymond Green played with much better energy than in previous games. Steve Kerr said he didn’t play Bogut as many minutes in the first four games due to foul trouble, he has to trust the veteran to play through fouls in this game. The Warriors have simply been better with him on the court this series and they need close to 30 minutes from him this game.

Tied to Bogut’s play…

3) Golden State defense needs to show up on the road. As noted above, the Warriors went back to a more traditional defense in Game 5 — they started guarding Roberson (rather than having a big “guard” and ignore him to protect the paint), they switched, they stayed home in the paint, and they just trusted each other and played their system better. It was a marked improvement. However, they did it at home — now they need to do it on the road, where Green, in particular, has been more prone to mistakes and frustration.

One key here worth emphasizing is the Warriors got back to switching most pick-and-rolls — that’s what they did all season, that’s part of why the “death lineup” is so successful defensively, yet in this series they increasingly went away from it (in part because of how they guarded Roberson). Switching is part of who the Warriors are, and while it will create some mismatches teams don’t want to stray too far from their core identity.

4) Stephen Curry needs to be MVP level Curry. Draymond Green needs to be his All-NBA self.
I’m not saying the same thing about Durant and Westbrook because I have no doubt they will show up with urgency in their games Saturday night. However, Curry and Draymond have been shadows of themselves in the two previous games in Oklahoma City, and if that happens again only one team is flying back to the Bay Area postgame.

Curry finished his drives a little better in Game 5, and at moments he blew by bigs switched onto him off of picks, something we have seen far less of this series than during the season. Green played well defensively in Game 5, he hit the boards hard, but he made some head-scratching offensive decisions. If the Warriors are going to force a Game 7, those two guys have to be elite in this game. The Warriors best players must lead. It’s that simple.

Watch LeBron James drop 33 on Raptors in Game 6 win

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Friday night was a step forward in maturity for the Cleveland Cavaliers — given the chance to close out a conference finals on the road, in a place they had struggled, the team stepped up and did so convincingly.

They did it following the lead of LeBron James, who attack the basket from the start on his way to a team-high 33 points and 11 assists. LeBron set the tone and the rest of the Cavaliers followed.

Above you can see just how LeBron racked up those points. It’s an impressive display.