Author: Kurt Helin

Oklahoma City Thunder v Minnesota Timberwolves

Russell Westbrook wins jump ball from 7’1″ Alex Len (VIDEO)

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Russell Westbrook is amazing.

While he was racking up 28 points and leading Oklahoma City to a thrashing of the Phoenix Suns — a win that brought the Thunder within half a game of a playoff spot out West — he at one point tied up Suns’ center Alex Len for a jump ball. That would be 6’3″ Westbrook against 7’1″ Len.

Guess who wins.

Russell Westbrook is amazing.

Kobe Bryant says he sees reflection of himself in Andrew Wiggins

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves
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On one side you saw one of the game’s all-time greats reaching a new milestone and not letting up. Kobe Bryant is still performing, still putting up impressive numbers at age 36 (coming off two major surgeries) and in passing Michel Jordan on the all-time scoring list he is a testament to getting the most out of your natural ability through hard work and dedication to the craft.

On the other side is promise incarnate. Andrew Wiggins is the guy Minnesota needed to give up Kevin Love. At age 19 he shows incredible athleticism and with that incredible potential.

Kobe looks at Wiggins and it looks familiar, he told Serena Winters of LakersNation.com.

In terms of the promise, yes.

The question is does Wiggins have anywhere near the drive Kobe had? And still has.

Kobe walked in the door with a chip on his shoulder. As a rookie he used to challenge the veterans to games of one-on-one to try to prove his dominance. Kobe studied the game, spent countless hours in the gym, honed his body and his craft. Phil Jackson said Kobe trained harder than Michael Jordan. Kobe was relentless in trying to improve his game.

Does Andrew Wiggins have that in him?

By all accounts he is very coachable and has a good work ethic, but at times during games he can also willingly fade into the background and let others take over (something Kobe does not do, to a fault). He seems like a nice guy, but does he have the edge he needs? Is Wiggins going to put in the off-season work? He has the athleticism, no doubt, but his skill set needs a lot of work still, as does just his game understanding. He’s a bit of a project.

Kobe sees the potential. The question is can Wiggins live up to it?

PBT’s Sunday NBA Winners/Losers: Kobe Bryant reaches another milestone

Los Angeles Lakers v Minnesota Timberwolves
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Every night the NBA can be a cold hard reality — there are winners, there are losers. It’s the nature of the game. We know you are busy and can’t keep up with every game, so we’re here to bring you the best and worst of the NBA each week night. Here’s what you missed while thinking maybe Ariana Grande’s ego has gotten a little too big

source:  Kobe Bryant. Say what you will about Kobe — he remains the most divisive player in the league — passing Michael Jordan on the NBA’s all-time scoring list is a serious accomplishment. Something Kobe did Sunday night from the free throw line. It speaks to playing at a high level for an extended period of time, it speaks to a guy working hard to get the most out of his natural ability. Nobody has worked harder at their craft, nobody has gotten more out of themselves than Kobe Bean Bryant. Oh, and by the way, he scored 26 on the night to lead the Lakers to their third straight win.

source:  Sacramento Kings. They didn’t even play Sunday yet they made the list because after an 11-13 start — which most considered ahead of expectations, especially since DeMarcus Cousins missed the last nine games — they fired coach Mike Malone. This was a philosophical thing — owner Vivek Ranadivé and his trusted advisor Chris Mullin wanted a more up-tempo offense than Malone gave them. Fair enough, the owner should be able to guide the team’s direction that way. But then why hire Malone in the first place — this was a guy that helped design an offense in Cleveland to get LeBron James to play slow down ball. You hired him then are shocked he didn’t want to run more? This feels like they have a guy in mind (George Karl?) and were clearing the decks early. (Tyrone Corbin will coach the Kings the rest of the season but he may want to have that resume updated for next summer.)

source:  Golden State Warriors. They are the team with the best backcourt in the NBA but on Sunday they ran into a Pelicans team where the backcourt was out to make up for the lack of Anthony Davis in the lineup — Tyreke Evans had 34 points, eight rebounds, five assists, while Jrue Holiday had 30 points and nine assists. That was enough to push Golden State to overtime but that’s where Stephen Curry scored eight of his 34 points and the Warriors picked up their 16th straight win. Klay Thompson had 29 points also, but where the Kings really get teams is their role players doing well — Draymond Green had 11 points and 13 rebounds, Shaun Livingston had a dozen off the bench.

source:  Russell Westbrook. He had 14 points in the first quarter as the Thunder pulled away early from the Suns and blew them out — with that win the Thunder are just half a game out of the eight seed in the West. That didn’t take long. Westbrook finished with 28 points, eight rebounds and eight assists. He did it all — he even beat Suns’ center Alex Len on a jump ball.

