Dan Feldman

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Kobe Bryant: Final game had to be ‘epic one or the worst one ever’

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The last day of the regular season is like the last day of school. A few people might still have final exams, but others are already finished and ready for the summer. There’s a loose, anything-goes vibe that surrounds a tenseness for a few.

In this context, one of the most extraordinary performances happened last year.

Kobe Bryant, in the final game of his career, scored 60 points on 50 shots in a Lakers win over the Jazz.

 

Kobe, via Baxter Holmes of ESPN:

“I wasn’t thinking, ‘I’m going to rest up and come out here and have this monster game.'”

The plan, as much as there was one, was to delight some fans while avoiding any more serious injuries. “Give them a couple plays, take them down memory lane a little bit,” Bryant tells ESPN. And that would be that.

“After the first couple minutes, I was like, ‘Oh, s—,'” Bryant says. “It became apparent really, really quickly that this night was not going to go down with me just playing OK. It was either going to have to be an epic one or the worst one ever, because they were just going to keep throwing me the damn ball and the crowd wanted me to shoot every time — almost to the point where I felt bad for my teammates, because if they took a shot, the crowd was ready to boo. So it was like, ‘Oh, s—. I gotta go.'”

Most great players end their careers with a whimper. They set the bar so high in their prime, and by the time they’re ready to retire, they can’t meet the massively high expectations. And careers end with a single game. There’s only one crack at a finale.

But Kobe — who played 20 years; won five championships; won MVP, Finals MVP twice and All-Star MVP four times; made 15 All-NBA teams and 18 All-Star teams — somehow found a way to amaze us once again.

Did the game’s outcome matter? No. Was Utah trying its hardest? No. Was he efficient? No.

But we’ll still remember that game forever, and that’s what makes it incredible. Kobe figured out what was asked of him that night, and he delivered.

Texas center Jarrett Allen declares for NBA draft

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Who will be the first center chosen in the 2017 NBA draft?

The three favorites have firmly entered the race.

Gonzaga’s Zach Collins and Creighton’s Justin Patton already declared, and now Texas’ Jarrett Allen follows.

Texas release:

University of Texas freshman forward Jarrett Allen has decided to hire an agent and remain in the 2017 NBA Draft, the school announced Tuesday.

As strong as this draft is, center is the weakest position. Allen will likely go in the middle of the first round.

Allen has an impressive physical profile: 6-foot-11 with a 7-foot-5.5 wingspan and solid mobility. He finishes well at the rim and can even step a bit away and still convert shots.

But Allen’s length covers for a lack of physicality. He blocks shots and snatches rebounds without too much banging. That won’t fly in the NBA.

Though he has hops, it takes him a while to get off the ground. While he’s still loading up to jump, pro players will score by him on one end or get positioned to defend him on the other.

These are far from fatal flaws, but if even his strengths won’t cleanly translate, Allen — whose held back by an unrefined offensive game — is a fairly big project. Team should draft him accordingly.

Hawks sitting at least 4 starters against Pacers, who are vying for playoffs

AP Photo/Todd Kirkland
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Atlanta Hawks plan to rest at least four starters in Wednesday night’s season finale as the Indiana Pacers try to clinch a playoff spot.

A win would give Indiana the No. 7 or 8 seed in the Eastern Conference. A loss would open the door for the Bulls and Heat to claim the final two postseason seeds and send the Pacers to the lottery.

Kent Bazemore, Paul Millsap and Dwight Howard are injured for the Hawks, who are already locked into the No. 5 seed. Bazemore has a bruised right knee, Millsap has inflammation in his left knee and Howard has back tightness.

Tim Hardaway Jr. and Dennis Schroder are getting an extra day of rest before the playoffs start.

Thabo Sefolosha is listed as probable with a strained right groin.

Those six players have combined for 355 starts. Nobody else on the roster has started more than 11 games this season.

Gonzaga’s Zach Collins becomes unlikely one-and-done, declares for NBA draft

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Zach Collins held a modest recruiting ranking that suggested he’d spend multiple seasons in college. He played one season — in the West Coast Conference. He never even started a game.

Yet…

Gonzaga release:

Freshman center Zach Collins has declared for the NBA Draft, he announced Tuesday. He is exploring his options without hiring an agent at this time, but intends to hire an agent at a later date.

Collins is one of the biggest surprises for the upcoming draft — not that he declared, but that it’s so obvious he should. He’s got a solid chance of going in the lottery and shouldn’t slip past the middle of the fist round.

The 7-footer looks like a nearly complete center. He has nice touch near the basket and a solid stroke from mid-range and occasionally beyond the arc. Not always billed as the greatest athlete, Collins played like one, moving well to block shots and still get into rebounding position.

The catch: Collins isn’t that strong and sometimes got pushed around at Gonzaga. He has never played more than 23 minutes in a game, so even more fatigued foes outmuscled him.

The learning curve for the NBA could be steep. Bt it seemed Collins would take longer to adjust to college basketball, and he thrived immediately.

2017 PBT Awards: All-Rookie Teams

AP Photo/Morry Gash
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Kurt Helin

First team

Malcolm Brogdon
Jamal Murray
Dario Saric
Willy Hernangomez
Joel Embiid

Second team

Yogi Ferrell
Buddy Hield
Jaylen Brown
Caris LeVert
Marquese Chriss

This is a tepid rookie class, and after a few obvious choices it felt like a dozen or more guys could have gotten the final five or six spots. There was not a lot of separation. Also, guys like Skal Labissiere and Ivica Zubac could end up being some of the better players in this class, but they didn’t get enough of a shot this season to make this team.

Note: Helin has an official ballot this year.

Dan Feldman

First team

  • Joel Embiid, 76ers
  • Malcolm Brogdon, Bucks
  • Dario Saric, 76ers
  • Willy Hernangomez, Knicks
  • Rodney McGruder, Heat

Second team

    • Yogi Ferrell, Mavericks
    • Jaylen Brown, Celtics
    • Jamal Murray, Nuggets
    • Marquese Chriss, Suns
    • Buddy Hield, Kings

The final first-team spot came down to Rodney McGruder and Yogi Ferrell. The final second-team spot came down to Buddy Hield and Caris LeVert. The other spots fell in line easily enough.

Yes, this was an uninspiring rookie class.

Dane Carbaugh

First team

  • Malcolm Brogdon, Bucks
  • Dario Saric, 76ers
  • Jamal Murray, Nuggets
  • Marquese Chriss, Suns
  • Joel Embiid, 76ers

Second team

  • Willy Hernangomez, Knicks
  • Buddy Hield, Kings
  • Yogi Ferrell, Mavericks
  • Jaylen Brown, Celtics
  • Skal Labissiere, Kings