Miami Heat forward LeBron James walks during a time out in the closing minutes of his team's loss to the Atlanta Hawks in their NBA basketball game in Miami

Baseline to Baseline recaps: Night of the living upsets


What you missed while watching Oregon and Wisconsin score another touchdown….

Hawks 100, Heat 92: Miami was zoned out again. The Hawks went to a zone defense a lot starting in the second quarter and it stalled out the Heat, who shot just 37 percent in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, Tracy McGrady alone had 13 points, 5 rebounds and 4 assists in the fourth after apparently finding the Fountain of Youth in Florida (Ponce de León is jealous). Atlanta won the fourth quarter by 12 and with it the game.

The Hawks looked like a veteran team who had been through the wars and were not rattled by the Heat’s pressure game. The Hawks, a team known in past years for a stagnant offense, moved well off the ball and created shots, but were patient about it. That and knocking down the open looks slowed the Heat — the game had only 91 possessions, 11 fewer than the Heat averaged in their five wins.

Miami is going to see a lot of zone until they start blowing it up. Sebastain Pruitti of Grantland tweeted the numbers — Miami has 37 points on 50 possessions against the zone this season and are shooting just 38.1 percent against it. They are destroying man defense but struggling against the zone, and word is getting around the league.

Heat fans looking for a positive highlight, there is Dwyane Wade’s block on Vladimir Radmanovic.

Mavericks 100, Thunder 87: The biggest key for Dallas is that Dirk Nowitzki, who has looked like he has been shaking the rust off so far this season, returned  to his old self on the way to 26 points. Then Vince Carter looked good as the hub of the offense, which felt strange. The Thunder looked flat, particularly the bench play, and they got killed on the glass. One game does not a turnaround make, but this is a good start for Dallas.

Raptors 90, Knicks 85: With Amare Stoudemire out, this was the Carmelo Anthony shoot-a-thon and he put up 35 points but needed 31 shots to get there. Neither offense was very efficient, but the Knicks shot just 35 percent for the game (Toney Douglas had 22 points but needed 19 shots). Toronto is working a lot harder on defense for new coach Dwane Casey but they had not seen the results until this game. Andrea Bargnani and DeMar DeRozan each had 21 points on just 13 shots. Jose Calderon had a dozen assists. The Raptors are not going to win a lot of games but they are playing teams tough and are improving. Casey deserves a lot of credit for that.

Timberwolves 106, Spurs 96: You’ve heard about Manu Ginobili breaking his hand, but that was not a determining factor in this contest — Minnesota was in control before Manu left. Minnesota was just on fire shooting much of the night — they were 11-19 on long two pointers (16 feet to the arc, the worst shot in basketball) with Wesley Johnson going 4-of-4, and they hit 12-of-21 from three. You’re going to win when those shots fall, it’s just not going to happen consistently.

Pistons 89, Magic 78: This is a schedule makers win — Orlando was playing their fourth game in five nights and just looked tired. It was a slow, slow game (82 possessions) which added to the feeling of everything dragging. The big key here was the Pistons attacked the rim and got to the free throw line 12 more times (11 more points on the night), thanks in large part to Rodney Stuckey who got 10 of his 14 points at the stripe. Ben Gordon had 26 points and he had his shot going from distance to balance everything out.

Suns 102, Warriors 91: Finally the Suns had an efficient game on offense (110.9 points per 100 possessions). Still not playing at the fast pace we hope from the Suns, but at least they were efficient. Steve Nash had 20 points and 9 assists, rookie Markieff Morris added a sweet 16. The Warriors were without David Lee but that was not the issue.

Celtics 100, Wizards 92: Wizards coach Flip Saunders figured out how not to watch this one — he got ejected 1:46 into the game. Washington was in this until a 12-2 run in the fourth gave Boston a lead it would not relinquish, thanks in part to Ray Allen’s 11 points in the quarter (he hit six three-pointers on his way to 27 points for the game). Paul Pierce looked like himself again and had 18. New Boston fan favorite Greg Stiemsma started for the injured Jermaine O’Neal (hamstring) on Monday, and had 13 points on and seven rebounds with a couple of blocks. John Wall did this.

