Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe’s 14 assists facilitate Lakers’ win over Thunder


The Lakers seem to have found some life recently, in this season that seemed more and more like one that would die without a playoff berth despite the massive amount of talent that’s been assembled on the roster.

Kobe Bryant dished out 14 assists for the second straight game, and the results in each have not been a coincidence. The Lakers beat the Thunder on Sunday 105-96 for the team’s second straight victory, and the formula for L.A. is beginning to become established.

Distribute the ball evenly offensively, and players will remain engaged and invested on the defensive end, which not-so-magically will create a culture of winning that everyone can be a part of.

It starts with Bryant, who was in facilitator mode once again. He finished with 21 points on only 12 shots, to go along with nine rebounds and the 14 assists.

The question now becomes, can Bryant sustain both the level and style of this performance throughout the season and into the playoffs to give his team a fighting chance. It’s too early to tell, but a comment he made afterward might be viewed as a sign that it’s a possibility, at the very least.

“This feels a little different. Feels like we found an identity,” Bryant said, as reported by Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register.

L.A.’s talent has never been at issue; how the team has chosen to use that talent to this point is what the problem has been. Some of that was due to players missing time due to injury — an extended absence from Steve Nash to start the season, followed by a five-game stint where Pau Gasol was unavailable due to a concussion may have prolonged the team’s ability to come together in this way.

The statistics support the notion that L.A. is better with Kobe passing more than he’s shooting: The Lakers are 13-3 when Kobe Bryant takes 19 or fewer shots in game, and 6-22 when he takes 20 or more shots, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

The numbers also bear this out in terms of his teammates’ shooting percentages.

Pau Gasol was 7-10 from the field, Steve Nash was 6-11, Earl Clark was 5-9, and Antawn Jamison was 4-6 (in just 13 minutes off the bench). As a team, the Lakers shot better than 55 percent from the field, and made over 41 percent of their attempts from three-point distance.

It didn’t hurt that both Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook had an off day shooting, with the pair combining to go 16-48 from the field over the course of the game. It wasn’t necessarily due to anything special the Lakers did defensively, especially where Westbrook was concerned — the Thunder were playing the final game of a six-game road trip that the team finished just 3-3, which may have factored in to the lackluster Sunday afternoon performance.

The Lakers’ second straight win still puts them at just six games below .500 for the season, and the team still trails eighth-place Houston by four games for the final spot in the Western Conference playoff picture. But beating the best team in the league record-wise will help L.A. mentally, and as long as Bryant can continue to facilitate as he did in this one, the Lakers may have finally found their blueprint for winning with this roster.

Jahlil Okafor tweets apology for recent off-court behavior

Jahlil Okafor
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The off-court incidents have been piling up for Jahlil Okafor over the past month: first, an incident captured on video that showed Okafor getting into a fight with a heckler early Thanksgiving morning; then, a report that Okafor had a gun pulled on him in a previous incident; and finally, this morning’s report that the Sixers’ No. 3 overall pick in this June’s draft had been pulled over in recent weeks for driving 108 miles per hour in Philadelphia. Together, they aren’t a good look for the rookie.

On Sunday afternoon, Okafor apologized for his recent behavior in a series of tweets:

The recent incidents involving Okafor are surprising—going into the draft, he never had any red flags for maturity or off-the-court issues. He’s certainly saying the right things after the fact, and he’s only 19, so hopefully this is nothing more than a small rough patch where he’s made some bad decisions, and not an indicator of things to come.

Kobe Bryant announces this is his final season


It has seemed like this was it for a while. Kobe Bryant has been frustrated; he hasn’t been able to produce like he expects — his play has been hard to watch — and the Lakers are a train wreck.

Kobe made it official Sunday via the Players’ Tribune — this is his final season. He did it via a letter called “Dear Basketball.”

You gave a six-year-old boy his Laker dream
And I’ll always love you for it.
But I can’t love you obsessively for much longer.
This season is all I have left to give.
My heart can take the pounding
My mind can handle the grind
But my body knows it’s time to say goodbye.

And that’s OK.
I’m ready to let you go.
I want you to know now
So we both can savor every moment we have left together.
The good and the bad.
We have given each other
All that we have.

It’s not coincidental this was announced a couple days before the Lakers travel to Kobe’s hometown of Philadelphia to face the Sixers. Also remember Kobe is an investor in The Players’ Tribune.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver quickly released this statement:

“With 17 NBA All-Star selections, an NBA MVP, five NBA championships with the Lakers, two Olympic gold medals and a relentless work ethic, Kobe Bryant is one of the greatest players in the history of our game.  Whether competing in the Finals or hoisting jump shots after midnight in an empty gym, Kobe has an unconditional love for the game.

“I join Kobe’s millions of fans around the world in congratulating him on an outstanding NBA career and thank him for so many thrilling memories.”

Kobe will go down as one of the game’s all-time greats. Few can come close to his resume: Five NBA titles, two NBA Finals MVPs, 15 time All-NBA teams, one MVP, 17 times an All-Star (and the All-Star Game MVP four times). And we could go on and on.

Good on Kobe for doing this now. After 55,000 NBA minutes his body has quit on him, and where his mind is still willing the flesh is clearly weak right now. He has not been able to adapt his game to the changing realities of what he can do.

Kobe has said he doesn’t want a “Derek Jeter Farewell Tour” but that will be the feel from here on out. Expect some special recognition at the All-Star Game in Toronto.

Bulls’ Dunleavy to see specialist after suffering setback with back injury

Mike Dunleavy, Joakim Noah
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CHICAGO—Over the past few weeks, Bulls forward Mike Dunleavy has seemed to be making progress in his back rehab. Dunleavy underwent back surgery shortly before the start of training camp and was initially given a timeline of 8-10 weeks. Recently, he’s been increasing his workload, and he traveled with the team on their recent west coast road trip.

However, his recovery may have hit a snag.

“Mike is going to see a doctor again tomorrow and then we should have a better update after that,” Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg said after practice on Sunday. “He had a little bit of soreness. But we’ll have more on that tomorrow.”

An update to Dunleavy’s status is coming, but given Dunleavy’s age (35) and the frequency of back injuries to reoccur, this news certainly isn’t encouraging. Between Tony Snell and Doug McDermott, the Bulls have struggled at both ends of the floor on the wing. Getting Dunleavy back, whenever that happens, will be a huge help. But nobody knows when that will be.

Stan Van Gundy calls out Andre Drummond’s effort after loss to Thunder

Andre Drummond
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After a promising start to the season, the Pistons have lost three of their last four games and seven of their last 10. And although he’s been outstanding for most of the season, Andre Drummond has not been above receiving criticism from Stan Van Gundy. The coach called out Drummond’s effort on Friday night after a loss to the Thunder.

Via Sportando:

“I didn’t think he brought much energy to the Milwaukee game, and I didn’t think he brought much energy tonight,” Van Gundy said of the two beatings the Pistons received this week. “Why that is, I don’t know. But we need a lot more from him than we got tonight.”

Calling out your best player in the media is bold, but Van Gundy has enough of a track record and a reputation, going back to his days in Orlando with Dwight Howard, that he can get away with it. It also sends a message to the entire team that Van Gundy isn’t going to hold his star to a different standard than the rest of the team.

Despite a couple of poor performances, Drummond is having a career year, leading the league in rebounding at 17.1 per game while also averaging 17.9 points.