Author: Kurt Helin

Phoenix Suns v Los Angeles Lakers

Kobe could set record for most missed shots in NBA history tonight

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Unlucky 13.

When Kobe Bryant misses 13 more shots — which could happen Tuesday night against a strong Memphis defense — he will pass Celtics’ legend John Havlicek’s NBA record of 13,417 missed shots. (For the record, Kobe has done it in 19 fewer games.) Nobody in NBA history will have had more shots clank off the rim.

The fact that within a week he will own that record one way or another speaks to everything Kobe. The good and the bad intermingled and inseparable. And the fact that you know he doesn’t care about that number.

You don’t get this kind of record without having a long career in which coaches and a franchise want the ball in your hands — and that doesn’t happen if you’re not elite. Everybody near the top of this list is in the Hall of Fame (Kobe will be). Kobe will go down as one of the greatest Lakers of all time, one of the game’s great players of all time. For most of his 19 seasons the Lakers have trusted Kobe to take any shot he thought he could make — and Kobe’s supreme confidence means he thought he could make some high difficulty shots.

And he did. His aggressive style and fearlessness — combined with fundamentally sound footwork and form honed over countless hours in the gym — have made him a must-watch player. He filled Staples Center and won titles not because he could just take those shots but make them.

But that confidence doesn’t always lead to the best shot choices, which leads to misses. So far this young season Kobe has taken 35.2 percent of his shots as long twos (16 feet out to the arc) and while he’s hit an impressive 46 percent of those, that is still a lot of misses. There’s a reason it’s the shot the advanced stats crowd wants teams to avoid, but Kobe goes there. This is not a new trend, for his career, Kobe has taken 28.2 percent of his shots as long twos, a higher percentage than anywhere else on the court.

This record is a bit of a Rorschach test — what you think of Kobe missing that many shots really speaks to what you think of Kobe more than the record itself. If you think Kobe is an inefficient ball hog this confirms your suspicions. If you believe Kobe is a great player who was usually always the best scoring option on any team he was on, this record is just the waste byproduct of his drive and willingness to take on the offensive load.

As always with Kobe, the answers are not simple, and not located on either extreme. This record will just be part of a complex and fascinating legacy for Bryant.

Popovich says Spurs play in Finals best they can do, just wants to return to that level

Gregg Popovich, Tony Parker
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LOS ANGELES — For Gregg Popovich, the goal is clear.

“We’ll never play better than we did the last three games against Miami (in the NBA Finals) Won’t happen,” Popovich said Monday night before his team beat the Clippers. “We can’t play any better than that at both ends of the floor. If we got to that level I would be thrilled.”

Clear. But it’s not that simple.

From the start of training camp Popovich talked about the long road to get back to that level of play that won San Antonio an NBA title. Sure, the Spurs brought back the entire team who played that beautiful, selfless brand of basketball, but you don’t just walk back in the gym and pick up where you left off. Basketball doesn’t work that way. This is not a video game.

“It’s hard because players change even though you have your same team. That’s what I found,” said Clippers coach Doc Rivers when asked about repeating as champs, which he tried to do with the Celtics after 2008. “I did a lot of research going into (2008-09 season), talked to a lot of NFL coaches, baseball… I thought Michael Jordan told me the most, the best. He said ‘You’re going to be shocked how different your same players are. It’s going to take half the year to get them back into their roles and all that.’ Because they have high character guys in San Antonio it’s probably easier, but it’s still hard.”

Human nature after a great success is to relax, to rest on your laurels and savor the spoils of winning. Popovich knew from the start that was the challenge for this season — the year before a hard Finals loss lit a fire under the team. That fire is not there this season. Not yet, anyway.

“I don’t let (guys coming back without hunger) worry me because I know it’s true,” Popovich said. “Some guys might even be enjoying the championship today. And I think that’s totally reasonable and totally logical because they are human beings. To try to fight that is a waste of time, it will take care of itself as we move along.”

It hasn’t taken care of itself yet.

