Kobe Bryant

Lakers make improbable comeback, survive the Hornets

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The Lakers entered the 4th quarter against the Hornets trailing by 18 points, 93-75.

Up to that point in the game there was little reason to think that anything but a disappointing loss for the Lakers was on tap. Sure, they were on the 2nd night of a back to back and were coming off a tough loss to the Thunder the night before. But to lose to a team 21 games under .500 was not just going to make for an extra long flight home, it was going to put a real dent in their hopes to make the playoffs.

Then a funny thing happened in those final 12 minutes — the Lakers found their game and the Hornets fell apart.

Spurred on by a brilliant offensive performance from Kobe Bryant and a dominant defensive effort from Dwight Howard, the Lakers went on a 20-0 nothing run in the final 6:46 of the game and outscored the Hornets 33 to 9 in that final quarter to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. What was once a 25 point deficit in the 2nd half became a 108-102 Laker victory.

There really aren’t enough adjectives to describe how good Kobe was to close this game. In the 4th quarter he scored 18 of his game high 42 points and dished out 2 of his game high 12 assists. He missed only one shot in the period (and only 7 of his 21 on the night) and completely dominated a Hornet defense that had no answers for his all court attack. He hit jumpers, got to the rim in isolation, and even found ways to shake free in transition.

Meanwhile, Dwight Howard had his best defensive stretch of the season playing with 4, then 5 fouls for most of the quarter. The Hornets continuously tried to run the same isolation and pick and roll heavy attack that got them their big lead throughout the game, but Howard was there to snuff out nearly every action. He cut off driving angles, patrolled the paint, and challenged shots at the rim expertly all while avoiding the type of contact that would have sidelined him. And on the Lakers’ most important defensive possession of the contest, he had the game clinching block on a Robin Lopez dunk attempt that put the exclamation point on his dominant evening.

Of course, the Lakers wouldn’t have needed such heroics down the stretch if it wasn’t for how poorly they played in tandem with a how well a game Hornets team played.

As bad as New Orleans was down the stretch, they were just as good through three quarters. They dominated the Lakers with heady passing and hot shooting, torturing any and all defense the Lakers attempted (and that’s being kind) to play. Led by their backcourt tandem of Eric Gordon (18 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists) and Greivis Vasquez (15 points, 12 assists, 5 rebounds), the Hornets attacked the slow footed defense of the Lakers and got to their spots on the floor to set up makable shots for themselves and their teammates.

But when it came time to close out the game and put their foot on the necks of the Lakers, the Hornets didn’t have enough. Their hot shooting went cold and the plays that were so easily made before disappeared as the Lakers clamped down defensively. The Hornets closed the game by missing their last 12 shots and committing 5 turnovers, essentially giving the game away just as easily as they had taken it from the Lakers up to that point.

At the end of the contest, Kobe raised his arms, almost defiantly, as he walked off the court. His brilliance and that of his teammates turned what should have been a sure loss into a victory. They had no business winning that game, but sometimes the improbable happens.

WNBA recinds fines regarding protest shirts

FILE - In this Wednesday, July 13, 2016 file photo, members of the New York Liberty basketball team await the start of a game against the Atlanta Dream in New York. The WNBA is withdrawing its fines for teams and players that showed support of citizens and police involved in recent shootings by wearing black warmup shirts before and during games. WNBA President Lisa Borders said in a statement Saturday, July 23, the league was rescinding penalties given to the Indiana Fever, New York Liberty, Phoenix Mercury and their players for wearing the shirts–which was a uniform violation. The players started wearing them to show solidarity after shootings in Minnesota and Baton Rouge, La. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan, File)
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LeBron James, Kyrie Irving, and a number of Cavaliers and Brooklyn Nets players wore “I can’t breathe” T-shirts in warmups after the death of Eric Garner in New York. LeBron and his then Heat teammates wore hoodies for a photo shoot after the Travon Martin shooting. NBA players have made other protest fashion statements, with no repercussions from the league.

But when WNBA players wore black warmup shirts in support of Black Lives Matter and other anti-violence protests, the WNBA came down with fines for the Indiana Fever, New York Liberty and Phoenix Mercury ($5,000) and players involved ($500) for uniform violations. That led to a lot of backlash — including among WNBA players. Some refused to answer basketball questions with the media after recent games.

Saturday, the WNBA rescinded the fines. As they should have.

The women’s players’ union supported the move, via a statement from the director of operations Terri Jackson.

“We are pleased that the WNBA has made the decision to rescind the fines the league handed down to the players on the Fever, Liberty, and Mercury. We look forward to engaging in constructive dialogue with the league to ensure that the players’ desire to express themselves will continue to be supported.”