Kings fire coach doing quality work, that always works out well

Los Angeles Clippers v Sacramento Kings
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The Sacramento Kings were off to an impressive 9-6 start to the season until their star center and best player — DeMarcus Cousins — came down with a life threatening illness (viral meningitis). They had gone 2-7 after that but done so while playing the second toughest schedule in the league to this point and are half a game out of a playoff spot. This team had taken a quality step forward from last season, both the offense and defense were playing better. You could feel a positive culture change around the team. Plus the Kings and their system had gotten more efficiency and quality play out of Rudy Gay than any previous stop in his career.

So Sunday night the Kings fired their coach, Mike Malone.

That always works well in the NBA, firing a coach doing a good job. Just go ask the Nuggets about it.

(To be fair, it seems to be working in Golden State this season. But that’s more the exception that proves the rule.)

This is on owner Vivek Ranadivé, who had hired Malone personally before even hiring GM Pete D’Alessandro when he bought the team. It was a rookie ownership move because he hired a star assistant but not one with the same basketball philosophy as himself or the GM — remember Malone (an assistant to Mike Brown at the time) was part of the group that kept a young LeBron James in a slowed down, walk-it-up offense (and won a lot of games that way). Ranadivé and his man Chris Mullin (an official advisor) wanted more showtime, which reportedly led to tension between Malone and ownership.

Ranadivé tolerated some losing last season but as CSNBayarea.com’s Bill Herenda notes Ranadivé said this season he wanted wins and lots of them.

What he really wanted was more offense. The Kings are currently right at the league average, 15th in offensive efficiency at 103.6 points per 100 possessions, playing at what is a middle of the road pace of 95.7 possessions a game (16th in the league). Again, that’s without Cousins the past nine games and after D’Alessandro traded away Isaiah Thomas in the off-season. What bothered Malone more was the Kings’ defense, which at 104.2 points allowed per 100 possessions was 18th in the league.

And Malone is right — if the Kings envisioned themselves a playoff team defense was what mattered. Well, that and getting Cousins healthy.

That said, the owner has the right to set the tone and style he wants to see from his team. If Ranadivé wants it more up-tempo, he should be able to push the team that direction. But three things need to be mentioned. First, again, why hire Malone in the first place if that’s the style you want (Ranadivé knew Malone from Golden State, where Malone had coached and Ranadivé was a minority owner)? Second, why bring Malone back this summer? There had been rumblings his job could be in jeopardy, why not make a clean break then, why in the middle of the season?

Third, and finally, this roster is not really built to run. Cousins works best in the half court, Gay isn’t young anymore, they don’t have enough ball handlers, and while I could go on you get the point. If they want to play fast it’s going to take more than a coaching change, some roster changes are needed.

Sacramento will ride out the season with former Jazz coach Tyrone Corbin in the big chair. He has a clear mandate and will play faster, but short of him getting the Kings the playoffs — something highly unlikely in the deep West, especially with Cousins still out a while — you have to think they will go coach shopping next summer. The biggest name being floated is George Karl (the quality coach fired by the Nuggets after a 57-win season), who has a big supporter in D’Alessandro from when both were in Denver. He certainly likes to pay up tempo. Two other names being mentioned as guys to watch are Mark Jackson and Vinny Del Negro. Neither of those last two are upgrades over Malone.

At least this time around Ranadivé should hire someone who is on his page philosophically.

As for whether that person is a better coach than Malone, I wouldn’t be so sure.

Dwight Howard drops 26 and 13 in return, James Harden adds triple-double Saturday

Jusuf Nurkic,Dwight Howard
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If you had any concerns about how Dwight Howard would look upon his return to the lineup after missing 11 games with a knee issue, he would like to show you his 26 points on 11 shots, including going 8-of-10 inside eight feet from the rim. Oh, and his 13 rebounds. And his three blocks. And the fact that Denver went 3-of-9 at the rim when Howard was there to contest shots.

If you had any concerns about how Donatas Motiejunas would fit in at the four and in a different role next to Howard, he’d like to show you his 13 second quarter points on his way to 25 for the game. Howard gave Motiejunas space, deferring to the guy with the hot hand (if you believe in the hot hand, that is).

If you had any concerns about how James Harden would look having to share the ball a little more, well, he’d suggest you watch this video of his triple double.

All of which is to say, Houston looked very good beating Denver Saturday night.

It’s a mistake to read too much into one December game, but the Rockets looked like a team on a 64-win pace (which in the ridiculous Western Conference is still just the three seed). And one that just got its defensive key back.