Lakers cruise to win over Sixers thanks to an efficient 34 points from Kobe Bryant


It’s not often we use the word “efficient” in the same sentence while describing the offensive play of the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant. But in Sunday’s easy 111-98 victory over the Sixers, it was not only appropriate, but it fit the description exactly.

Bryant finished with 34 points on 12-of-21 shooting, to go along with four rebounds and six assists. He opened the game with 11 first-quarter points, while scoring from both inside and out.

Right around 20 shot attempts is probably where Bryant should be on a nightly basis in order for his teammates to remain involved and engaged on both ends of the floor, and with Bryant excelling in this range in this one, there was plenty of offensive opportunity to go around.

Metta World Peace matched Bryant’s first quarter with 11 points of his own, and finished with 19 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.

The Lakers got going offensively early, and did so as a team, with Bryant and World Peace leading the way. It’s been nine games since L.A. has scored at least this many points, so as you might imagine, players who aren’t accustomed to having great performances offensively got going a bit in Philadelphia.

Darius Morris, who remains replaced in the starting lineup by Chris Duhon, had a breakout game with 15 points, all of which were scored in the first half, and 12 of which came in the second period.

He only managed to stay in the game for 18 minutes, with Mike D’Antoni wisely keeping him on a short leash given his propensity to turn the ball over, combined with his inability to consistently initiate the offense. Morris made the most of his opportunity on this night by making his first five shots, but didn’t score after halftime.

Not that the Lakers needed him at that point, anyway.

The team leaned on its stars to get its second straight victory, and beyond Bryant and World Peace, Dwight Howard finished with 17 points on 7-of-13 shooting, 11 rebounds, five assists, three steals, and two blocked shots. He played a pretty complete game, even if Kwame Brown got the better of him on an early offensive possession.

On the Sixers’ side, Nick Young ended up with 30 points in 41 minutes, but got 11 of those by playing the entire fourth quarter in a game that had already been decided. Evan Turner was strong early and his dribble penetration helped keep Philadelphia in it, but when you have the Lakers going 10-of-15 from three-point distance in the first half, there aren’t a lot of answers.

This makes two wins in a row for a Lakers team that is still three games under .500, but hope is on the horizon. L.A. plays next on Tuesday at home against a Bobcats team that has lost 11 straight, and they may have Pau Gasol back in the lineup then, with Steve Nash possibly to follow by the end of the week.

If the offense can continue to improve with a true team effort like this one, the Lakers might be able to begin to climb out of the early-season hole they dug for themselves. But that will only happen if we get the efficient version of Kobe Bryant, the one that so effortlessly helped dismantle the Sixers in Philadelphia, and did so while taking just 21 shots.

Cavaliers beat Raptors, become first team in 27 years to surrender 79 first-half points and win

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The Cavaliers haven’t been good enough throughout the season, especially defensively. The Raptors have – offensively, defensively, starters, bench. Hope has grown in Toronto of winning the Eastern Conference after getting eliminated by Cleveland the last two years.

But LeBron James and Cavs showed why it’s hard to pick any other team – even the first-place Raptors – to win the East in a 132-129 win over Toronto tonight.

Cleveland allowed 79 first-half points and fell behind by 15. But a LeBron-led offense was just too potent. This was the first time since 1990 (Nuggets over Spurs after trailing 90-83) a team surrendered so many first-half points then still won.

LeBron finished with 35 points, 17 assists and no turnovers. No forward has ever dished so many assists without a turnover in Basketball-Reference’s database, which dates back to 1963-64.

And LeBron led the Cavaliers to this win despite Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Larry Nance Jr., Kyle Korver and Cedi Osman being out.

It’s only one game, and it was in Cleveland. But even with home-court advantage in a potential playoff series, the Raptors must grapple with even more lingering doubt now about their ability to beat the Cavs.

Report: Becky Hammon staying with Spurs, not coaching Colorado State men’s team

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Spurs assistant coach Becky Hammon was a candidate to coach the men’s team at Colorado State, her alma mater. That would have made her the first woman to coach a Division I men’s team.

Alas, it won’t happen.

Pat Forde of Yahoo Sports:

It’s unclear whether Hammon was ever actually offered the job.

