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?
The Kobe Bryant farewell tour has gone all around the NBA, but some stops are more emotional than others. His final trip to San Antonio certainly qualifies — the Spurs and Lakers have played each other in the playoffs eight times in his career, including twice in the Western Conference Finals (the Lakers won both times). The only player who has rivaled Bryant’s longevity is Tim Duncan, and the Lakers and Spurs were the two most dominant teams of the 2000s, winning nine of the 12 championships from 1999 to 2010 between them.
So, of course, the Spurs had an elaborate tribute video planned for Bryant. The video ran two and a half minutes and featured narration from Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. Watch it below:
The Clippers are without Blake Griffin for the next few weeks as he recovers from a broken hand stemming from an altercation with an equipment manager. Now, the Clippers have lost backup point guard Austin Rivers to the exact same injury, albeit not in the same circumstances, obviously.
The loss of Rivers isn’t as devastating as the loss of Griffin, but given the Clippers’ lack of depth, it’s certainly not ideal. Now, Chris Paul‘s only backup is Pablo Prigioni.
For once, a marquee matchup involving the Golden State Warriors lived up to its billing. Their much-hyped meetings with the Cleveland Cavaliers and San Antonio Spurs were anticlimactic blowouts nearly free of drama. And for the first half on Saturday night’s 116-108 win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, it seemed like the defending champions were headed for another snoozer. They led by as much as 20, and completely outmatched the Thunder on both ends of the floor.
But the Thunder rallied behind a surprising defensive effort in the second half and some solid play from Enes Kanter. Plus, you know, Kevin Durant, who led all scorers with 40 points and gave the normally unflappable Draymond Green fits defensively. They tied the game at 104 before Golden State pulled away.
Despite the huge first-half lead, the Warriors weren’t their usual selves. Stephen Curry shot 1-for-8 from behind the three-point line, and triple-double machine Draymond Green scored just nine points. Golden State’s most consistent player was Harrison Barnes, who has probably read the speculation that the Warriors would have to dump him to land Durant this summer. He hit three three-pointers and shot 8-for-14 overall on the way to 19 points.
The Warriors’ bench carried them for stretches, outscoring Oklahoma City’s reserves 42-17.
Despite the Thunder’s late run, this was a statement win for the Warriors. They sent the message that, even when they aren’t in total control from start to finish, they can still pull away from other elite teams. The Thunder have given them the toughest challenge of any team they’ll likely have to face in the late rounds of the playoffs this spring, and it’s to their credit that they took the first-half punch and came back to make it a game. But the Warriors are on a different level from the rest of the league, and they showed that clearly on Saturday.
It goes without saying that with the Thunder and Warriors playing each other for the first time on Saturday night, Kevin Durant free-agency talk has been at an all-time high. The hot rumor this week is that the Warriors are the frontrunners to land Durant this summer, which would shake up the league like nothing since LeBron James going to Miami.
Obviously, all parties were going to be asked about it before the hotly anticipated game. And obviously, all parties were going to downplay it. That’s exactly what happened.
Here’s what Durant said, via the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Rusty Simmons:
“Once that time comes, I’ll make that decision. I’ll sit down and talk to my closest friends and family and figure it out, but right now, I’m just trying to be the best basketball player I can be every single day. I have to be at a high level to lead every day at practices, shootarounds and games, and that’s a tough task. I can’t focus on anything else, other than that.”
Warriors coach Steve Kerr also downplayed the speculation:
“I don’t know why anybody would talk about anything but the fact that we’re 45-4 and have a hell of a team,” said Kerr, who hasn’t addressed rumors about Durant favoring the Bay Area as a future destination with his players. “Why would anybody talk about some different team, future stuff and other players?
“Focus on our team. We’re pretty good.”
On both sides, that’s the appropriate way to respond publicly. Not that this is going to go away anytime soon. They play each other two more times this season, once in Oklahoma City and once more in Oakland, and this is going to get brought up then, too. And just like Saturday, nobody will give a definitive answer. Nor should they. Nobody will know anything until July 1. But until then, it will be impossible to quiet the chatter.