Kurt Helin

USA Men's Practice

Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski heaps praise on Kobe Bryant

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Coach Mike Krzyzewski has a special bond with Kobe Bryant.

These are two men who bring something special to the basketball court, and part of that is a fighting spirit. They were friends before, but that bond grew during the Olympics when for a few years (particularly in Beijing in 2008) it was Kobe’s team, and guys such as LeBron James and Dwyane Wade learned about the dedication needed to win from him.

The Duke head coach was on Time Warner Sportsnet in Los Angeles Friday (that’s the Lakers’ high paying cable channel) and heaped praise upon Kobe. Ryan Ward of the Lakers Nation saw it and passed along the highlights.

Krzyzewski also believes this will not be Kobe’s last season, that if Kobe is healthy he will continue playing. That is certainly possible, although there are few superstars who have ever been better prepared for life after basketball than Kobe. When he leaves, he will leave, there will be no Jordan with the Wizards moment.

What Coach K talks about is something I have mentioned before and will say a lot this season — about Kobe, about Tim Duncan, about Kevin Garnett — we need to savor watching these guys. A great generation of players, some of the best of all time and groundbreakers, are about to hang up their high tops. (Yes, I know Kobe wears low tops now.) Watching what Kobe, Duncan and KG do is special, and if you’re a fan of the game soak it up now while you still can, because soon it will be gone.

Jonas Valanciunas slams on Serbia (VIDEO)

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If you’re a fan of beautiful basketball, Lithuania’s big EuroBasket win over Serbia Friday is not something you’re going to save on the DVR.

But there were a few quality highlights, and this sweet bounce pass to Jonas Valanciunas for the slam was one of them. That’s Mantas Kalnietis with the pass and he kind of summed up this game for Lithuania — he had nine assists and eight turnovers. He vacillated between brilliance and disaster all game long.

But he had one more assist than turnover, and that was good enough to send Lithuania to the EuroBasket finals and the 2016 Rio Olympics.

 

Perkins compares Anthony Davis to Garnett, Durant

USA Basketball Men's National Team Training Camp
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Kendrick Perkins has played the last few NBA seasons around some legends. He was the muscle inside on the 2008 Boston Celtics title team with Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen. Then he was the (frankly overused by Scott Brooks) muscle inside for the Oklahoma City Thunder, with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook.

Now he’s a reserve center for the New Orleans Pelicans. He’s been down in the Big Easy eating some gumbo and working out (probably more of the latter), and he’s gotten to hang out with the Pelicans’ young superstar Anthony Davis. Over at the Pelicans’ official Web site they ask Perkins who Davis compares to.

“I’ve only been around him a couple days, but as far as his personality and his game, you look at his body and the way he plays, he’s got a lot of Kevin Garnett in him,” Perkins compared of the versatile power forwards. “And his personality outside of basketball, he’s got a lot of Kevin Durant in him.”

High praise. But it’s earned. Davis is already a top five player in the NBA, on his way to being the best of his generation.

The KG comparison has been made many times before — an athletic 7-footer who defends ferociously, can run the floor, step out and nail jumpers, and knows how to finish in the paint. They’re not identical by any means — starting with Davis having more of the Durant quiet assassin personality, rather than wearing everything on his sleeve — but you can see the similarities.

As for KD off the court — he’s one of the hardest workers and better leaders in the league. Davis should take that one as a compliment.

It will be interesting to see how big a leap forward Davis will make this season — and how far that and a new coach in Alvin Gentry can take them.

Byron Scott regrets heavy Kobe minutes, plans fewer

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers
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Old school Byron Scott thought he was coaching old-school Kobe Bryant last season. He didn’t listen to the man himself, and ran Kobe into the ground. By Jan. 23 Kobe was done for the season.

This season — maybe be Kobe’s last — Scott is going to back off. Fewer minutes, no back-to-backs, and most importantly he told Bill Oram of the Orange County Register this year he’s going to listen to Kobe. He regrets what happened last season.

I felt bad about it. I don’t know if I would say guilty. I know Kobe’s a competitor and he’s going to play as many minutes as you want him to play. I’m also a competitor, so I want to win and I know having him on the court gives me the best opportunity to win. But I also know that I’ve got to think about him more than anything. And I thought there were points in time last year where I thought he could play a certain amount of minutes. He told me Day One the minutes that he thought he could play in and like I told him at the end of the day, ‘You were absolutely right and I was wrong.’ I won’t make that mistake again….

