Blake Griffin, Roy Hibbert

Baseline-to-Baseline recaps: Pacers look good, Clippers…. meh

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Welcome to PBT’s roundup of yesterday’s NBA games. Or, what you missed while wondering why UFO reports are down….

Pacers 109, Clippers 106:After the Clippers loss over the weekend coach Vinny Del Negro ripped the team for hits energy. He could have said the same thing after this one. Roy Hibbert showed up ready to play, with 15 first quarter points (he finished with 26). The Pacers got the lead all the way up to 24, then the Clippers came storming back in the fourth thanks to their bench (12 points by Jamal Crawford in the fourth led the way, he had 25 on the night). But in the end the comeback fell short because the Pacers went 8-of-8 from the free throw line. Paul George finished with 23 points and 10 assists.

For the Pacers, this is what they hope to see in the playoffs — plenty of points and an active Roy Hibbert (although that wasn’t their usually stout defense). For the Clippers it was another game of what they fear in the playoffs — bad defense and a non-existent DeAndre Jordan. The good news for the Clippers is they are still a win away from clinching the Pacific and the four seed, and they have 19 days before the playoffs start to figure the rest of it out.

Grizzlies 92, Spurs 90: Mike Conley scored the final five points: a 3-pointer with 30 seconds left and a layup with 0.6 seconds left. Before those baskets, part of Conley’s 11 fourth-quarter points, Memphis hadn’t led since 18-16 as the Spurs used 25 points from Tony Parker to temporarily take control.

The Grizzlies have matched a franchise record with 50 wins, and they’ll need even more to fend off the Nuggets and/or Clippers for homecourt advantage in the first round.
—Dan Feldman

Timberwolves 110, Celtics 100: Without Kevin Garnett in the lineup we know the Celtics will struggle on defense, but for this one they also were without Paul Pierce (personal reasons). And of course Rajon Rondo. But no KG was still the big issue because without him Nikola Pekovic had 15 points in the first quarter on his way to 29 as he owned the paint in this one. Andrei Kirilenko added 17 points and nine rebounds. Boston has lost seven of nine and is limping toward the playoffs.

Jazz 112, Trail Blazers 102: Utah opened the game and led the entire way behind 24 points from Al Jefferson, who traditionally seems to play well against Portland and had it easier with LaMarcus Aldridge out. Credit Portland for knocking down threes to make runs and keep it close, but Mo Williams had six threes of his own and answered a lot of those runs. Portland shot 58 percent for the game but the Jazz were getting the higher percentage looks in the lane all night.

The Jazz keep on winning and that puts a lot of pressure on the Lakers and Mavericks (who face off Tuesday).

Bucks 131, Bobcats 102: As the Celtics continue to stumble the Bucks can still have dreams of the seven seed (and avoiding Miami in the first round of the playoffs). They are now just 1.5 games back of Boston after this win (and the Celtics loss). The game was close until a 15-5 run late in the second quarter gave the Bucks some separation. Then they blew it open in the third then ran away and hit in the fourth. The Bucks got 24 points from Larry Sanders, 19 from Monta Ellis and did what they wanted on offense and that was enough. The Bucks defense wasn’t good, however, as the lowly Bobcats shot 50.7 percent on the night.

Rockets 111, Magic 103: James Harden missed another game with a sore foot, Chandler Parsons missed a game because food poisioning is an ugly thing. But Omer Asik had 22 points on 13 rebounds, plus 18 rebounds to spark the win, Jeremy Lin added 19 points and 11 assists. Houston led this one from start to finish, opening with a 17-4 run and leading by as many as 25. PBT favorite Tobias Harris helped lead a fourth quarter run to make it close for a while (Harris finished with 18 points), but this was the Rockets game.

Pistons 108, Raptors 98: In his return to Toronto, Jose Calderon (19 points, nine assists, one turnover) played the usual masterful game that endeared him Raptors fans. He received two standing ovations and even tried to show his appreciation by re-joining the Raptors at halftime. Calderon helped offset a strangely satisfying night from Rudy Gay. Gay scored 34 points, but he took fewer shots (18) and had more assists (5) than he did in any of his previous games with so many points.
—Dan Feldman

Hawks 102, Cavaliers 94: Devin Harris scored a season-high 25 points to go with seven assists and three steals and Josh Smith had 18 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists for Atlanta, which led since early in the first quarter and by as many as 15. Both teams can be satisfied with the result. The Hawks are now within a game of the No. 4 seed Nets for homecourt advantage in the first round, and the Cavaliers have lost nine straight in their bid for a better draft pick.
—Dan Feldman

Byron Scott: Kobe Bryant “at peace” with decision to retire after season

Kobe Bryant
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LOS ANGELES — Kobe Bryant was never going to go quietly into that good night. He would rage, rage against the dying of the light — and torn Achilles, knee ligaments, shoulders, and everything else holding him back.