The Spurs entered Monday night with a bottom five offense in the league, one that saw a lot more of guys trying to beat opponents off the dribble and in isolation than with the crisp passing that carved up Miami (and everyone else) last playoffs. In addition the Spurs are battling injuries — Kawhi Leonard missed time with an eye infection that isn’t yet totally healed (although the Clippers might beg to differ) and Tiago Splitter being out with a calf injury really weakens their interior defense (Blake Griffin scored at the rim all night Monday night without much challenge). They simply have not looked like themselves.

Asked about any of this, Popovich almost fell into coach-speak and talked process. Don’t skip steps.

And the Spurs players to a man echoed that.

“Our goal is to get back to how we were playing in that Miami series,” said Matt Bonner, who started for the Spurs Monday night in Los Angeles with Splitter out. “We know what we’re capable of, and tonight was another day to work toward achieving that goal… It’s a long process. It’s a process of training camp and preseason and 82 regular season games and practices in between that, it’s journey and we’re at the very beginning of it.”

But the Spurs took some steps forward Monday night.

Popovich looked past his team’s 5-of-22 shooting in the first quarter, the 2-of-19 shooting from three for the game, the 9-of-36 shooting (25 percent) on uncontested looks to see a team that did the right things to get those looks in the first place. Popovich called the win over the Clippers clearly the best game the Spurs had played so far this young season.

“We didn’t turn it over…” Popovich said. “We took care of the ball better, our pick-and-roll defense was really good, and although we didn’t make shots in the first half the ball moved really well. We were just more consistent tonight than we have been.”

Then in the final 5:30 of a close game where San Antonio was down 7, they started to look like the Spurs.

Leonard got put on Chris Paul and made his life difficult, including stripping him clean on a key possession late. Players moving off the ball and some crisp passing got Manu Ginobili and Boris Diaw good looks within eight feet that they both knocked down on key possessions. The Spurs forced turnovers with smart play. The Spurs found the best level of execution we had seen from them all season, which was more than the Clippers could match. San Antonio went on a 12-0 run then held on for a quality win on the road.

To a man the Spurs saw it as a step. One that was still filled with all kinds of sloppy, un-Spurs like play. Still, it was a step.

“It was the best win (they had this season),” Tim Duncan said. “I don’t know if it’s the best game we played so far. It was a grind. Tony (Parker) didn’t play well. I didn’t play well. Kawhi really carried us for a while there.”

It was a step, one they couldn’t skip.

They also know they are at mile three of the marathon right now and there are a lot of steps ahead of them.

Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love have celebratory handshake with… interesting ending

Cleveland Cavaliers Media Day
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That ending is not what you think it is, at least according to the Cavaliers.

Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love broke out this handshake after the two of them put up big numbers — Irving had 32 points, Love 22 — in Cleveland’s win over New Orleans Monday. It’s pretty complex, but it’s the ending that catches your eye. That looks like…

What they are doing is sharpening the end of an imaginary mustache, according to a Cavaliers spokesman. Okay. I’ll go along with that. Why not?

Hat tip Brad Botkin of CBS’ EyeonBasketball.

PBT’s Monday night NBA Winners/Losers: Cleveland’s big three found their groove

LeBron James, Kevin Love
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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 reading the oral history of Sports Night….

source:  LeBron James and the Cavaliers big three. That was the big three everyone should fear in the second half against the Pelicans. In that second half the big three scored 61 of the Cavs 67 points — Kyrie Irving had 27, LeBron James had 22 (plus five boards and five assists), and Kevin Love had a dozen. For the game LeBron had a triple double with 32 points, 12 boards and 10 assists.By the way, the Pelicans played pretty well and had 55 points in the second half, but they couldn’t get the stops against the Cavaliers offense.

source:  Derrick Rose. Welcome back. After missing a couple games with an ankle sprain he played 32 minutes and scored 24 points while dishing out seven assists (plus three hockey assists) and looking good all night long. He was getting to the rim, in transition and the half court, with 50 percent of his shot attempts coming within eight feet of the rim. The Bulls offense has been surprisingly sharp all season (this game it was actually a little less efficient than the season average) but what really came around was the Bulls pressure on the opposing defense with Rose in the game. Also back for the night was the Bulls defense (it was pedestrian so far this young season, especially when the bench was in, but you knew that would come around).