I think the biggest decision is playing time, trying to make that as limited as possible and also back-to-back games. That’s something we have to talk about. Other than that, there really is no other decision to make. He wants to play, and he wants to go out the way he wants to go out — if this is indeed his final year. He and I have talked a number of times on the phone, we’ve talked about playing time, we’ve talked about back-to-back, we’re going to probably sit down as we get closer to training camp or as we get in training camp and even talk more about it. Because the one thing I want, if this is his last year, I want him to go out standing. I don’t want him to go out hurt. I want to make sure I do everything in my power to make sure we stick to the game plan, as far as his minutes and as far as back-to-back games.

I believe Scott will stick to his guns this season. Look for Kobe to play in the mid-20s a night and not play in one night of back-to-backs.

Lakers fans’ shouldn’t spend this season counting wins — the team is not good enough to make the playoffs in the West, but is too good to hold on to a pick only top three protected (without a lot of lottery help). Lakers fans should instead focus on two things:

1) The development of D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle. If the Lakers are going to climb back to the top of the NBA in a few years, those guys will be at the heart of it (one way or another). Whether the Lakers made the right pick with Russell and whether the organization — and Byron Scott in particular — can develop players are the big questions that start to be answered.

2) Savor Kobe the player. Guys like him come around once in a generation. He’s one of the greatest wing players ever in the game, a guy with unbelievable drive and crafted fundamentals. Savor it, he is going away soon. Watch him, enjoy his smart plays, revel is the passion, remember the good times. So many franchises, so many fan bases never get a Kobe, enjoy this one while you still can. No matter how many minutes Scott plays him.

Lithuania outlasts Serbia, headed to Rio Olympics

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It wasn’t pretty. The winning team shot 14.3 percent from three. The team that shot 32.8 percent overall only lost by three. The referees allowed a wrestling match in the paint (then called some random fouls, because it’s FIBA). It was a defensive slugfest that saw 43 free throws in 40 minutes of play.

But it was entertaining.

Lithuania will take it. All game long they would make runs and gain a little separation only to see previously unbeaten Serbia charge back. It happened again late in the fourth quarter when Lithuania got a little room to breathe only to have Serbia’s Milos Teodosic hit a leaning three to make it a one-point game with 14 seconds to go. Serbia had their chance, however after an ugly Bogdan Bogdanovic turnover Lithuania held on to win, 67-64. With the victory, Lithuania advances to the EuroBasket Finals to face Spain.

More importantly, Lithuania earns an automatic berth in the 2016 Rio Olympics. Serbia will need to go through next summer’s qualifying tournaments to get in the Brazilian dance (although they will be a favorite to do so).

Lithuania was led by Raptor big man Jonas Valanciunas, who had 15 points and four blocked shots. Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Renaldas Seibutis each had 13, but the guy whose line told the story of this game was Mantas Kalnietis: 12 points nine assists, eight turnovers. Kalnietis was alternately making plays or doing something sloppy that kept Serbia in it.

We saw that in the first half. Lithuania had led by as many as 11 in the second quarter and was controlling play with their physical defense, but a few missed shots and turnovers sparked a Serbian run in the final couple minutes of the half, and it was a one-point game at the break.

In the third quarter, Serbia tried to so smaller and at first it didn’t work, and again it looked like Lithuania might pull away. But Lithuania was ice-cold from three (and they missed a lot of good looks), and by the time there was just four minutes left in the third the tide had turned and Serbia had taken the lead. Then things swung again by the end of the third it was Lithuania up by 5.

And so it went. Back and forth, right down to the end. After the Teodosic three to make it a one-point game with 14 seconds left, Serbia fouled but Lithuania only hit one of the two free throws — it was a two-point game. Rather than set up a play or give the ball to the hot hand of Teodosic, Bogdanovic got the ball, drove before the defense could set and put up a wild shot trying to draw the foul. He failed. Lithuania got the rebound and it was all but over.

Teodosic had 16 points to lead Serbia. He has been rumored to want to jump to the NBA before, but he wanted to get paid to do it. Incoming Timberwolves rookie Nemanja Bjelica added 10 (and looked like a guy with potential but who needs to sharpen his body and skills to impact the NBA).