Bryant passes against Claver and Pavlovic during NBA basketball game in Portland, Oregon

Kobe fantastic in win over Blazers, but teammates still stress team play

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How Kobe Bryant functions within the structure of the Lakers’ offense will always be a hot-button topic. Even when the Lakers win the game.

Last night Kobe was brilliant in the Lakers’ win over the Trailblazers, a win that kept the team in control of their own destiny to the playoffs. His 47 point, 8 rebound, 5 assist (with only a single turnover), 3 steal, 4 block performance was one for the ages, impressing fans and teammates alike.

However, in the wake of his tremendous night, there is still the question of whether that type of performance is best for the team in the long term. Yes, it led to a very important win and that can’t be lost in this discussion. But, if the Lakers are to really be a threat in the playoffs (should they make it), they can’t rely on super human efforts from Kobe. They must play a more balanced game and get more players going.

After the victory over the Blazers, a couple of Kobe’s teammates spoke to this point. From Dave McMenamin at ESPN Los Angeles’ Laker Index:

“It’s bittersweet,” Pau Gasol said when asked about Bryant’s dominating performance against the Blazers, in which he played all 48 minutes in a non-overtime road game for the first time in his career. “Because, I think it’s spectacular and it’s very impressive and it’s remarkable to be able to play 48 minutes and score 47 points. That’s incredible. On the other hand, I’m a player that likes to see a little bit more ball movement and better balance. I’ve always been [like that]. That’s just how I perceive this game.

“But again, he was incredible tonight. He scored a tremendous amount of points that I never scored in my life. So, like I said, it was very impressive and it’s not something that you do every night, of course.”

Over the years Pau Gasol has not been shy about speaking up about wanting the Lakers to play more team ball. As a long time teammate of Kobe’s and, more importantly, a major contributor to the Lakers’ last two championship teams, Pau has the stature and experience to say these things and to have them taken seriously. Gasol understands what it takes  to win a championship playing with Kobe and knows that it will take team play to get there. Sure, Kobe can — and likely will be — the focal point of the offensive attack. But more balance is needed.

Metta World Peace has also played with Kobe for several years and was also in the trenches with him in claiming a Larry O’Brien trophy. And he too speaks to the need for more contributions from Lakers not named Kobe, but comes at it from the perspective of those players seizing the opportunity rather than waiting for Kobe to give it to them:

 “The five guys that are on that floor? We go to work. We’re not watching. We don’t take pictures. That’s what you guys [in the media] are for, you take pictures. We’re not taking pictures out there. We can’t even bring a camera on the floor if we had a chance.”

Against the Blazers, the Lakers did get some very good contributions from other players. Gasol had a fantastic night both as a scorer and a facilitator. Dwight Howard was great as a finisher, making the most of his scoring chances and taking advantage of some great dishes from his teammates. All in all, those three scored 90 of the Lakers’ 113 points and did so in a very efficient manner.

But, in the big picture, the team won’t just need great nights from Kobe, Gasol, and Howard. They’ll need the entire team to contribute offensively (and defensively) if they’re to make any noise in the playoffs.

It’s good to be reminded of that even after a win.

LeBron James says he doesn’t see Cavaliers-Warriors as rivalry

CLEVELAND, OH - DECEMBER 25: LeBron James #23 of the Cleveland Cavaliers passes while under pressure from Stephen Curry #30 of the Golden State Warriors during the first half at Quicken Loans Arena on December 25, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. 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. Mandatory copyright notice. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Tyronn Lue said Cavaliers-Warriors could eventually match Celtics-Lakers as a rivalry.

First, if you ask LeBron James, Cleveland-Golden State would have to become a rivalry at all.

LeBron, via Joe Vardon Cleveland.com:

“We don’t look at it as a rival,” James said. “They’re a great team. They’ve been the best team the last couple years, last three years.”

“It’s just the next game, it’s Golden State,” James said. “They’re a helluva team, like I said the best team in the league and they’ve been that way the last three years, four years, however long it’s been, I’m not quite sure. But, listen, you guys know, we don’t put all our eggs in one basket for one game.”

Of course, Cavaliers-Warriors is a rivalry. These teams have met in the last two NBA Finals, played each other with relentless intensity, talked plenty of trash and remained elite.

LeBron just doesn’t want the Cavs to become comfortable. They’ve beat Golden State in four straight games – the last three of the 2016 Finals and on Christmas – and could extend the streak to five today. Beating a rival that frequently is a cause for celebration, and celebration leads to contentment. LeBron would rather keep Cleveland focused and hungry. Hence, saying the Warriors aren’t a rival.

Andre Drummond hits 3-pointer from inside Pistons’ own 3-point arc (video)

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Andre Drummond is really good at these deep heaves.

His 3-point percentage (44%) is even better than his free-throw percentage (38%) the last two years, though that says too much about his work from the line.

Drummond wasn’t the only Pistons player converting to end quarters. Ish Smith and Tobias Harris also stepped up in the Pistons’ 102-97 win over the Lakers:

NBA: Suns got away with offensive foul before key points in win over Spurs

Phoenix Suns Devin Booker acknowledges a foul as San Antonio Spurs Tony Parker lies crumpled on the floor, in the second half of their regular-season NBA basketball game in Mexico City, Saturday, Jan. 14, 2017. (AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell)
AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell
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Devin Booker scored 39 points in the Suns’ 108-105 win over the Spurs on Saturday in Mexico City.

But Booker’s last four – which put Phoenix up for good – came directly after incorrect calls, according to the NBA’s Last Two Minute Report.

First, Booker drew a (legitimate) foul on Pau Gasol with 1:08 left and made both free throws. The problem: One second before that, Suns center Tyson Chandler should have been called for offensively fouling Tony Parker, according to the league:

Chandler (PHX) sets the screen on Parker (SAS) and makes leg to leg contact that affects his ability to defend the play.

That would’ve ended Phoenix’s possession rather than allowing Booker to get to the line.

The other missed call in the two-minute report is trickier, because it directly benefitted the Spurs but indirectly benefitted the Suns.

Manu Ginobili got away with travelling with 59.1 seconds left, according to  the league:

Ginobili (SAS) moves his pivot foot.

But he coughed up the ball moments later anyway, and – thrilled to gain possession with a live-ball turnover rather than a dead-ball turnover – Booker turned the miscue into a fastbreak dunk.

Rather than debate how to evaluate San Antonio getting away with a travel and it ultimately helping Phoenix more, let’s stick to just the uncalled Chandler offensive foul. That netted the Suns two points. Their lead when the Spurs began intentionally fouling? One.

Russell Westbrook puts up 20th triple-double of season, lifts Thunder past Kings (VIDEO)

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Through 41 games — half the season — Russell Westbrook is averaging 30.8 points, 10.7 rebounds, and 10.5 assists a game. Those numbers are insane, particularly considering his 42 percent usage rate. He has to put up numbers and do so fairly efficiently or the Thunder stand no chance of winning — and he has the Thunder on pace for 48 wins this season.

The Thunder picked up another of those wins Sunday night knocking off the Sacramento Kings behind Westbrook’s 20th triple-double in 41 games — 36 points, 11 rebounds, and 10 assists. The video highlights are above.

It’s going to be fun watching him and James Harden go back-and-forth in the MVP race for the next few months.