NBA All-Star Bryant of the Lakers and All-Star Anthony of the Knicks laugh during the NBA All-Star basketball game in Houston

The Extra Pass: Kobe’s thoughts on Carmelo Anthony to L.A. speculation, plus Sunday’s recaps

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by Brett Pollakoff

NEW YORK — When Carmelo Anthony scored a jaw-dropping 62 points in a win over the Bobcats on Friday, he didn’t just set a Knicks franchise record.

He took something that belonged to Kobe Bryant.

The Madison Square Garden arena record, since the building opened its fourth incarnation in 1968, was set by Bryant when he scored 61 points against the Knicks in a sizzling performance back on Feb. 2 of 2009.

Bryant seemed supportive of Anthony’s accomplishment when speaking with the media before Sunday’s game between his Lakers and Carmelo’s Knicks, and tried to explain to us common folk exactly what it feels like to be in that type of zone.

“The pace of the game, everything just slows down for you,” Bryant said. “When I’ve had those games, it’s just such a serene feeling. It just feels like everything else around you doesn’t matter. It’s not important. The most important thing is what’s going on at that moment in time, so it’s just a level of focus that’s astronomical.”

Anthony is one of the game’s elite scorers as far as Bryant is concerned, and someone he’d undoubtedly like to play alongside in Los Angeles while finishing out the final years of his Hall of Fame career. The conjecture surrounding Anthony’s future in New York intensifies with the team mired in so much more losing than was expected, but then again, performances like the one we saw a couple of days ago just wouldn’t feel as special if they happened anywhere else.

While Anthony can opt out of the final year of his contract this summer to become an unrestricted free agent, the smart money remains on him staying in New York, for a variety of continually-discussed reasons. Bryant wouldn’t speculate on Anthony’s future, of course, but could understand if Carmelo chose to play on the West Coast for at least one fairly important reason.

“Everyone wants to play in L.A.,” Bryant said. “I mean, New York’s a beautiful place, don’t get me wrong. But it’s colder than sh– out here.”

All jokes aside, Bryant can understand why Anthony may consider his options when he gets his turn at free agency. Being labeled solely as a scorer can be frustrating, especially when there’s not a lot of winning to accompany those on-court accomplishments.

“It’s tough for players, because a lot of times you’re really subject to the culture around you, in terms of the players and the talent that’s around you,” Bryant said. “You’ve seen it with players from the past, whether it’s Dominique Wilkins or Bernard King. It can contribute to a lot of frustration.

“That’s one of the reasons why I was so frustrated with this organization back in 2006 and 2007, because I didn’t want to be known as a scorer,” Bryant continued. “I wanted to make sure I had a team around me that could contend for a championship. This is a team sport. A lot of times you have to work with what you have around you, and you have to be lucky in the sense of having an organization that can put a great team around you to be successful.”

Is it possible to shake that label?

“I’ve won five championships and there are some of you that still say that,” Bryant said. “So you’ve just got to take it and toll with it. The important thing is winning a championship. That’s the only way to shake it. That’s the only way [Michael Jordan] shook it. That’s the only way any top scorer will be able to shake it.”

If Anthony does choose to leave New York, it’ll be a bit of an embarrassment, at least initially. He very publicly, remember, forced his way out of Denver specifically to play in the nation’s largest market as the leading star of the Knicks franchise. Anthony will be forced to deal with a whole host of commentary pointing out that “he couldn’t win in New York” if in fact he goes, but Bryant doesn’t seem to think that should factor at all into Anthony’s decision.

“I mean, that’s a familiar story with LeBron James, and he seemed to turn out OK,” Bryant said.

Bigger picture, Kobe understands as well as anyone what it’s like to want to win more than anything, but not have the talent around you that’s necessary to get that accomplished.

“From a psychological perspective, as a player, you don’t want to get too frustrated about things that you can’t control,” he said. “So you have to find that balance. At the same time, it’s important for the organization to understand the level of competitiveness that you have — that you won’t tolerate having a team that’s not in contention for an NBA championship, which is what I did.

“It rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but sometimes you’ve got to kick down a few doors and piss some people off, and trust that it’ll pay off in the long run. If you’re willing to do that, more times than not, you’ll be OK.”

Bryant’s blueprint seems to be the most likely course of action for Anthony at this stage of things, and one that he wouldn’t mind seeing his friend follow when his decision in free agency needs to be made.

As for Bryant’s praise of his friend’s 62-point performance that shattered his own Madison Square Garden record, well — let’s just say he was a little less convincing.

“No, I mean it’s great,” Bryant said. “If I was a competitor, I would say that Melo has more opportunities to set a Garden record than I did. But I’m not a competitor, so I won’t say that.”