I want a league — for men or women — where player’s individuality and statements can be made — I don’t want the NBA to be the button-down, cookie cutter NFL. Let the players be themselves. And if players want to weigh in on the biggest social issue of our time, they should. Without fear of repercussion.

Good on the WNBA for coming around to that.

Meyers Leonard says he hopes to be ready by start of Blazers’ season

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 8: Meyers Leonard #11 of the Portland Trail Blazers takes credit for a foul call during the first half against the Cleveland Cavaliers at Quicken Loans Arena on December 8, 2015 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Meyers Leonard could be poised for a big season in Portland. His minutes jumped last season because he provided spacing. With Portland adding Evan Turner on the wing to go with Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum, any big who can stretch the floor is going to get run, and Leonard has turned himself into a stretch four.

Leonard just hopes he can show what he can do at the start of the season — he’s still recovering from shoulder surgery. Here is what he told the Associated Press.

“My hope is to be ready right around the start of the season,” he said. “It’s a progression, first introducing rebounding, grabbing stuff overhead, then one-on-one, three-on-three, extending to the full court. We’ll see. You just never know.”

Leonard had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder in April (they could have used him in the playoffs), and the timeline then was to have him back around the start of the season. Before he was shut down, he proved enough to get a four-year, $41 million contract extension with the Trail Blazers this summer.

The Trail Blazers will start Al-Farouq Aminu at the four, and Moe Harkless can certainly play there too (I’m far less sold on the future of Noah Vonleh). Leonard wants to get back before someone starts to steal any of his minutes.

Pelicans sign Jones for 1 year, Frazier for 2 years

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 21:  Terrence Jones #6 of the Houston Rockets reacts to a play as Cody Zeller #40 of the Charlotte Hornets looks on during their game at Toyota Center on December 21, 2015 in Houston, Texas. 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 Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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NEW ORLEANS (AP) The New Orleans Pelicans say they have signed free-agent forward Terrence Jones and re-signed guard Tim Frazier.

A person familiar with the negotiations says Jones, a four-year veteran, signed a one-year deal Friday for the NBA minimum of about $1.14 million, while Frazier has signed a two-year deal worth about $4.1 million. The person spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity because the Pelicans have not released contract terms.

The 6-foot-9 Jones, who was Anthony Davis‘ teammates on Kentucky’s 2012 national championship team, has spent his first four NBA seasons with Houston, posting career averages of 10.4 points and 5.8 rebounds.

Frazier played in 16 games for New Orleans late last season, averaging 13.1 points, 7.5 assists, 4.4 rebounds and 1.4 steals in 29.3 minutes per game.

Deron Williams says he is recovering well from sports hernia, will be ready to go at camp

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 01:  Deron Williams #8 of the Dallas Mavericks during the first half at American Airlines Center on March 1, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.   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 Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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Deron Williams will be back with the Dallas Mavericks next season — and be ready to go by the start of the season.

He’d like to say he’d be back for the next few seasons, but coming off a Sports Hernia injury his options were a little limited. However, his recovery is going well he told NBC Dallas in an interview from American Century Championships celebrity golf tournament in Lake Tahoe (which you can watch this weekend on NBC).

“Feeling really good. It’s healing pretty well, I’m doing a lot of work on and off the court. I haven’t got the full-go clearance yet, but that’s coming soon. I’ll be ready to go definitely by the time training camp rolls around.

“I’m running, I’m jumping a little bit. I’m just not going crazy. I kind of have to wait for August 1 for that, to go see the doc and get the go ahead. But it’s not much restriction right now.”

Williams averaged 14.1 points and 5.8 assists per game for the Mavericks last season and was solid at 32. His efficiency slipped a little (to be expected as he is on the wrong side of 30 and has plenty of miles) but he played well for Dallas.

Dallas signed him to a one-year, $10 million deal. Williams was hoping for a little more security.

“I was happy to come back. Would have liked a little longer deal but I’m back for one year and hopefully can build on last year and improve. I think there’s room for a lot of improvement. Hopefully I can stay healthy. I think that’s the biggest key but I’m excited about this year and this team.”

The one-year deal is more about Dallas than Williams — they could see a significant shift in plans when Dirk Nowitzki steps away (he inked a two-year deal but the second year is only $5 million guaranteed, so he could be in his final run if he wants).

Dallas added Harrison Barnes and Andrew Bogut from the Warriors to a starting five that also includes Nowitzki, Williams, and Wesley Matthews. If they can stay healthy — no little thing with that group — it’s a quality starting five that coach Rick Carlisle is going to love.