When Kobe Bryant steps on the court Thursday night against the Sacramento Kings, we will know exactly how many points he needs to score to win one of the closest NBA scoring title races ever over Kevin Durant.
Both men say they don’t want it. Both men say all they want is a ring. Both men are also fiery competitive and don’t back down from a challenge. We’ll see if when push comes to shove the next couple days if they can turn that fire down.
As of right now, two-time defending scoring champ Durant is averaging 27.97 points per game to Bryant’s 27.86.
Durant and his Thunder play Wednesday night at home against the Nuggets. The Thunder are locked in at the two seed, the game means nothing to them. The Lakers are locked in to the three seed and Thursday’s game for them is meaningless. The Oklahoman did the math and breaks down who has to score how much to win the title.
But if Durant scores less than 30, Bryant will have to top Durant’s output by at least seven points. If Durant posts more than 30, Bryant must outscore Durant by at least six. The necessary differential would narrow more the more each player scores. The discrepancy is caused by Bryant playing seven fewer games. The scoring title is determined by scoring average.
So if Durant finishes at his average of 28 points, Kobe will have to score 35. On the season, Kobe has averaged 33.5 points per game against the Kings.
The real question is will Kobe go after it? There is no doubt that even if he has to score 40 something he can get it — even if he has to take 40 shots to do it — and if he wants it Mike Brown will leave him in and his teammates will get out of his way.
The question is, will he? Here is what he told ESPNLA.com a few days ago.
“(It’s) not very important,” Bryant said. “San Antonio was playing me single coverage yesterday, if it was important I would have gone for 50 yesterday.”
I have no doubt he means it. But can he turn off that desire to win if he just needs 10 more points midway through the third quarter Thursday?
James Harden has played in every Houston Rocket game this season so far. Russell Westbrook has done the same thing for Oklahoma City.
When voters sit down in a few weeks to choose the league’s Most Valuable Player — in one of the most wide-open races in memory, with Kawhi Leonard and LeBron James making legitimate cases as well — Harden says they should take playing every game into account. It’s the latest part of the rest discussion going on around the league. Here’s what Harden told Calvin Watkins of ESPN.
“Yeah, because you’re not leaving your teammates out there to dry, ” Harden said Tuesday morning, before the Rockets’ game against the Warriors. “For me, I worry about always having my teammates’ back and always being out there….
“I’m going to have [my teammates’] back and they know that they have mine as well,” said Harden, who is second in the league in points and first in assists. “For the coaching staff and the fans, especially here in Houston, the front office, I’m here to play.”
Both LeBron James and Kawhi Leonard have had rest nights.
This injects Harden into the rest debate, where recently Harden’s teammate Patrick Beverley came out and said players are “disrespecting the game” when they rest. Gregg Popovich sees more nuance in the debate and certainly backs resting players. On the latest PBT Podcast, former Bull B.J. Armstrong told me that they didn’t have rest days back in his day, but players were kept out of games for things they could play through to get right for the playoffs, it was just listed differently. He added that the rest situation might have been different back in the day if the data about the increased chance of player injuries on the second night of a back-to-back (and it goes up from there with four games in five nights) had been available.
In this case, Harden lobbying for his case in the MVP voting. The thing is, his numbers make the case for him: Harden is averaging 29.4 points per game, leading the league with 11.3 assists a night, and he’s creating the most points per game 27.5 (buckets and direct assists. He has taken on the point guard duties in Mike D’Antoni’s offense and has taken on the largest load on offense he has in his career — and he has continued to do it efficiently.
However, one can make a strong statistical case for Westbrook (who carries a larger load for an OKC team that has less talent around its star than Houston), Leonard (best defender of the group), and LeBron (the Cavs recent struggles may doom his chances).
Little details are going to divide this group, and Harden is trying to get his point out there.
That said, the Rockets are almost certainly locked into the three seed in the West, and once it’s clear they are in that slot team management should discuss giving Harden a night off before the playoffs, to let his body rest. Whether he wants to or not.
Is Rajon Rondo stubborn? Yes.
Is he petty? Yes.
Is he harsh? Yes.
But the Bulls point guard is also hilarious in his own way.
Sean Highkin of The Athletic:
For all the flipping between the triangle and a more modern offense, despite ball stopping by Derrick Rose and Carmelo Anthony, the New York Knicks offense is 17th in the NBA for the season. Not good, but the middle of the pack, right around Oklahoma City, Miami, and Memphis — all playoff teams (or potential ones in Miami’s case).
The reason the Knicks season ends in seven games is their defense — 25th in the NBA. Put the triangle in (and get players who fit the system) or don’t, but that’s not the end of the court where the Knicks need to improve. And while system matters on defense, the fact of the matter the Knicks roster is loaded with poor and/or indifferent individual defenders.
Knicks coach Jeff Hornacek emphasized all this speaking to ESPN’s Ian Begley.
“I think if you look at our defense this year, we can use some more defensive players,” Hornacek said. “[Management] will look at that. [General manager] Steve [Mills] and [president] Phil [Jackson] and those guys will look at whatever can help us out. We know we need some help there.”
Admitting you have a problem is the first step. Now comes the time for action.
The Knicks are going to have a Top 10 draft pick (currently sixth) plus max-player money in free agency. Also, they are looking to move Anthony this summer (he has a no-trade clause so he will have to agree to it). All of which is to say they have a chance to reshape this roster into one that will have more of a defensive focus. Or any defensive focus for that matter.
It will be interesting to see if the Knicks target more defensive minded free agents this summer, ones who might fit the triangle offense such as Thabo Sefolosha, or to a lesser extent Tony Allen. It’s going to be a fascinating summer in New York.
Did you know Master P had two NBA contracts?
Percy Miller was with the Hornets before the 1999 season and the Raptors before the 1999-00 season. But he was cut in the preseason both times.
These were mostly publicity stunts. Still, the rapper could actually play a bit. NBA quality? He long insisted yes, though his music career provided a convenient and lucrative excuse for sidetracking his basketball ambitions.
Yet, now, the New Orleans native says he wants back in the NBA with the Pelicans — in a different role.
Master P, via TMZ:
I think they need me to be an assistant coach.
I’m serious about coaching.
I don’t think he’s actually serious.
But if he is, would it be a good idea? Probably not. The Pelicans have real issues integrating Anthony Davis and DeMarcus Cousins, and they need devoted coaches, not passing entertainers, to solve this.
Would it be fun? Heck yeah.