Lakers live by the Kobe, lose by the Kobe (and Lou Williams)

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Philadelphia keeps answering every question asked of them.

Can they win against the best teams? They beat the Bulls, Hawks and Magic last week… and now you can add the Lakers to the list after a 95-90 76ers win Monday night.

But Philly doesn’t have a superstar, who is going to score late in the game for them? Meet Lou Williams. He comes off the bench with a fearless gunner’s mentality and he is the one guy who can create his own shot (or pass to others) in the crunch. He had 12 points in the final four minutes of this one. He finished with 24 total on 12 shots.

The Lakers are supposed to have a guy like that in Kobe Bryant.

But as it has been much of this season the Lakers lived by Kobe and lost by him.

Kobe came out on mission in this game to pass Shaq on the NBA all-time scoring list, hitting 8-of-early and put up 24 in the first half reaching his goal.

But then the Sixers came with hard doubles on Kobe starting late in the second quarter and that took him out of his rhythm — Kobe went 1-11 on his next dozen. And the Lakers offense struggled. As it has too often this season.

The Lakers do have other guys who can score. Andrew Bynum had 20 points on 13 shots, not to mention 20 rebounds, and he looked every part the All-Star Game starter. When he is aggressive as he was in this game, there are few in the league who can hang with him, and Philly didn’t have any of those guys. Pau Gasol wasn’t as sharp but he is still a very skilled big who had 16 in this game.

But those aren’t the guys who get the ball for the Lakers late in games — they abandon the playbook in favor of Kobe isolations. Check out the juxtaposition of late game shots between these teams. To set the stage, Bynum finished an ally-oop from Kobe and the Lakers were up 7 with 4:30 remaining in the game. Then it changed, first with a pretty rainbow by Jrue Holiday over Bynum.

• The Lakers followed that with a miss, the Sixers pushed it back in transition and Williams runs to the arc, where Derek Fisher sags off him — Andre Iguodala hits him with a pass and Williams drains it.

• Lakers turnover then next Philly possession Williams comes off the pick, Bynum shows out hard and will not leave him, so Williams takes Bynum and Bryant with him all the way to the corner, two quick passes with the Lakers out of position and it’s a Sixers layup.

• Kobe takes a tough contested two with Iguodala in his face, Bynum gets the offensive board, but then in trying to clear out to get the pass back he commits and offensive foul.

• Lou Williams comes off the screen, catch and shoot off a pick at the top of the key. Nothing but net.

• Kobe tries to get to his space on the baseline but Iggy is right there with long arms in his face, Kobe misses.

• Williams is the ball handler, comes off pick and Bynum shows out but doesn’t slide with him, Williams turns the corner and gets a clean look at a three. Nails it.

• Kobe in isolation takes a ridiculously long wing three that misses, but Gasol gets the rebound, so the Lakers reset and iso Kobe on the block, but he misses a contested turnaround.

• The Sixers push it back up, Williams is covered by Fisher in transition and blows around him like he’s an orange traffic cone. Williams then hits the floater over Gasol.

You get the idea.

Williams showed there is someone who can step up for the Sixers late.

The Lakers need diversity in their late-game sets, but this is where the lack of a decent point guard hurts them — Kobe can create his own shot, who can create one or get the ball into Bynum on the block. He also needs to deal better with double teams, that haunted him this game.

But the Lakers execution at the end is predictable. The Sixers, well, now we know it’s going to be Lou Williams, but he’s not that easy to stop.

Serge Ibaka is dunking and Giannis Antetokounmpo isn’t going to stop him. Twice. (VIDEO)

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The Toronto Raptors had their best half of their first-round series against the Bucks, taking an early lead and, despite a little shooting slump midway through the second they were up nine at the half.

That was all topped off by two emphatic Serge Ibaka dunks. Ones Giannis Antetokounmpo wasn’t going to stop.

Ibaka dunked around him more than over the Greek Freak, but still.

Stephon Marbury is parting ways with Beijing Ducks after three titles

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Stephon Marbury is big in China — he has his own statue and a play in his honor.

In six seasons he led the Beijing Ducks to three titles, but eventually rebuilding hits every team and it is coming to Beijing. Which means that while Marbury wants to stay in China beyond this season he is essentially a free agent. Here are the details, via shanghaiist.com (this has been confirmed by other sources).

