Kevin Durant, Kobe Bryant

Lakers-Thunder Game 4: Kevin Durant and a new era dawning

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Things change. It’s inevitable. And on Saturday night, you have to wonder if the guard changed officially in the Western Conference, and the NBA. 103-100, Thunder over Lakers.

Kobe Bryant was the closer. The dagger. The Black Mamba. As recently as Friday night, he was the ultimate clutch weapon (as long as we’re only talking about free throws and disregarding any and all other plays). And nothing that happened 24 hours later can change, alter, or diminish his legacy of playoff greatness. He is one of the top-five NBA players of all time, and for forty-four minutes Saturday night, he was the best player on the floor. He was aggressive in driving to the rim, he was hitting absurd shots consistently, he was passing the ball to Andrew Bynum, he was rebounding, he was destroying Thabo Sefolosha, James Harden, anyone guarding him.

Then the final four minutes came. Then Kevin Durant guarded him. Then the Thunder made their comeback. Then it all changed.

Bryant was 1-6 in the final four minutes, his final bucket coming on a meaningless jumper as time ran out down 5. He shot often, he shot early, he shot Kobe shots. “Tough shots” as he described them after the game. He took rolling three-pointers. He took off-balance leaners. He took every shot that you think of as a Kobe shot. But alas, they would not fall. There will be no joy on Rodeo Drive, Mighty Kobe bricked out. Five times.

Meanwhile, Kevin Durant? When Durant missed two free throws with 2:32 remaining down 2, it looked like Durant was setting up to become the latest superstar to fail in the clutch. Instead? Durant hit a tough turnaround floater to tie the game, then nailed a monster pull-up three for the win. Throw in a Pau Gasol late turnover that his him as the scapegoat and that’s how the Lakers are down 3-1.

Can the Lakers come back from 3-1? It’s possible. But they’ve now surrendered sizeable leads in two games in the series, and despite all the adjustments, all the key shots from Steve Blake, and a long stretch where Durant was largely invisible, the Thunder have won, again. They reached into the Lakers’ chest, and pulled out their still-beating heart Saturday night, and they did it the same way Bryant has in the past, while Bryant struggled to the finish. It may not have been a changing of the guard, but it was a pretty good impression.

Durant’s calm, cool demeanor and smiling face stands in contrast to the cold anger of Bryant. He admitted after the game that he was worried what people would say about the shot after it left his hand. Bryant, on the other hand, did a long feature interview talking about how he didn’t care, and that he thought his struggles in Game 2 were amusing. Something tells me this doesn’t sound as funny.

Bryant couldn’t have done anything else, though. This is who he is, and it has worked in the past and it was working on Saturday night. The shots just didn’t fall. For Durant, they did. And now Bryant watches as the next great clutch performer (if you believe in clutch) rises on the biggest stage, while defending Bryant at the same time.

Change is cruel. But it’s also unavoidable.

Sixers sign Mo Williams off waivers, then waive him again, sign Chasson Randle to 10 day contract

CLEVELAND, OH -  JUNE 22: Mo Williams #52 of the Cleveland Cavaliers celebrates with fans during the Cleveland Cavaliers 2016 championship victory parade and rally on June 22, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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This is how the salary cap game is played.

Mo Williams is dead money, owed $2.2 million this season by the Cleveland Cavaliers, he decided he didn’t want to play anymore. The Cavaliers kept Williams on the roster and the books in case they could use that salary in a trade, and they did shipping him to Atlanta as a throw in with the Kyle Korver trade. Atlanta then traded him to Denver, because the Nuggets wanted to add $2.2 million to their payroll and bring them closer to the salary floor. But they didn’t want him on the roster, so they waived him.

Enter the Philadephia 76ers.

But the Sixers were not done.

Now we see if one of the handful of teams with a worse record than the Sixers decides they would rather have the salary on their books.

To be clear, teams under the salary floor still have to pay that money to the players. Let’s say a team ends up $2 million under that floor, then the team pays $2 million to be divided among the players on that roster. So, bringing in a player like Williams just saves them cash.

NBA report: Wizards should have gotten technical for assistant coach being on court vs. Knicks

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The Knicks were down 113-110 with just 13.7 seconds remaining when Carmelo Anthony passed to an open Courtney Lee, who passed up a clean look at a 3-pointer from the corner, instead passing to Brandon Jennings, who turned the ball over, and the Wizards got the win.

After the game, Lee said he didn’t shoot because he felt and heard what he thought was a defender near him, but it turned out to be Wizards assistant coach Sidney Lowe, who came onto the court and barked words implying he was switching out onto Lee.

The NBA’s Last Two Minutes Report sides with Lee, saying the Wizards should have gotten a technical. From the report:

A WAS assistant coach stands on the floor close to Lee (NYK) for several seconds and should have been assessed a technical foul.

This is an area the NBA needs to crack down on, coaches walk out onto the court all the time. Far too often. Frankly, I have an issue with coaches on the bench stomping their feet or yelling at shooters near their sideline, but Lowe took it a step further.

Much like telling a six-year-old to stop licking their shoes this isn’t something NBA officials should have to deal with, it should be common sense, but the league needs to crack down on coaches stepping onto the court. Maybe this will push the league to start enforcing that rule.

 

PBT Extra: Russell Westbrook was snubbed as All-Star starter, but worse snubs coming

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Should Russell Westbrook have been a starter for the All-Star game over Stephen Curry? Sure. Going on stats from the first half of this season — when Westbrook is averaging a triple double — Westbrook deserves the nod. But I have a hard time getting worked up over the fans choosing the two-time MVP to start the All-Star Game.

The real snubs are coming.

When it comes to choosing the All-Star Game reserves, the coaches are facing some tough choices. How many point guards in the East? Does Joel Embiid deserve to go? Kristaps Porzingis? Out West the questions shift to Mike Conley, Damian Lillard and others.

I talk about those tough choices and who I would pick in this latest PBT Extra.

 

Bucks’ Greg Monroe says he’s not thinking of player-option decision

MIAMI, FL - JANUARY 19: Greg Monroe #15 of the Milwaukee Bucks is defended by Hassan Whiteside #21 of the Miami Heat during a game  at American Airlines Arena on January 19, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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. Mandatory copyright notice:  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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The Bucks reportedly already planned for Greg Monroe to opt in after this season, a reasonable conclusion considering they tried to dump him in a trade all summer and found no takers.

But Monroe has quietly boosted his stock this season. Coming off Milwaukee’s bench, he’s still a skilled interior scorer. But he’s defending and rebounding better, using his quick hands to strip opponents and taking plenty of charges.

Could he even decline his $17,884,176 player option?

Monroe, via Charles F. Gardner of the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel.

“I’m not thinking about anything like the off-season right now. There is a time and place for everything. If and when I have to make a decision, that time is not right now.”

The time might approach more quickly than Monroe expects. If the Bucks shop him again, potential trade partners will want to know Monroe’s intention. Some might prefer the flexibility created by him opting out, and others would like the certainty of having a productive player at a reasonable-enough cost next season. But all would want to know where they stand.

That said, it’s hardly a give Milwaukee moves Monroe. Though he has backed up John Henson and Miles Plumlee, Monroe (21.2 minutes per game) plays more than both. He’s a valuable contributor on a team jockeying for playoff position.

Most importantly, Monroe appears to complement Bucks franchise player Giannis Antetokounmpo well. Antetokounmpo scores more (23.5 to 26.3 points per 36 minutes) and more efficiently (59.0% to 65.7% true shooting percentage) from when he plays without Monroe to when he plays with Monroe, and Milwaukee’s offense improves accordingly (104.3 to 114.6 points per 100 possessions).