Kobe doesn’t need to say it anymore, it’s obvious Howard needs to play with urgency

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When Kobe Bryant said Dwight Howard needed to suck it up and play through pain, this was not what he had mind.

Kobe wanted a sense of urgency, he wanted leadership, he wanted a guy who would shows some fight to help push the Lakers toward the playoffs. He wanted passion.

Thursday night Howard showed none of that. He looked slowed by injuries and he looked rusty. Howard was unimpressive against an undersized Celtics front line the Lakers needed him to dominate — 9 points (4-of-8 shooting) 1-of-6 from the free throw line, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 turnovers, and he fouled out in the fourth quarter. Howard also is supposed to be anchoring the Lakers defense, but his rotations were slow, and he was terrible helping on screens and pick-and-rolls.

It wasn’t Howard’s fault the Lakers were blown out of the Boston Garden 116-95, that was a total team (lack of) effort. But if you are one of the team’s leaders you need to bring energy to try to turn the momentum in games like this. Howard was part of the scenery.

Mike D’Antoni was asked after the game if Howard needs to play better for the Lakers to have a shot at making the playoffs (answer via a tweet from Kevin Ding).

“He has to. We don’t have a whole lot of other solutions.”

That is where the Lakers are at — their season rests on Howard’s sore shoulders and aching back. Pau Gasol is out six to eight weeks (at least), holding down the paint falls to Howard now. It’s going to take more than a protective sleeve to get him right. He’s clearly still slowed by the injury, but he also isn’t showing a lot of fight.

Howard wanted out of Orlando because he wanted to be in a bigger market where he was the focus of an elite franchise. Be careful what you wish for. This is what it takes to lead an elite franchise.

Kobe tried to push Howard into that leadership role with his comments to Jackie MacMullan of ESPNBoston.com on Wednesday. But after Thursday night Kobe was backing off that — because he could. The need for urgency was obvious because Boston played with it. Kobe didn’t need to say it again, he didn’t need to say anything.

Kobe went the “things were blown out of proportion” line of defense, here is his quote via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

“I think the statements from yesterday were just really overblown, to be honest with you. I didn’t say anything that was offensive or try to take a run at him. It’s pretty shocking in terms of how everybody reacted to it. I wasn’t trying to do anything. It’s pretty simple. If he’s healthy, he’ll play. If he’s not, he won’t. I didn’t say anything that was groundbreaking. Do we need urgency? Yeah, we need urgency but if he’s hurt and it’s going to get worse, he can’t play. It was a pretty interesting day to see how everybody kind of jumped on those statements….

“If I had a message in mind, I’d make it pretty black and white. I don’t need to be surreptitious about it.”

I don’t know about you, but “We don’t have time for (Howard’s shoulder) to heal … We need some urgency” didn’t seem very surreptitious to me.

But Kobe doesn’t have to say anything anymore. It’s obvious.

It’s about Dwight Howard for the Lakers now. We’ll see if he responds differently in Charlotte on Friday. And in Miami on Sunday. Lose those two and the Lakers are back to six games below .500 and…

Well, we don’t need to say that, either, it’s obvious, too.

Kevin Durant coming up ‘big’ for Warriors

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DETROIT – Soft. Scared. Cupcake.

Kevin Durant can’t help but hear his detractors.

“They’re trying psychoanalyze me when they don’t know me,” Durant said. “So, it’s like you have more information about the game of basketball than you do me as a person. So, ‘you’re soft,’ ‘cupcake,’ all that stuff comes from trying figure me out as a person, not worrying about my basketball skills. But if you watch me on the basketball court, then you come up with your own observation.”

That on-court observation no longer jibes with the unflattering perception of his mindset.

Durant’s height has long been a fascination. He’s listed at 6-foot-9, but he’s almost certainly taller. Durant once said he’s 7-foot when he talks to women. “He’s 7 feet,” Warriors coach Steve Kerr says plainly.

Durant just didn’t play like it.

He entered the NBA as a finesse player. He couldn’t bench press 185 pounds a single time his pre-draft combine, and he spent his rookie year in Seattle playing shooting guard – as far from the paint as a player so tall could get.

Never mind that Durant improved greatly with the Thunder as a defender and rebounder, skills that require physicality. And never mind that he was a superstar on the perimeter, giving little reason to alter his style.

When he left Oklahoma City – where he settled in at small forward – for Golden State, Durant’s on- and off-court reputations merged to form a single image. Afraid of contact, afraid of competition.

Durant is making it much harder for his critics to paint him that way. He’s playing more like a traditional big than ever.

His 2.1 blocks per game are the most by a non-center, non-power forward since Andrei Kirilenko and Josh Smith more than a decade ago (minimum: two games). His 5.3 post touches per game are the most by a non-center, non-power forward in the NBA.com database (which dates back to 2013-14).