source:  Andre Drummund. Sure, technically the Pistons big man’s name is Andre Drummond, but that’s not how the Pistons spelled it on his jersey Monday night.

source:  Kawhi Leonard. We knew he was a defensive beast, we saw him against LeBron James in the NBA Finals, but it was a sight to behold again on Monday might — he stripped Jamal Crawford and Chris Paul in the same game, two of the better ball handling guards in the league. Oh, and the Spurs used him to exploit Crawford’s “defense” to the tune of 26 points for Leonard (Gregg Popovich said after the game it was the most plays he’d ever called for Leonard in his career, but on a night San Antonio was just ice cold from the field (they were 9-of-36 on uncontested shots) it was Leonard who gutted out a win for the Spurs against the Clippers.

Clippers had chances early, Spurs executed late to pick up quality win on the road

Kawhi Leonard
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LOS ANGELES — Monday was the first night of a road back-to-back for the Spurs and everyone knows what that means for Gregg Popovich — he’ll shut his stars down and conserve the fuel for the next night if he feels the game is getting out of hand.

The Clippers had their chances to make that a reality — San Antonio shot 5-of-22 in the first quarter and with Tiago Splitter out (at least another week with a calf injury) the Clippers were getting shots inside, primarily Blake Griffin who went to the rim hard all night.

San Antonio was 9-of-36 on uncontested shots. (Oddly, they shot 51.1 percent on the shots the Clippers contested.)

Yet the Clippers never pulled away. It was a six point game after one quarter, and while the lead got up to 10 at one point by the half it was just 42-39 Clippers. The Spurs just hung around and hung around.

Then they looked like champions starting with just 5:30 left in the game — the Spurs went on a 12-0 run to take the lead, Kawhi Leonard was a defensive beast on Chris Paul, and San Antonio made enough plays to pick up an 89-85 win.

“To me those are the best games,” said Matt Bonner, who started for the Spurs with Splitter out but didn’t help their three-point shooting, San Antonio was 2-of-19 from deep for the game. “I don’t want to say it’s ever easy to win, but it’s a lot easier to win when you’ve got 13, 14, 15 threes in a game. When you’re not making shots you have to find other ways, and tonight it was defense and just making gritty plays, especially down the stretch.”

“It’s tough,” Paul said after the game. “They basically gave us a clinic down the stretch on how to close out a game. The fought part about it was the turnovers. That was very uncharacteristic of us turning the ball over like we did, and they converted.”

Specifically, Kawhi Leonard had a big game. The Clippers have struggled to defend good wings all season and Leonard had 26 points (tying a career high) on 10-of-18 shooting. The Spurs aren’t usually a team that calls many specific plays, but with other guys being cold from the floor (Tony Parker 3-of-13, Bonner 2-of-10, Duncan 6-of-14) the Spurs leaned on Leonard, knowing Jamal Crawford can’t defend him.

“We ran more plans for (Leonard) tonight than I ever have in his career,” Popovich said. “That’s the plan. We’ve got to start giving him the ball. He’s the future. I don’t think Tim (Duncan) and Manu (Ginobili) are going to play any more than six or seven more years.”

That’s Popovich humor. He could afford to laugh. He thought his team played their best game of the season. They moved the ball and he thought their pick-and-roll defense was more consistent and the best they had played this season. They did everything, save for make shots.

That left the door open and the Clippers had a chance with 10 seconds left and down two. Paul drove and got a fairly clean look at a little four-foot runner.

“I missed,” Paul said. “It was a great play. I told Coach I wanted the ball, he drew it up, but I missed.”

Both of these teams have looked sloppy to start the season. With the Spurs, it has just looked like a championship hangover that we all just kind of overlook because we have seen them raise their level as the season has worn on for so many years.

With the Clippers, the questions — particularly about their defense — are a little more pressing. The Spurs get the benefit of the doubt because of their history, the Clippers do not and they have not seemed to build on what they had last year. At least not yet.

And they know this was a night to catch the Spurs on a bad shooting night, and they blew it. This was a rough loss for Los Angeles.