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Heat 113, Spurs 101: Miami’s been coasting for a couple weeks now, but the Spurs coming to town for Finals rematch snapped them out of it — Chris Bosh had 24 and the Heat looked like contenders again. The Spurs looked shorthanded and not quite the same as last season. We broke it all down in more detail here.

Knicks 110, Lakers 103: Carmelo Anthony was shooting well again but Sunday he got a little help against a weak Lakers’ team that got some good performances (Jodie Meeks for one) but in the end it was a pull-up jumper and a nifty layup by Anthony that helped give the Knicks the win. You can read more about it here.

Pelicans 100, Magic 92: With Nikola Vucevic out Orlando has nobody who can begin to match up with Anthony Davis and he made them pay — 22 points, a career-high 19 rebounds, and seven blocked shots. The Pelicans took control of this game late in the first quarter and it was going to be a runaway but thanks to Arron Afflalo’s 25 and some feisty Magic play it was a game again the fourth quarter. Then Tyreke Evans went of for 13 in the fourth quarter to help keep the Magic at bay.

Suns 99, Cavaliers 90: Cleveland owned the first half of this game — Kyrie Irving was dishing assists, Jarrett Jack came in off the bench and had 8 points, Luol Deng had 10 in the second quarter and it was 61-43 at the half. Cleveland was in control. Then in the third quarter Channing Frye drained a couple threes and suddenly Phoenix was on a 20-4 run and it was a ballgame. Markieff Morris had 10 of his 27 in the fourth quarter (he had 15 assists as well) and the Suns pulled away for a win that is a punch to the gut of the Cavs.

Nets 85, Celtics 79: The Celtics fans were incredibly classy and they got to see some vintage Kevin Garnett — the steal then drive and dunk to seal the game. Mostly though Nets fans should be thanking their bench — that was the group (led by Deron Williams) that made the second quarter run that put Brooklyn on top, then it was Andrei Kirilenko and D-Will who helped close out the game. Along with KG.

Mavericks 116, Pistons 106: This game was fairly close for three quarters, but the Pistons just play terribly in the fourth quarter — Dallas opened the fourth on a 10-0 run and they never looked back. Brandon Jennings put up 26 for Detroit but got torched on the other end by Jose Calderon who shot 7-of-8 against him. Dirk Nowitzki had 28 for Dallas because he is very good at basketball.

Warriors 103, Trail Blazers 88: Portland, with the best offense in the NBA, shot just 33.7 percent in this one. Borderline MVP candidate LaMarcus Aldridge shot 2-of-14 when guarded by David Lee. It wasn’t Portland’s night. For a game that should have been a shootout neither team was knocking it down but the Warriors found their groove behind Stephen Curry, who had 38 points on 23 shots and the Warriors pulled away in the third to get the win. A win they can chalk up to their defense (although Portland missed shots they normally make).

Nuggets 125, Kings 117: Credit the Kings for putting up a good fight in a game where they were without Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins, but in the fourth quarter Denver was just too much. Wilson Chandler had 7 of his 20 in the fourth quarter while Ty Lawson led Denver with 27.

John Stockton working with Bucks point guards at training camp

SACRAMENTO, CA - APRIL 30:  John Stockton #12 of the Utah Jazz dribbles in Game five of the Western Conference Quarterfinals against the Sacramento Kings during the 2003 NBA Playoffs at Arco Arena on April 30, 2003 in Sacramento, California.  The Kings won 111-91.  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: Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
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The Bucks are coached by one of the greatest point guards in NBA history, Jason Kidd. But Kidd invited another legend of the position to camp to work with his point guards. John Stockton, the NBA’s all-time leader in assists and steals, was at Bucks practice on Thursday working with Michael Carter-Williams, Matthew Dellavedova and Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Not a bad person to learn from, especially since the Bucks have one of the weakest point-guard positions in the league.

Blake Griffin says he’s working on improving his three-point shot

LOS ANGELES, CA - DECEMBER 21:  Blake Griffin #32 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots a jumper over Serge Ibaka #9 of the Oklahoma City Thunder during a 100-99 loss to the Thunder at Staples Center on December 21, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.  NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and condition of the Getty Images License Agreement.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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2016-17 is going to be a big year for Blake Griffin. He missed much of last season with a quad injury and a broken hand stemming from a punching incident, and he has the ability to opt out of his contract next summer. When Griffin was healthy, he was his usual All-Star self for the Clippers, but he played just 35 games. He’s healthy now, at the start of training camp, and he says he wants to improve his three-point shot.

From Dan Woike of the Orange County Register:

“I want to be someone who shoots from there confidently, for sure,” Griffin said after Thursday’s practice at UC Irvine’s Bren Events Center. “A lot of us power forwards, our strength is inside or our versatility. You look at the best power forwards, Anthony Davis, LaMarcus (Aldridge), Draymond (Green) … they can all shoot but they can all put the ball on the floor and they can all score inside. I don’t necessarily think falling in love with the 3-point shot is a good idea, but shooting it confidently from there is great.”

