Paul George, Kobe Bryant

Kobe plays with injured ankle, finishes scoreless as Lakers beat Pacers


Kobe Bryant surprised many by appearing in the Lakers starting lineup in Indiana on Friday, but the ankle injury he suffered on Wednesday in Atlanta proved to be too limiting for him to do any damage against the Pacers.

Bryant played the entire first quarter, but went 0-4 from the field and asked out of the game after playing its first 12 minutes. He did not return and finished scoreless for the first time since 2004, but the Lakers got scoring from five others who finished in double figures as they beat the Pacers 99-93.

Dwight Howard led L.A. in scoring with 20 points, to go along with 12 rebounds, four assists, and four blocked shots. But the real offensive heroes in this one were Steve Blake, Antawn Jamison, and Metta World Peace, all of whom scored more than expected, and did so while shooting a high percentage.

The Lakers won this one on the strength of their three-point shooting, which has always been a big part of the team’s offense throughout the season, at least in terms of attempts. L.A. ranks third in the league in that category, but is just a middle of the pack squad in terms of the percentage of those shots it gets to go down.

Against the Pacers, the Lakers used dribble penetration from Steve Nash to set up shooters on the perimeter, or post-ups from Howard to do the same as the defense attempted to double.

Given the numbers, Indiana’s defensive plan wasn’t a bad one; the Lakers simply made a higher percentage of long range shots on this night than they have consistently all season. Jamison and Blake combined to shoot 9-14 from beyond the arc, World Peace made two of four, and the Lakers as a team knocked down 13 of 26 from three-point distance.

On the Pacers side, both David West and Roy Hibbert were brutal, combining to go just 7-25 from the field, while finishing with just eight and seven points, respectively. Paul George struggled to score consistently as well, and a huge 31-9 run by the Lakers that lasted from about two and a half minutes to go in the first until there were under three minutes remaining in the half put the Pacers in a tough spot the rest of the way.

It was clear watching Bryant play that the ankle was simply too limiting for him to be able to contribute. None of his four shot attempts were close, and his movement on the perimeter was extremely limited, to the point where he was hurting his team more than he was helping it.

Credit Bryant for mustering the will to play at all with an injury that severe, and credit him even more for knowing after 12 minutes that he was completely ineffective, to the point where he decided to take himself out.

This was a good opportunity for the Lakers to beat a quality team on the road, but on paper, they were supposed to beat the Hawks and they were supposed to lose to the Pacers. Ultimately, the two games ended with L.A. getting the one win that was expected, but the bounce-back effort on a night where Bryant literally provided nothing offensively was impressive nonetheless.

Celtics president Danny Ainge on Brad Stevens: ‘He’s a keeper’

Brad Stevens

Celtics coach Brad Stevens has never finished a season with a winning record. He’s over .500 this year only because Boston came back to beat the lowly 76ers. He has never won a playoff game.

But Stevens – who signed a six-year, $22 million contract in 2013 – has plenty of job security.

Celtics president Danny Ainge, in a Q&A with Chris Forsberg of ESPN:

You’ve joked about it before, but are you ready to give him another six-year contract yet?

Ainge: [Laughs] Yeah.

You have to start thinking about that. Sure, we’re only in Year 3, but you can’t risk letting a good coach get away.

Ainge: No, listen, he’s a keeper. He’s great. He’s great to work with. Like I said, I think he’s going to be — if he stays in this game long enough — he’s going to be one of the great coaches.

I tend to agree with Ainge’s assessment. Stevens has looked like an excellent coach so far – implementing a sound defense, creating space on offense and communicating clearly with his players.

But Stevens has benefited tremendously from low expectations, arriving in Boston after Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen retired. Expectations sunk even lower when the Celtics traded Rajon Rondo last season.

That’s when Stevens appeared to do his best work, guiding a starless team to a 24-12 finish.

Expectations will keep rising, though. Some expected the Celtics to break out this year, but they’re just 8-7. Stevens faces the difficult task of managing a rotation full of pretty good – but no great – players. This might be his hardest NBA assignment yet.

Stevens has done plenty to earn praise from his boss. But to actually get a contract extension, he’ll have to keep meeting higher and higher expectations.

I believe Stevens is up to the challenge, but I’m not completely certain of it. He wouldn’t be the first coach to impress early in his tenure and then fizzle. Just look at how many Coach of the Year winners lost their jobs a short time later.

Again, I think Stevens will meet any reasonable expectations he faces. He just must actually do it to get a longer deal.

League executives, players wince watching this Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant

Over the last few days, we’ve written in more detail about Kobe Bryant‘s shooting troubles. He’s jacking up threes his fastest pace ever, he can’t create space to get off clean shots, he’s hitting 31.1 percent overall and 19.5 percent from three. There are flashes of vintage Kobe, but they are fleeting (and mostly because poor shot choices are falling). Byron Scott is still in Kobe’s corner, saying they just need to get the veteran better looks.

However, talk to people around the league about Kobe and you hear some variation of the phrase “hard to watch.” After 20 seasons, more than 55,000 minutes on the court, and coming off two major injuries, Kobe clearly is not the same player everyone admired for so long.

Over at the Los Angeles Times Mike Bresnahan and Broderick Turner got a number of sources to wince about Kobe for a story — except nobody wanted their name attached to attacking a legend of the game.

“Man, I don’t want to see Kobe go out like this, looking this bad and not able to do what he once could do,” said a retired guard who faced Bryant. “He doesn’t have anything else to prove to anybody. He was one of the greatest. I know he’s owed that $25 million, but he should just walk away now. He ain’t got it anymore.”

“He’s one of the few players in NBA history to have gotten everything possible out of his body. Now his body has nothing left to give,” (an Eastern Conference executive) said. “But that’s life in the NBA, in professional sports. At some point, the body just can’t do it anymore and Kobe’s body can’t do it anymore.”

One West scout said Bryant looked “disinterested” at times. A current player in the West went a step further.

“Yeah, I’ve seen him play and it’s disgusting,” he said. “He’s one of the best of all time. But he really hasn’t played that much in the last two or three years. He’s got nothing left. It’s sad to watch because he used to be so great, and I mean great.”

Kobe is not going to walk away mid-season, and nobody wants an injury to force him out of the game.

But it’s hard to see how anything is going to dramatically change. Kobe may shoot a little better than his current but it’s not likely going to change in a meaningful way. Which will just make things hard to watch for a full season.

Spurs to give Tim Duncan, Manu Ginobili Friday night off in Denver

Manu Ginobili, Harrison Barnes, Tim Duncan
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The Spurs are 12-3 and comfortably in second place in the West, they have the best defense in the NBA allowing just 93.8 points per 100 possessions, and they have a top-10 offense to go with it.

So, time to start making sure guys are rested.

That is the first night of a back-to-back, with former Spurs’ assistant coach Mike Budenholzer and his Atlanta Hawks coming to San Antonio on Saturday. Popovich is saving his two veterans for that game.

Duncan and Ginobili have looked like they found the fountain of youth this season. Duncan is taking on less of the offense but has been very efficient in those moments. Ginobili has the impact he did a few years back in his bench role.

What Gregg Popovich cares about is them playing like that come the postseason. So they will rest on Friday.

Brandon Armstrong impersonates Ray Allen (video)

2014 NBA Finals - Game Five
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Ray Allen is retired-ish, but he’ll always be running through screens – in our mind and in this video.