Kurt Helin

Kobe, DeMarcus Cousins, other NBA stars reflect on Martin Luther King Jr.

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As it does every Martin Luther King Jr. day, the NBA is celebrating with a full slate of broadcast games running through the day, beginning with the Sixers at the Knicks at 1 ET and highlighted by the Golden State Warriors at the Cleveland Cavaliers.

It’s all meant as a tribute to Dr. King. To that end, the NBA put together this video of NBA stars — Kobe Bryant, DeMarcus Cousins, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony, and others — reflecting on King, his life and his legacy. We pass it along as a good way to start the holiday.

Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Kobe Bryant passes Jerry West in assists

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kobe Bryant gestures after hitting a three point shot during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Houston Rockets, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
Associated Press
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I know, it didn’t feel like a Sunday for a lot of you because you have Monday off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day — which has a full slate of NBA games itself. But the NBA kept rolling along Sunday, here is what you should know from that slate of games.

1) Kobe Bryant passes Jerry West to be second on Lakers’ assist list. At this point, it’s just a season of milestones for Kobe and the Lakers. Some good, some bad (like the team being on pace for its worst finish ever). One of the good ones came up Sunday night in what was otherwise another forgettable Laker loss (this time to the Rockets) — Kobe passed the logo Jerry West to move into second place in assists in Lakers’ franchise history (6,244 to 6,238). Bryant has long been proud of his passing and thought it an underrated part of his game. It was — when he was dishing. Bryant could be a gifted passer, when willing (he often seemed in scoring mode or facilitating mode, but those were not always blended in the same stretch). However, teammates had to earn his trust to get those dimes. Otherwise, Kobe would just shoot. He had enough trust over the years to rack up a lot of assists.

2) Will Barton making plays in Denver. When you talk about guys up for the Most Improved Player this season, the list starts with Portland’s C.J. McCollum, but Denver’s Will Barton has to make the list. Denver upset the Pacers Sunday night in a what apparently was a tribute to the Doug Moe era Nuggets, 129-126. Barton had 21 points and was making plays — like a 360 layup.

Or just beating the shot clock.

3) Thunder keep rolling along.  On the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have a net differential of +9.2 (points per 100 possessions over opponents), and in their last 10 games that is +9.5. They are clearly one of the Top 5 teams in the NBA (however you wish to rank them) and that train just kept on rolling on Sunday with a 99-74 win against a quality Miami team. The real hero of the game for OKC was Serge Ibaka, who completely outplayed Chris Bosh, scored 19 points, and created matchup nightmares for the Heat when the Thunder went small. However, as always, the Thunder’s success starts with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Durant had 24 points and 10 boards, while Westbrook had a triple-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 15 assists. When the Thunder’s big three are clicking, they can beat anyone.

4) Spurs win 11th in a row, knocking off Mavericks with relative ease. When the Spurs offense is clicking as it has recently — like it did against Dallas on Sunday — there’s no stopping the Spurs. After the past couple seasons of them being a Tony Parker-led motion offense, we tend to think of San Antonio as a system team. And they are to a degree. But with the emergence of Kawhi Leonard and others, they have athleticism, too. Plus now with LaMarcus Aldridge they have a guy they can just throw the ball to half-a-dozen times a game, isolate him, say “go to work” and he’ll get them a bucket. They can beat you a variety of ways and the Mavericks Sunday had answers for none of them, which is why San Antonio won 112-83.

Plus we had Boban Marjanovic not only throwing it down on Jeremy Evans, but then staring him down.

5) James Harden gets 31 against the Lakers. While we mentioned at the top of this list Kobe reaching another milestone, the game itself was not as interesting. Los Angeles put up 57 first-half points and still trailed by three because they couldn’t get a stop and the Rockets’ offense was knocking down everything. Then behind a 10-point quarter from James Harden, the Rockets pulled away and went on to an easy win. Harden finished with 31 points on the night and he didn’t even play the fourth quarter.

Harden scores 31 as Rockets rout Lakers 112-95

Houston Rockets guard James Harden, second from right, goes up for a shot as Los Angeles Lakers center Roy Hibbert, right, and guard D'Angelo Russell, second from right, defend while forward Kobe Bryant, left, watches during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Sunday, Jan. 17, 2016, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — James Harden scored 31 points and the Houston Rockets pulled away from the Los Angeles Lakers with a pivotal run in the third quarter en route to a 112-95 victory Sunday night.

The Rockets, who snapped a season-high five-game winning streak Friday night with a 91-77 home loss to Cleveland, began the second half of their schedule by beating the Lakers at Staples Center for the sixth straight time.

Dwight Howard had 14 points and 15 rebounds to earn his ninth straight double-double, his longest such streak since a 14-game run three seasons ago. He is averaging 18.9 points and 13.4 boards during this stretch.

Lou Williams led Los Angeles with 20 points. Kobe Bryant, trying to play through a sore right Achilles, had just five points in 24 minutes and tied a season high with nine assists before sitting out the fourth quarter.

Spurs’ Boban Marjanovic dunks on Jeremy Evans, stares him down (VIDEO)

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Boban Marjanovic may be NBA twitter’s new favorite player. Because he’s 7’3″ and just massive as a person. Because he’s named Boban. And because he’s got a little fire in his game.

You could see that when he dunked on Dallas’ Jeremy Evans on Sunday. Then Boban stared him down. Which earned him a taunting technical.

I’m not sure exactly how good Marjanovic will turn out to be, but this feels like it’s going to be another Spurs find who turns out to be a valuable contributor.

Russell Westbrook with triple-double, Kevin Durant scores 24 in Thunder win

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This game was close into the third quarter, when a frustrated Kevin Durant seemed to push the Oklahoma City Thunder on a 13-2 run, and OKC went on to manhandle the Heat, winning 99-74.

Westbrook was solid all game — 13 points, 10 rebounds, 15 assists in 34 minutes — and Durant ended the night with 24 points.

Durant said he thinks the Thunder are contenders that should be mentioned in the same breath with the Spurs and Warriors. They haven’t earned that yet in my mind, but they are clearly one of the NBA’s top five teams and when they get rolling even good teams like Miami cannot hang.