Not only has Griffin not hit his threes in his career (his overall mark from beyond the arc is an awful 27.1 percent) but he doesn’t take very many of them. The most threes he’s ever shot in a season is 44 in 2013-14, and he hit 12 of them. Griffin is only 27, so he’s theoretically not done improving as a player, but it’s hard to imagine a dramatic jump this far along when that hasn’t been a part of his game at all to this point.

 

Steve Kerr endorses shorter preseason to limit back-to-backs

OAKLAND, CA - JUNE 19:  Steve Kerr of the Golden State Warriors speaks to members of the media after being defeated by the Cleveland Cavaliers in Game 7 of the 2016 NBA Finals at ORACLE Arena on June 19, 2016 in Oakland, California. 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 Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images)
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There are too many preseason games. The NBA has its reasons for playing them — namely, to allow for games in non-NBA markets — and sometimes they can be valuable for teams to experiment with rotations. But most teams play seven or eight preseason games, which is unnecessary. Warriors coach Steve Kerr agrees, according to the San Francisco Chronicle‘s Connor Letourneau:

“I kind of like the idea that’s been tossed around the last couple summers to start the regular season a little earlier, maybe a week early,” Kerr said Thursday afternoon after Warriors practice. “Play five exhibition games instead of eight. I kind of like that, just so you have fewer back-to-backs in the regular season.”

The NBA has floated the idea in the past of cutting the number of preseason games in order to stretch out the regular season, thereby lessening the burden of travel and back-to-backs. The NBA has made an effort this season to cut down on back-to-backs, and this would be a logical way to do that.

Hornets’ Batum won’t let big contract affect how he plays

MIAMI, FL - APRIL 20: Nicolas Batum #5 of the Charlotte Hornets drives on Joe Johnson #2 of the Miami Heat  during game two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals of the 2016 NBA Playoffs at American Airlines Arena on April 20, 2016 in Miami, Florida. 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 Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Nicolas Batum said he isn’t planning to alter how he plays the game after signing a five-year, $120 million contract with the Charlotte Hornets.

And that’s just fine with coach Steve Clifford.

Clifford said Batum doesn’t need to put additional pressure on himself to score just because he’s now the highest-paid player in Hornets history. He told him to play how he plays.

“You don’t change the nature of how you play. I think guys get messed up with that,” Clifford said. “… I don’t think you try to reinvent yourself because the money changed. We gave him the money because he played so well. In my opinion he was an All-Star-caliber player last season when healthy.”

Batum was acquired in a trade with Portland before last season and turned out to be a gem for Charlotte, which won 48 games and tied for the third-best record in the Eastern Conference. Batum averaged a career-high 14.9 points and 5.6 assists while becoming one of the team’s top three go-to options.

Batum said he’s learned from experience that it’s not worth putting pressure on himself just because he signed a big contract.

He did in that 2012 after inking a four-year, $46 million deal to remain with the Portland Trail Blazers. While he still played well, he said it was pointless.

“I was a young guy at the time and I didn’t know what to expect,” Batum said. “Now I know. I know what I have to go through right now. I know what the views of the media and the public will be. I know that, and I’m good with it.”

For Batum, pressure no longer enters the equation because the Hornets trust him and believe in him.

“It’s more relief than pressure,” Batum said.

The Hornets made re-signing him their No. 1 priority, offering the Frenchman a huge deal about an hour into the free-agency signing period. Batum also received several offers from other teams shortly after the deadline, which he called flattering.

The 6-foot-8, 200-pound Batum enters the season as Charlotte’s best all-around player and a favorite among teammates.

“Guys are so much more comfortable when he’s out there on the floor because he makes it so much easier at both ends,” forward Marvin Williams said.

Williams said there’s a naturalness to Batum’s game, and he’s incredibly unselfish – he’s always looking for the better shot option.

“He likes to make the assist, and he likes to get everyone involved,” Williams said. “I think that is why so many people like playing with him. It’s why I love playing with him.”

And why Clifford views him as irreplaceable.

When Batum went down in the second half of last season with an ankle injury, the Hornets struggled to find their rhythm.

“He’s not a numbers guy to me,” Clifford said. “People can say, `Well, he’s making this or he’s making that (much money),’ but if he plays at the level he played at last year when he was healthy, we have a chance to be a really good team.”

The Hornets continue to work on 5-on-5 scrimmages extensively during practice as Clifford gets a feel for his team.

But there were several key players missing on Thursday.

Point guard Kemba Walker (knee) and center Cody Zeller (knee) remained out of practice while rehabbing from injuries. Guard Jeremy Lamb did not practice after stepping on a basketball and twisting his ankle, while Brian Roberts was held out after injuring his hamstring when he slipped on some water on the court. Clifford said he hopes to have Lamb and Roberts back in a few days.