The 40-year-old former NBA All-Star had a contract with Beijing for the next season that included an unusual clause allowing the team to decide if Marbury — known to fans as “Old Ma” — would return as a player or as an assistant coach. Marbury has said that after his playing days are over, he wants to coach in China; however, he still feels he could play for one more year.

But, after missing the playoffs this past season, Beijing is looking to rebuild and didn’t want their aging superstar clogging up a precious foreign player roster spot. The Ducks announced at a press conference on Saturday that after being unable to negotiate a deal, they were going to terminate Marbury’s contract.

Marbury put out a letter to fans on Weibo — a Chinese social media site — that Shanghaiist excerpted.

Second, we did not make the playoffs in the past season, as a player who always want to win and work hard to prepare myself for winning, it’s very hard to accept the way the season ended. Though I am 40 years already, I still work very hard to keep my body right, I can still play at a very high level, I am sure all the fans could tell from last season I’m still capable of playing. I was still able to lead the team to compete, even with an injured leg. I pulled my hamstring at the beginning of the season and I still played and put everything on the court because that’s who I am. I want to play, I love to compete, I [pursue] winning all the time, l love basketball because it’s my life, I still have a lot in the tank that [makes] me really want to play for another year. I want to dedicate this last year of my career in the best way possible on the court for the CBA, then I’ll retire and work as a coach to help the basketball here for the rest of my life.

Marbury had a 13-year NBA career (and was a two-time All-Star) but things got a little messy for him around the end of his career in the Association. Then he found a second life in China. A lot of Western players struggle to adjust to a very different culture and environment in China — not to mention a different style of basketball — so the league has a high drop out of Western players

However, Marbury has thrived. He’s found a second home.

I have to imagine a lot of teams would leap to get a draw like him on their team for a season.

Report: NBA to announce All-NBA Teams early, because of salary cap reasons

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The NBA’s Most Valuable Player award will not be announced until an awards ceremony June 26 on TNT — after the NBA draft, and after the NBA playoffs that will shape the narrative of the award even though voting will have been completed more than two months earlier. Same for Defensive Player of the Year, Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year and on down the line.

But not the All-NBA Teams, those are coming sooner — because teams want it that way.

The easiest example is the Indiana Pacers: If Paul George makes an All-NBA team they can offer him a designated veteran contract worth roughly $80 million more than any other team. However, if he doesn’t make a team the Pacers need to worry about him leaving as a free agent in 2018, and they may try to trade him. The best time for that trade might be around the draft — Indiana may be able to secure a high pick from a team near the top of the draft in a trade. However, if the Pacers didn’t know if George made an All-NBA team by the draft they wouldn’t make that move.

So the NBA is announcing early, a story broken by Tim Bontemps of the Washington Post.

To allow for its teams to have all the necessary information to make offseason preparations, the NBA will announce its all-NBA teams before its inaugural awards show in late June, according to league sources.

Because of the newly created Designated Player Exception, which relies on players making, among other things, one of the three all-NBA teams to qualify, decisions about whether players — such as Indiana Pacers star Paul George, for example — will be willing to remain with their current team or be open to being traded elsewhere could be based upon whether a player is voted on to one of the teams.

Smart move by the NBA. There are also bonuses and other impacts on salaries based on end of season awards that will alter the salary structure of teams heading into free agency.

Larry Bird delivers Pacers’ 2021 All-Star bid in IndyCar

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NEW YORK — Indiana wants the NBA All-Star Game and sent Larry Bird to get it – in an IndyCar

Bird drove four blocks down Fifth Avenue in his car Monday to deliver the Pacers’ bid to host the 2021 game to NBA Commissioner Adam Silver, fitting his 6-foot-9 frame into a car usually driven by much shorter people.

Bird, an Indiana native and now the Pacers president, had driven an IndyCar only once, during his practice for his drive Monday.

Drawing a crowd of a couple hundred spectators, he maneuvered along the left lane, exited his yellow and blue “Larry Bird” car and called it a “little rough ride” because of his big feet and the car’s small pedals.

Silver says the Pacers, who hosted the game in 1985, would be “fantastic hosts.”

The 2018 NBA All-Star Game is in Los Angeles, and 2019 is expected to be re-awarded to Charlotte. Houston, Orlando, and a number of other cities are expected to make bids for the 2020 and 2021 games, along with Indiana.