Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard

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.

Wizards rookie changes name from Sheldon McClellan to Sheldon Mac

WASHINGTON, DC - DECEMBER 30: Sheldon McClellan #9 of the Washington Wizards dribbles in front of Sean Kilpatrick #6 of the Brooklyn Nets during the first half at Verizon Center on December 30, 2016 in Washington, DC. 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. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The Wizards trading for Bojan Bogdanovic pushes Sheldon McClellan even deeper on the bench.

Actually, “McClellan” is now off the team entirely.

Chase Hughes of CSN Mid-Atlantic:

Yes, the player formally known as Sheldon McClellan is now officialy Sheldon Mac. The 24-year-old returned to Houston, Texas over the past week and, with the blessing of his mother, changed his name.

Mac expects to have his jersey changed at some point and he will now be referred to in print as ‘Sheldon Mac.’ He said the reason was because ‘McClellan’ was a name he got from his father, whom he has no relationship with.

“I just added a little swag to it.”

If this makes him happier, I’m all for it.

76ers’ No. 1 pick Ben Simmons out for season

TARRYTOWN, NEW YORK - AUGUST 07:  Ben Simmons of the Philadelphia 76ers poses for a portrait during the 2016 NBA Rookie Photoshoot at Madison Square Garden Training Center on August 7, 2016 in Tarrytown, New York. 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: Copyright 2016 NBAE  (Photo by Nick Laham/Getty Images)
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76ers CEO Scott O’Neil guaranteed No. 1 pick Ben Simmons would play this season. Just about a week ago, Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said he expected Simmons to play this season.

But with rumor after rumor — the latest report saying his injured right foot hadn’t fully healed, even though he had participated in drills — indicating Simmons could miss the entire year, the 76ers accepted this undesirable fate.

Corey Seidman of CSN Philly:

Ben Simmons is officially out for the season, Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo said Friday.

Simmons had a CT scan on his injured right foot Thursday in New York which showed that the foot is not yet fully healed.

He’ll have another scan in about a month, Colangelo said.

“I have always known that there was a desire to get him back on the court when healthy,” Colangelo said. “We’ve always anticipated there would be an opportunity for him to play, hopefully this season.

“But there was always the outside chance that it didn’t happen because there wasn’t complete and full healing. And we weren’t going to put Ben Simmons in a place where he was (susceptible) to a re-fracture.

“There are genetic things that change the healing patterns of people. So if everybody had done their research and saw that most Jones fractures took 3 to 4 months, great. But it’s not 3 to 4 months in every case, it’s 3 to 4 months in most cases.”

“He’s heartbroken. He wants to play. He wants to be out there. It’s eating him alive, I’m sure.”

Simmons follows Nerlens Noel and Joel Embiid as high first-round picks to miss their entire first professional season with the 76ers. If it weren’t for Embiid’s emergence this season, this would be an even more bitter pill to swallow for Philadelphia fans fixated on immediate on-court gains.

But Embiid has provided more than enough reason for optimism, though he’s also hurt now (just not nearly as severely).

Long-term, the 76ers must figure out how Embiid and Simmons mesh and try to develop them together. We know Embiid works well with a stretch four, but what about a dynamic passing power forward like Simmons — or a tall point guard, if that’s what Simmons become? This injury delays answering those questions.

It also raises questions about Simmons — his ability to avoid and recover from injuries. Colangelo’s comments about Simmons’ genetics are particularly eyebrow-raising.

Likewise, there should be questions about the 76ers’ handling of their players’ health. How could Simmons return to on-court work before fully healed?

Philadelphia, at various points, has tried to accelerate its rise. But properly rebuilding takes time and care. At times like this, the 76ers must remember to trust The Process.

Paul Pierce shoots back at Warriors: ‘3-1 lead oops’

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Draymond Green was harsh in trash-talking Paul Pierce last night.

Pierce and the Clippers couldn’t shut up Green on the court, as the Warriors won. But on Twitter?

Pierce responded there:

Pierce has repeatedly taken shots at the Warriors, particularly Kevin Durant. I’m not going to complain about trash-talking, but I can also see why Green would tire of this — and even try crushing Pierce last night.

But there’s apparently no way to silence Pierce.

Ty Lawson cleverly runs down clock in Kings’ win over Nuggets (video)

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The Kings traded DeMarcus Cousins for two key reasons:

  • They wanted to change their culture, and they thought jettisoning the combustible Cousins would do that.
  • They wanted to avoid conveying a top-10-protected first-round pick to the Bulls this year, which required getting a little worse in the short term.

But what if they did the former so well, it disrupts the latter?

Sacramento played with enthusiasm and savvy in a 116-100 win over the Nuggets last night. The most clever play came from Ty Lawson.

With the Kings trying to preserve a 109-94 lead with 2:38 left, Lawson took an inbound pass following a Denver basket and let the ball roll/lie on the court for 22 seconds before picking it up.

The game clock didn’t stop because the game wasn’t in the final two minutes. Neither the shot clock nor the eight-second count started because no team possessed the ball.

Denver had an extremely slim chance at erasing a 15-point with 2:38 left, but Lawson reduced those odds considerably. Eventually, Jameer Nelson — who failed for far too long to press Lawson out of this tactic — committed a frustration foul after his own basket.