Three Stars of the Night: Kobe Bryant gets some help

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Regardless of how you feel about Kobe Bryant, you have to admit that he’s doing something pretty incredible this season. How many players in their 17th NBA season average nearly 30 points a game on career-best efficiency numbers? It’s unprecedented.

Problem is, Kobe hasn’t been getting an awful lot of help offensively, and he’s nowhere near the defender he once was. But if you’re looking for a non-Earl Clark related glimmer of hope for the Lakers, look to the stars.

Third Star: Ty Lawson – (24 points, 12 assists)

The primary concern with the Nuggets is that they don’t have a late game scorer, but you would never know it watching Ty Lawson tonight. Lawson was brilliant late in the fourth quarter, pouring in Denver’s last eight points to help keep the Blazers temporarily at bay. Although the Blazers tapped into some more Wes Matthews magic with a late 3-pointer to tie it, Lawson played excellent individual defense on a potential game-winning attempt from Damian Lillard. In overtime, Lawson picked up right where he left off, drilling a jumper and creating open looks for others in Denver’s sixth straight win.

Second Star: Kobe Bryant – (31 points, 6 assists)

While we’re used to this sort of offensive brilliance, the on-ball pressure Bryant put on Brandon Jennings seemed to spark the Lakers defensively. Although he still has lapses off the ball, Bryant doesn’t take kindly to being directly challenged. Putting him on ballhandlers plays to his competitive nature, and against a team that trots out offensively inept players like Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, it can simultaneously accomplish the goal of hiding Steve Nash. Bryant’s locked in effort defensively (Jennings was 4-for-14) seemed to trickle over to his offensive play, where he made more of an effort to get his teammates involved right off the bat.

First Star: Dwight Howard – (31 points, 16 rebounds, 4 blocks)

Although Milwaukee is loaded with shot blockers, they lack the bulk up front to deal with a monster like Howard — even if he isn’t at full strength. Howard bullied his way to good position all night and set up shop around the rim fairly easily, putting in little drop passes from Bryant and Steve Nash with ease. Some nights it will be as easy as that offensively, but it’s the defensive side of the ball where the Lakers really need Howard to be a star. Even though the Lakers let up 21 offensive rebounds as a team, Howard contested putbacks and altered a ton of shots. The Bucks shot just 35.8 percent from the field with 34 points in the paint, which are numbers more in line with what you’d expect from a Howard-led defense. If Howard isn’t drawn away from the rim defending pick and rolls or players with decent mid-range jumpers, he can still be a force.

Russell Westbrook scores most points ever in triple-double, 57

AP Photo/John Raoux
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Russell Westbrook led a double-digit comeback in the final minutes of the fourth quarter. Been there done, that.

Westbrook hit a defining buzzer-beating 3-pointer. Been there done, that.

Westbrook posted a historic triple-double. Been there, done that.

All three in one game?

That’s a new level for Westbrook, who lifted the Thunder to a 114-106 win over the Magic tonight while posting an incredible stat line: 57 points, 13 rebounds and 11 assists.

James Harden scored 53 in a triple-double just this season, and Westbrook has already one-upped that record.

This MVP race is one for the ages.

Russell Westbrook’s 3-pointer caps incredible Thunder comeback, send Magic game to OT (video)

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The Thunder trailed the Magic by 21 points in the second half and 14 points midway through the fourth quarter.

Russell Westbrook capped the incredible comeback with this 3-pointer to send the game to overtime.

This becoming the norm for Oklahoma City.

NBA: Timberwolves got away with key late foul in win over Pacers

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Paul George expressed extreme dismay after the Pacers’ loss to the Timberwolves last night — the latest cause for concern in Indiana with its biggest star just one season from free agency.

But perhaps George wouldn’t have sounded so disillusioned if that game featured correct officiating down the stretch.

Minnesota’s Kris Dunn got away with fouling Jeff Teague by disrupting the Pacers guard’s speed/quickness/balance rhythm with 21.6 seconds left, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report:

Dunn (MIN) makes contact to Teague’s (IND) arm that affects his SQBR and causes him to lose control of the ball.

Because the Timberwolves were in the penalty, a correct would’ve sent Teague — who’s making 86% of his free throws this season and 84% for his career — to the line. He would’ve had two attempts to build on Indiana’s two-point lead.

Instead, he forced an off-balance shot, which Minnesota rebounded. Ricky Rubio drew a shooting foul on a 3-pointer on the other end, and his three free throws lifted the Timberwolves to a 115-114 win.

The two-minute report featured a few other missed calls: George getting away with pushing off then Wiggins getting away with fouling George on a possession where George missed anyway, Andrew Wiggins getting away with a travel on a possession where Minnesota turned the ball over anyway. But those were effectively wash’s. Dunn’s uncalled foul was the one of consequence — especially if it contributes, even in a small way, to George’s exit from the Pacers.

Edmond Sumner declares for NBA draft despite torn ACL

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Edmond Sumner has grown about five inches since high school.

That has helped turn the 6-foot-5 Xavier point guard into an intriguing NBA prospect — but also seemingly contributed to physical complications. Sumner missed nearly all of his freshman year with knee tendinitis. Then, after a promising second season and start to his third, he tore his ACL in January.

Still, he’s entering the NBA draft.

Sumner:

Rick Broering of Musketeer Report:

Like with Duke’s Harry Giles, medical testing will be huge with Sumner. But at least Giles ended the season on the court. Sumner might not be healthy at all during the pre-draft process.

Sumner looked like a borderline first-round pick before the injury. This probably pushes him into the second round.

His long strides provide impressive speed and quickness, and he’s still shifty. Add quality court vision, and his ability to drive by defenders is even more valuable.

A 6-foot-8 wingspan and good lateral mobility also help make him a quality defender.

But it’s also concerning that so much of his positives could be undermined by his knee issues, especially considering his unreliable jumper. If Sumner can’t move like he did before getting hurt, I don’t see how he sticks in the NBA.

If Sumner’s knees check out, it’s worth rolling the dice on him and hoping his jumper develops. He might even be OK without shooting range, though that’d lower his ceiling considerably.

Again, though, the first thing is examining his knees.