She’s still on the right track for a head-coaching job somewhere. Most importantly, by all accounts, she’s doing good work in San Antonio. There’s also more attention on her career because of her pioneering status, and that will appeal to some teams.

This dalliance with Colorado State raises her profile even further and shows just how close she is.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni: James Harden ‘best offensive player I’ve ever seen’

AP Photo/Jack Dempsey

James Harden torched a solid Trail Blazers defense for 42 points on 13-of-25 shooting, including 5-of-7 on 3-pointers, and seven assists.

That prompted his coach to heap praise on the runaway MVP.

Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni, via Tim MacMahon of ESPN:

“That’s the best offensive player I’ve ever seen,” Rockets coach Mike D’Antoni said of Harden. “They’re running guys to him and he just steps a little further back and makes a 3. The way he can pass and see the floor, get layups, floaters, maybe a lob, maybe out to the corner — he has so many weapons, and now he’s shooting those step-back 3s.

“It’s impossible to guard him. It’s impossible.”

At first, that sounds like hyperbole from a biased source. But Harden might actually the best offensive player ever. (D’Antoni has been around for all the major contenders.)

Michael Jordan gets overlooked because he was also excellent defensively. Ditto LeBron James to a lesser extent. Another contender: Stephen Curry, whose Warriors might file away D’Antoni’s assessment for if they meet Houston in the playoffs. (The Rockets provide plenty of motivational fodder.)

The list of contenders definitely skews toward the present. Players have gotten progressively more skilled, especially the generation that grew up with the 3-point arc and didn’t suddenly have to adjust to it.

And Harden might be the cream of the crop. He’s an incredible shooter with very deep range off the dribble or spotting up, and he can drive with the best of them. Yes, foul-drawing is a skill. Harden’s combination of scoring volume and efficiency is unprecedented. He’s also an impressive passer, a skill fully unleashed by D’Antoni making Harden a point guard.

I think I’d lean toward Curry, who’s an even better shooter and screener. But it’s very close, and Harden keeps raising his level. Curry probably peaked two years ago (though he obviously remains elite). I definitely wouldn’t dismiss anyone who picks Harden as biased or misguided.

Cavaliers star LeBron James: Raptors ‘in a better place than we are right now’

Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press via AP

It’s not enough to say the Raptors have the Eastern Conference’s best record.

The Celtics had the East’s best record last year, and most people thought the Cavaliers were better. Cleveland had a better point difference and more star power – LeBron James, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love – than Boston. The Cavs confirmed that notion by cruising past the Celtics in a five-game conference finals.

The Raptors have been the Eastern Conference’s best team this season.

They rank fourth in the NBA in offensive and defensive rating, the only team top five in both categories. Led by DeMar DeRozan and Kyle Lowry, their starting lineup has embraced a more dynamic offense with more 3-point shooting and passing. Toronto’s bench is the best in the league.

LeBron, whose Cavaliers host the Raptors tonight, via Joe Vardon of

“They’re in a better place than we are right now because they’ve had more consistency and they’ve had their guys in the lineup for the majority of the year,” James said after the Cavs’ morning workout. “So, they know what they want to accomplish. They know who they are at this point in the season. Obviously, you guys know about us, we’re still trying to figure that out.”

This is so obviously correct. It’s just surprising to see LeBron put it so directly, though it’s unsurprising he’s hanging on the Cavs’ instability to date.

Kevin Love and Isaiah Thomas were injured for long stretches, and Thomas and several others were traded. Coach Tyronn Lue is on a leave of absence.

But the Cavaliers made those major trades because they were struggling, and this new group won’t necessarily simply figure things out with time. Defensive problems persist. Lue’s health is unclear.

LeBron understandably remains confident in himself, even as the Cavs enter the postseason as a middling seed. He’s also setting up a narrative of Cleveland coming from behind if it advances to the NBA Finals. We’ll see whether it happens.

Tonight likely won’t be a referendum, though. Tristan Thompson, Rodney Hood, Kyle Korver and Larry Nance Jr. are out for the Cavaliers. That roster instability still exists.

If LeBron dials up playoff intensity tonight, that could send a warning to Toronto, though I’m not sure it’s necessary. As far ahead as the Raptors are right now, after Cleveland soundly eliminated them the last two years, I think everyone knows it’s a couple months too early to properly assess these teams’ relative places.