Los Angeles Lakers Bryant shoots against the Portland Trail Blazers during first quarter of their NBA basketball game in Portland,

Kobe’s 47 points lead Lakers to road win over shorthanded Blazers

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The criticism for this Lakers team, which has struggled mightily in consecutive nights against teams that have long since been out of the playoff picture, is both real and well-justified.

But regardless of the poor starts, even worse team defense, and a propensity to play down to their level of competition, the reality is that L.A. is being dragged to victory by one of the league’s best players, and that’s been pretty exciting to watch.

Kobe Bryant followed up his 23 point fourth quarter on Tuesday with a 47 point effort in Portland, which was enough to lead his team to a 113-106 victory that pushed the Lakers a full game ahead of the Utah Jazz for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference standings.

Portland has historically been a tough place for the Lakers to play, as evidenced by L.A.’s 4-17 record there since 2002 heading into this one. But with the Blazers starting four rookies alongside LaMarcus Aldridge, and with the Lakers desperately needing this game to stay in the hunt to make the postseason, the Lakers appeared to have the advantage.

It didn’t start out that way. Whether due to playing on the second night of a back-to-back or simply due to the energy brought by Portland’s young starters, the Blazers jumped on the Lakers early, and put up 41 points in the first quarter led by 17 in the period from Damian Lillard, who finished with 38 points and nine assists.

Thanks to Bryant matching Lillard’s 17 in that first frame, the Lakers trailed by just eight despite the home team’s offensive explosion. L.A. played Portland even in the second behind another 11 from Bryant, before the Lakers clamped down defensively a bit in the second half.

The Blazers shot just 28.6 percent from the field over the game’s final two periods, while the Lakers knocked down 61.3 percent of their looks over that span. Bryant was an efficient 5-10 from the field in the second half for 19 points, and Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol combined to shoot 10-13 from the field during that stretch, with the Lakers getting the ball to Gasol down the stretch for 11 fourth quarter points.

The struggles from the Lakers on consecutive nights to put away lottery teams when every win for them is so crucial doesn’t bode well for the team’s chances, should it eventually sneak into the postseason. But while it hasn’t been pretty, the wins have come nonetheless, and have come thanks to staggering performances from Bryant when his team has needed him most.

L.A.controls its own destiny in terms of making the playoffs now, with just three games remaining in the regular season. All three are at home, but they’re all against playoff teams — Golden State, San Antonio, and Houston round out the Lakers’ schedule.

The Lakers will worry about facing San Antonio or Oklahoma City in a seven game series if and when the time comes. Until then, they’ll take these wins any way they come, even if it’s required ridiculous efforts from Bryant on consecutive nights against sub-par opponents to make them happen.

It seems as though Bryant simply won’t let the Lakers miss the playoffs, regardless of what the ultimate outcome might be once his team actually gets there.

Sit back and watch the top 10 dunks from the first five weeks of NBA season

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Who doesn’t love a good dunk compilation?

Well, somebody probably just said “bah, humbug” but is that the person you really want to hang out with?

The fine folks at NBA.com put together the Top 10 dunks of October and November, and when Rudy Gobert dunking over Kristaps Porzingis is all the way down at 10, you know it’s a good list. Put off starting your Christmas shopping, at least for another 2:44, and watch the video.

Want to watch Chance the Rapper throw dodgeballs at mascots? Here you go.

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 12:  Chance The Rapper performs on Camp Stage during day one of Tyler, the Creator's 5th Annual Camp Flog Gnaw Carnival at Exposition Park on November 12, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Want to watch Chance the Rapper throw dodgeballs at mascots? Of course you do. How is that even a question?

Above you can see just that from Chicago Friday night (where Dwyane Wade, Jimmy Butler and the Bulls knocked off the Cavaliers). Benny the Bull is on his side as well, while the Cubs’ mascot and others try and stay out of the way.

I’ll take this over another kids’ dribbling contest any day.

LaMarcus Aldridge, Manu Ginobili hustling saves lead to Spurs bucket (VIDEO)

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That’s about the most Spurs play ever.

During the third quarter of San Antonio’s win over Washington Friday night, LaMarcus Aldridge saved the ball from going out-of-bounds on the baseline, he threw it out high to Manu Ginobili, who had to leap and save it from going into the backcourt. Two hustle plays. From there the Spurs whipped the ball around the perimeter, and it ended up back to Aldridge on the baseline, where he nailed the 12-foot jumper.

Eventually, the Spurs would get a Kawhi Leonard jumper to give them the victory.

LeBron on Cavs’ three-game losing streak: “We got to get out of the honeymoon stage”

Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James wipes his face as he looks down after guard Kyrie Irving missed a shot during the second half of the team's NBA basketball game against the Chicago Bulls on Friday, Dec. 2, 2016, in Chicago. The Bulls won 111-105. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)
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For a team that is 13-5 and atop the Eastern Conference standings, the Cleveland Cavaliers haven’t been their intimidating selves consistently this season. There have been flashes during a 13-2 start, but mostly they win on talent, or when they flip the switch for a half, but they haven’t looked like a tested team working on building good habits through the first quarter of the NBA season. They have an elite offense, but their defense is surrendering 105.1 points per 100 possessions, 20th in the league.

It’s been worse the last four games. The Cavaliers had to come from behind to beat the Sixers, then got blown out by the Bucks and Clippers. Friday night, Cleveland lost to Chicago, giving the Cavs a three-game losing streak, and LeBron James had enough. He sent a message to his team through the media (from the Associated Press):

“We got to get out of the honeymoon stage,” James said. “You got to play the game, the right way. We’ve got to battle every night like we ain’t won nothing. Last year is last year. After ring night is over with, now it’s a new season and everybody is gunning for us every night and we have to understand that. The honeymoon stage is over. It’s time to play some real ball and be physical, especially in the trenches. Giving up 78 points (in the paint) is ridiculous. We’ve got to man up. Everybody.”

The Cavaliers would be far from the first team to have a championship hangover, and considering the five-decade title drought in Cleveland before that win we should have expected one of those “I can’t get off the couch, I’m just going to lay here and watch golf all day” kind of hangovers. As Gregg Popovich has said before, its human nature to let up after a big win.

However, the blowout loss at the hands of the Clippers Thursday — the only title contending team the Cavs have faced this season — should be a wake-up call. The fact is the Cavaliers are still playing well enough to beat everyone in the East, but their real tests come in the form of the Warriors/Clippers/Spurs out West. Right now it’s hard to picture the inconsistent defense of the Cavaliers lifting them past any of those teams in four out of seven games.

LeBron has been to six-straight Finals for a reason — he does not let up. And he’s going to have to shake this team out of its malaise to get them back to an elite standing.

It’s also the first week of December. It’s we’re having this same conversation the last week of March about the Cavaliers then it’s okay to start looking for the panic button in Cleveland. For now, trust LeBron to be the leader this team needs. Calling them out was just step one.