“Getting in the mix with the bigs a little bit, I think that’s one role that I always wanted to play and always appreciated about my teammates in the past – from Kendrick Perkins to Thabo Sefolosha to Draymond to David West to Serge Ibaka,” Durant said. “I appreciated those guys for doing the dirty work and allowing me to be the player that I am on the offensive end.”

The Warriors are spoiled to have Durant assume this responsibility.

Many of his post touches come on split cuts, an action Kerr popularized in Golden State. A player – often Andrew Bogut when Kerr first implemented the play – posts up while a teammate screens for another teammate on the perimeter. Most teams would kill to have a shooter like Durant set or receive the screen. But the Warriors have Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson and Draymond Green to do that. So, Durant serves as the post man, surveying the screen carnage and occasionally just taking matters into his own hands. This video from Eric Apricot of Golden State of Mind excellently shows a few variations:

Defensively, Durant has become more comfortable defending power forwards and centers. Sometimes, he blocks their shots:

Other times, guarding a big just positions Durant to protect the basket:

“He’s just being active,” Kerr said. “When he’s active on the weak side of the play, he’s a devastating defender.”

Durant still just bottles up an opponent in a traditional wing matchup for him and blocks a jumper. He also blocks shots in transition.

But he leads non-centers, non-power forwards with 4.8 shots defended at the rim per game (minimum: two games). His block numbers aren’t telling a misleading story. Durant is doing work in the paint.

It helps that the league has shifted toward small-ball. When the slender Durant matches up against fours and fives, his opponents aren’t as big as they would have been a few years ago.

The Warriors played Durant at center to great effect in last year’s Finals, and it’d be a shock if they didn’t turn to him there again in high-leverage situations.

Make no mistake, though: Durant remains a generational perimeter player. He’s a dead-eye shooter with tight handles and jaw-dropping fluidity. Whatever time Durant spends moonlighting as an interior player, he can always switch into the style that made him a future Hall of Famer in the first place.

His ability to play both ways just makes him even more dangerous.

Still, Durant has made his name as a small forward. He says he has always played the role coaches gave him, but it’s tough to look past the fears of Kevin Garnett, another skilled tall player who worried when he was younger he’d get pigeonholed inside if he were listed as a 7-footer. As we talked, Durant picked up on my line of questioning and interjected.

“You trying to turn me into a four guy?” Durant said.

“Maybe even a five,” I said.

“Maybe,” Durant. “I don’t know. Maybe. That’s the way the league is going.”

Listen to what LeBron James told Lonzo Ball on court (video)

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LeBron Jameson-court conversation with Lonzo Ball after the Cavaliers beat the Lakers last night quickly became a fascination.

With LeBron-to-the-Lakers rumorsfueled by Ball himself – swirling, did LeBron tip his plans for free agency?

Here’s what LeBron said after the game:

LeBron:

I don’t see the reaction, because I don’t get involved in it. I don’t do it to get a reaction.

I do it because he’s said over and over since he was growing up and who he modeled his game after. And who was his favorite player? And it was me, and I was humbled by that. So me wishing him a happy birthday was kind of a salute back to him.

I see all the stupid noise that happens, and I can’t buy a place in L.A. I can’t live in L.A. It’s funny noise. But I don’t get involved in it, because when I post things, I don’t look at comments. I’m so far removed of the white noise and the noise doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter to me.

Were you mentoring Ball or giving him advice? LeBron:

None of y’all business.

Unfortunately for LeBron, a microphone picked up most of the conversation (hat tip: reddit user IT-3):

LeBron, best I can tell:

Find your zone and just stay f—ing locked in. The media is going to ask you what I told you right now. Tell them nothing. Just be aggressive every single day.

It’s white noise to you. That’s all it is. Alright? Let’s go.

LeBron was never going to say something controversial in front of all those cameras. He knows better, especially after attention drawn by his on-court conversation with Dwyane Wade a few years ago.

Unsurprisingly, LeBron’s words directly to Ball mirror what he told the media after the game. There’s no secret plot here – just someone who has been in the spotlight for years trying to help someone going through it now.

Who needs good form? Hawks fan nails halfcourt shot for $10k (video)

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Former Hawks owner Bruce Levenson didn’t want guys like this shooting this shot.

I’m so glad this fan got the opportunity. This was Atlanta’s biggest highlight while losing to the Pistons — and John Collins had a nice dunk over Luke Kennard:

Kevin Durant kisses fan hit by ball (video)

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Kevin Durant‘s final line in the Warriors’ win over the Mavericks: 36 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, two blocks… and one kiss.

He has done this before.