But now, the end is near, and Kobe will face the final curtain at the end of this season. And he is at peace with it, if you ask his coach.

“It was so matter of fact, and he was so at peace with (the decision),” Lakers’ coach Byron Scott said of when Kobe told him this season would be it. “After I thought about it, I felt better about that. It wasn’t like he was agonizing over it or anything, it was like ‘I’m announcing I’m retiring’ and just kind of went on from there.”

Bryant told Scott before anyone else in the Lakers’ organization, and told him sometime Saturday (when the Lakers played and lost in Portland).

“I said, ‘what?’ He just told me at a very awkward time; we started laughing about it,” Scott said. “He said ‘you looked like you were saying ‘what they hell are you talking about’ but it just caught me off guard.”

It’s been an ugly season for Kobe, his body can no longer do what he expects of it — he can’t get the separation, the lift needed for his shoots. He was shooting 31.1 percent on the season going into Sunday’s game against Indiana, and he started 1-of-11 from the floor Sunday night. Yet he kept gunning.

“I gave up hoping he would change his approach 15, 18 years ago,” Lakers GM Mitch Kupchak said. “He is what he is. And I’m thankful for it.”

Kupchak added hoped this decision would ease the pressure on Bryant.

“I would hope that he has more fun, and appears less frustrated, and also gets more appreciation,” Kupchak said. “He’ll get it at home, but on the road too, because people will have to recognize this is his last year and they are watching one of the all-time greats.”

Kobe got plenty of appreciation from Lakers’ fans on Sunday night with a massive ovation when he was introduced. Kobe had wanted to avoid a Derek Jeter style farewell tour, but with that announcement and the Lakers playing 13-of-17 on the road in December you can bet there will be some of that.

“One of the best ever to play the game,” Pacers coach Frank Vogel said pregame. “I don’t know if there’s any one moment, just throughout the course of his career you didn’t want him to have the ball in his hands with the game on the line, period. Because you knew he was going to beat you.”

No doubt Kobe goes down as one of the game’s all-time greats — five-time NBA champion, MVP, two Finals MVP’s, 17 All-Star Games, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg — but what Scott ultimately wants is Bryant to leave the game on his terms.

“What I want from Kobe is basically his last game to be able to walk off the court, wave to the fans, and be able to go into the locker room standing up,” Scott said.


Here is Kobe Bryant’s letter given to every fan at Lakers’ game Sunday

Los Angeles Lakers v Portland Trail Blazers

LOS ANGELES — In a classy move — and one done in a very Kobe Bryant tone — every fan coming into Staples Center Sunday night to see the Lakers take on the Pacers received a letter from No. 24.

Inside a sealed black envelope, on quality, embossed paper, was this letter from Bryant (photo below):

When we first met I was just a kid.

Some of you took me in. Some of you didn’t.

But all of you helped e become the player and man in front of you today.

You gave me confidence to put my anger to good use.

Your doubt gave me determination to prove you wrong.

You witnessed my fears morph into strength.

Your rejection taught me courage.

Whether you view me as a hero or a villain, please know I poured every emotion, every bit of passion and my entire self into being a Laker.

What you’ve done for me is far greater than anything I’ve done for you.

I knew that each minute of each game I wore purple and gold.

I honor it as I play today and for the rest of this season.

My love for this city, this team and for each of you will never fade.

Thank you for this incredible journey.

It speaks to Kobe’s mindset over the years that he talked about the fuel from the rejection of Lakers’ fans motivating him. As a Los Angeles native (and former Laker blogger), let me tell you there was precious little rejection of Kobe from this fan base. There were questions and doubters early on, but even when Shaquille O’Neal was seen as the driving force of the team Kobe was beloved in Los Angeles. Something that continued through his trial in Colorado — Lakers fans have almost always had his back.

But Kobe finds fuel everywhere. Which is why he is a future Hall of Famer.


Jahlil Okafor tweets apology for recent off-court behavior

Jahlil Okafor

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


LOS ANGELES — It has seemed like this has been coming 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. All that surrounded him was talk of his play and speculation about the future he didn’t want.

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.

Ad we’ll all be watching for those flashes of vintage Bryant we have hoped to see more of this season.