Pacers, 108, Nets 94: Think balance. The Pacers had five players in double figures and they can do that just about every night, which makes them hard to defend. The Pacers had good ball movement and the result was 52.6 percent shooting as a team, a level of efficiency the Nets could not match.

Jazz 94, Hornets 90: Jarrett Jack had a big game for New Orleans with an efficient 27 points, but the key here was getting to the line not just settling for jumpers — Utah took 17 more shots at the rim and had 22 more free throw attempts. Ballgame.

Nuggets 91, Bucks 86: Third night of the dreaded back-to-back-to-back for Denver and yet they seemed the energetic team trying to push the pace, while the Bucks looked like they were coached by Scott Skiles. Al Harrington carried the Nuggets down the stretch — pulling Andrew Bogut away from the rim on offense and then defending him well at the other end — and finished with 17. Note to Brandon Jennings: on your contested long three attempt to tie the game with 10 seconds left, Carlos Delfino was wide open. Just sayin’.

Byron Scott: Kobe Bryant “at peace” with decision to retire after season

Kobe Bryant
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LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant was never going to go quietly into that good night. He would rage, rage against the dying of the light — and torn Achilles, knee ligaments, shoulders, and everything else holding him back.

But now, the end is near, and Kobe will face the final curtain at the end of this season. And he is at peace with it, if you ask his coach.

“It was so matter of fact, and he was so at peace with (the decision),” Lakers’ coach Byron Scott said of when Kobe told him this season would be it. “After I thought about it, I felt better about that. It wasn’t like he was agonizing over it or anything, it was like ‘I’m announcing I’m retiring’ and just kind of went on from there.”

Bryant told Scott before anyone else in the Lakers’ organization, and told him sometime Saturday (when the Lakers played and lost in Portland).

“I said, ‘what?’ He just told me at a very awkward time; we started laughing about it,” Scott said. “He said ‘you looked like you were saying ‘what they hell are you talking about’ but it just caught me off guard.”

It’s been an ugly season for Kobe, his body can no longer do what he expects of it — he can’t get the separation, the lift needed for his shoots. He was shooting 31.1 percent on the season going into Sunday’s game against Indiana, and he started 1-of-11 from the floor Sunday night. Yet he kept gunning.

“I gave up hoping he would change his approach 15, 18 years ago,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said. “He is what he is. And I’m thankful for it.”

Kupchak added hoped this decision would ease the pressure on Bryant.

“I would hope that he has more fun, and appears less frustrated, and also gets more appreciation,” Kupchak said. “He’ll get it at home, but on the road too, because people will have to recognize this is his last year and they are watching one of the all-time greats.”

Kobe got plenty of appreciation from Lakers’ fans on Sunday night with a massive ovation when he was introduced. Kobe had wanted to avoid a Derek Jeter style farewell tour, but with that announcement and the Lakers playing 13-of-17 on the road in December you can bet there will be some of that.

“One of the best ever to play the game,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said pregame. “I don’t know if there’s any one moment, just throughout the course of his career you didn’t want him to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line, period. Because you knew he was going to beat you.”

No doubt Kobe goes down as one of the game’s all-time greats — five-time NBA champion, MVP, two Finals MVP’s, 17 All-Star Games, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg — but what Scott ultimately wants is Bryant to leave the game on his terms.

“What I want from Kobe is basically his last game to be able to walk off the court, wave to the fans, and be able to go into the locker room standing up,” Scott said.


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 has been coming 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. All that surrounded him was talk of his play and speculation about the future he didn’t want.

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.

Ad we’ll all be watching for those flashes of vintage Bryant we have hoped to see more of this season.