Oklahoma City Thunder v Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe’s 14 assists facilitate Lakers’ win over Thunder

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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.

Report: Kevin Durant has “done his due diligence on the Bay Area”

OAKLAND, CA - FEBRUARY 6: Kevin Durant #35 of the Oklahoma City Thunder attempts a free throw against the Golden State Warriors on February 6, 2016 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California. 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 Getty Images License Agreement. Mandatory Copyright Notice: Copyright 2016 NBAE (Photo by Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty Images)
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Kevin Durant has not made up his mind about what he will do as a free agent this summer. Until his playoff run ends, whenever that may be for the Thunder, his focus will be on bringing a title to Oklahoma City.

But even he admits he can’t help but think about free agency a little.

The buzz around the league is Golden State is at the front of the line if Durant decides to leave OKC, and he has done some research, reports Marc Spears of Yahoo Sports.

The Warriors play in front of an intimidating Oracle Arena crowd and are expected to debut a new San Francisco arena in 2019. Durant has quietly done his due diligence on the Bay Area, too, sources told Yahoo Sports.

His people — specifically agent Rich Kleiman and personal manager Charlie Bell — would be stupid not to have done some research on not only Golden State but on every other team he might consider: Houston, Miami, Washington, both teams in Los Angeles, the Knicks, and on down the line. Golden State, playing with Stephen Curry, certainly would have its attractions.

I’m still in the camp that Durant signs a 1+1 deal to stay in Oklahoma City (meaning he can opt out after one more season, in 2017), and it’s all about the cash. While he could get 30 percent of a $90 million cap this summer (about $27 million a season to start), with one more year of service in 2017 Durant could get 35 percent of $108 million ($37.8 million to start). That’s a lot of cash. Plus he gets one more chance at a ring with Russell Westbrook and Serge Ibaka, who both are 2017 free agents.

But you can be sure whatever Durant decides, it will be well researched and thought out. And he’s not going to announce it in a live special on ESPN.

Byron Scott expected to start D’Angelo Russell after All-Star break, but hasn’t talked to him about it

Byron Scott D'Angelo Russell
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Communication.

When we talk about Lakers’ coach Byron Scott’s questioned player development skills with young players Julius Randle, Jordan Clarkson, and particularly D'Angelo Russell, it is his old-school lack of communication that comes into question. It’s what is different from what Gregg Popovich or Quin Snyder or other guys developing strong young players have done. From the outside (we’re not in practices/film sessions), we see Scott was not letting Russell play through mistakes — feeling that was rewarding bad behavior — but then not doing a good job communicating what the player is doing wrong.

This comment from Scott, via Mark Medina of the Los Angeles Daily News, sums it up perfectly.

Scott plans to start Russell after NBA All-Star weekend (Feb. 12-14). But Scott said the two have not talked about that issue.

“He’s not old enough for me to have a meeting and discuss, ‘What do you think?’” Scott said.

I would say you should have that meeting — it’s called a teachable moment. “What do you think? Well here is what I see that is different.”

Part of what is going on with Scott and Russell is the concern from some in the Lakers’ camp that Russell is a little too full of himself, that his ego is too big, and it could become a problem. So they are trying to take him down a peg. I would say that for a smart player — and Russell is that — the game is humbling and will take care of the ego issue. But you’ve got to give him run to develop him.

Play him, and then communicate with him. It’s a system that does worth with modern players.

Nikola Vucevic hits fade-away game winner for Magic against Hawks

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The Hawks almost came back and won this — Atlanta went on an 8-0 run in the final minutes to tie the game at 94-94 with Orlando. The Magic had one last chance with 2.2 seconds left.

Nikola Vucevic nailed it.

Can’t blame Al Horford‘s defense on this one, he pushed Vucevic out and contested the shot. But in a make-or-miss league Vucevic nailed the game winner, Orlando wins 96-94.

If that looks familiar, Vucevic knocked down pretty much the same shot against the Lakers earlier this season.

LeBron James on Super Bowl: “Got to go with the Carolina Panthers”

Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, right, embraces Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James after the Cavaliers defeated the Charlotte Hornets in an NBA basketball game Friday, Nov. 27, 2015 in Charlotte, N.C. The Cavaliers won 95-90. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)
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We know Stephen Curry — who spent many of his formative years in Charlotte and still thinks of the city as his hometown — is all in on the Carolina Panthers today against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl 30.

On this, he and LeBron James agree.

LeBron sounded like the politically cautious, image-conscious version of himself at the start of this quote from Uninterrupted on Facebook, but as he gets going, you can quickly see who he wants in this game (hat tip Eye on Basketball).

“I don’t know if I quite got a prediction but I definitely want to see a great Super Bowl,” James said in the video. “But if it was a life and death situation and I had to choose one team and one player, I got to go with Killah Cam. Got to go with the Carolina Panthers, they’ve been playing the most consistent football all year round. Both offensively, defensively and special teams. Got to go with Cam and one of my boys plays for them too as well, Ted Ginn Jr., that’s been showing out all year as well.

“No disrespect to the Broncos. I love their team. They got the legend at quarterback, they got that defense that’s out of control. They got some receivers that be balling out as well. They’re really well coached as well and that’s the reason they are in the Super Bowl. But I’m rolling with the Carolina Panthers today.”

A lot of NBA players like the way Cam Newton plays — with exuberance, wearing his heart on his sleeve, dancing and celebrating. That’s how Curry and LeBron and other NBA players want to play their game, and they feel reined in by the league. They relate to Cam Newton and the ridiculous role model/celebration debate.

We’ll see how much celebrating the Denver defense lets Newton do.