Kobe Bryant is NBA’s leading scorer and D’Antoni could keep him there

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Kobe Bryant had a pretty standard night for himself Friday against the Suns compared to his past couple seasons — 31 points on a not terribly efficient 10-of-24 shooting but getting to the line a lot (10-of-11 from the stripe).

With that night, Kobe has averaged 26.9 points per game and moved past James Harden into the NBA’s per game scoring lead. The two big guns — LeBron James (24.8) and Kevin Durant (24.5) and hanging back there and could move up the list.

Before the season we all assumed Durant would win the scoring title again because… well, he is the best pure scorer walking the face of the earth right now and his team needs him to produce. LeBron would put up points but he’s as likely to kick it to Norris Cole with the game on the line as shoot. (As ESPN noted, did you see LeBron do exactly that against the Nuggets on national television and nobody even questioned his manhood? Rings change things.)

But Kobe wasn’t seen as a threat — he was too old plus he has Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard around him to soak up shot attempts and buckets. Plus you knew Metta World Peace needed his touches whether he should get them or not.

Mike D’Antoni may have changed that.

He said at his introductory press conference he expects the Lakers to score 110 to 115 points a night — a lofty goal that most don’t think the Lakers at their age can achieve. They are probably right. But they are going to score more per game.

If the Lakers are pushing the tempo, scoring more points and playing more just on basketball instincts not micromanaged plays, Kobe could be the guy to beat in the scoring race.

Especially if he continues to be efficient — he is shooting 53.1 percent on the season (up from 43 percent last season), and 41 percent from three (30 percent last season). He was getting his shots closer to the basket — 19.3 percent of his shots this season have come on post ups and he’s shooting 43.9 percent on those and getting the and-1 on 10 percent, according to Synergy Sports — taking fewer contested long twos or threes, and the result of the good looks was more efficient scoring.

While the numbers he put up against the Suns wouldn’t have had you blink last season, this season they stand out as different from the rest.

It should be noted Kobe is going to spend more time as the pick-and-roll ball handler and he has shot 46 percent doing that this season and 37 percent from three in that role. Watching him for a couple games, he is comfortable in that role.

If Kobe continues to be efficient, if the Lakers put up a lot of points, Kobe could well lead the league in scoring at the age of 35. With D’Antoni at the helm it is possible. Kobe will downplay it — he’ll say he doesn’t care, it’s only about the rings, and he’ll mean it — but this could happen.

John Wall scores 37 as Wizards down LeBron James, Cavs 127-115

Associated Press
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CLEVELAND (AP) John Wall scored 37 points, Bradley Beal added 27 and the Washington Wizards began a challenging road trip by beating LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers 127-115 on Saturday night.

Wall scored 18 in the first quarter, when the Wizards shot 82 percent, and Washington held on down the stretch to avenge an overtime loss to the NBA champions last month.

James, who briefly wore goggles to protect an eye injury sustained Friday night, scored 24 and added 11 rebounds and eight assists. Kyrie Irving added 23 points and Kevin Love 17 for Cleveland, playing at home for the only time in a seven-game stretch.

Washington’s victory cut Cleveland’s lead in the Eastern Conference to a half-game over idle Boston.

Rudy Gobert calls out Jazz teammates after loss: “We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice.”

Associated Press
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Utah and the L.A. Clippers are almost locked into a first round, four vs. five battle in the Western Conference. The only question is which team will have home court, and the Clippers took a big step towards that beating the Jazz at home Saturday. While the Jazz still has a half-game lead, the Clippers have a much softer schedule the rest of the way.

After that loss, Jazz center Rudy Gobert was ticked off and called out his teammates. Via Tim MacMahon of ESPN.

“We’ve got guys that compete, but some of us don’t compete. Some of us just think about scoring. That’s what it is. … Coach keeps repeating it: We’ve just got to compete. We’re too nice. Those guys, we know they’re going to get calls. We’ve just got to come out aggressive and ready to fight.”

Interesting comments for a team that is third in the NBA in defensive rating and 13th in offense.

Gobert is frustrated as Utah has dropped four of its last five, and the slump has been on both ends of the court. The defense has struggled, but if guys are looking to score too much they aren’t doing it efficiently because the offense has been worse.

This slide likely costs Utah home court in the first round, which could matter in what will be a tight matchup with Los Angeles. Utah needs to find its grinding rhythm again heading into the playoffs, at their best they can knock off the Clippers in the first round. Just not like they are playing now.

One thing to watch, Utah’s Gordon Hayward asked out of the game in the fourth quarter due to what is being called a bruised muscle in his leg. If he misses any time or if this lingers, it could be trouble for the Jazz in the postseason.

 

LeBron James starts game with protective goggles. That lasts about a minute.

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LeBron James suffered a scratched cornea Friday night when he went up for a layup late in the third quarter and Jeremy Lamb tried to contest and caught him clean across the face. LeBron got the and-1, but had trouble keeping his eye open in postgame interviews Friday.

Saturday he did play — wearing protective goggles. As you can see above.

That lasted about a minute.

LeBron was likely frustrated as the Cavaliers defensive woes had the Wizards up double digits much of the first half.

Kobe Bryant says he’s “only a phone call away” if organization needs his advice

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For the first time since he walked off the court in his final game, Kobe Bryant was back at Staples Center Friday night.

The reason was Shaquille O’Neal was getting a statue out in front of Staples Center (a building that may not have gotten built without the two of them). The two famed feuders sat next to each other and joked around through the ceremony. Time heals all wounds.

With the new management of the Lakers — specifically Kobe’s former agent Rob Pelinka as GM — there has been speculation Kobe could take on a role. He’s not looking for something formal, according to reports, but he didn’t say no, either, when asked.

I picture Kobe as a guy who someday buys a team, not a guy who wants to haggle with agents over the details of a contract. He’s not going to take on a day-to-day role, he likes the retired life and what he is building with the Kobe brand.

That said, the Lakers front office can use all the smart voices it can get as they try speed up a rebuild. They should give him a call every once in a while.