Older Kobe needs more rest

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nba_bryant2_250.jpgWhat makes Kobe Bryant legendary is not the skill but the will.

Certainly, he’s gifted athletically. But a number of players come into the NBA with gifts, and most use a fraction of what God gave them and have a nice career. Not Kobe, he outworks everybody — he’s the first in the gym, he watches more game tape than some coaches, he works on his game hard in the off-season. Winning matters. Being the best matters. Nothing gets in the way.

He also in tremendous condition. He takes care of his body like no other. But at age 31, with plenty of miles on his legs, Kobe needs more rest than he is willing to allow himself. Sometimes, even the best gladiators need to pace themselves.

Bryant is not 23 anymore — he is 31 and has played 43,387 minutes over the course of 14 NBA seasons (counting playoffs). That’s 2,000 minutes more than Larry Bird before injuries ended his career. It’s more than Magic Johnson. It’s basically right about the career ending number for many of the game’s legends.

Kobe can — and should — keep going. He’s playing at the highest level of his career. But his body does not bounce back like it used to. Sprained ankles after Lamar Odom steps on your foot take a little longer before you’re running full speed. Sore backs don’t bounce back. Fractured fingers take a little longer before the splints can come off. And all of that is harder to play through.

Bryant knows all this, intellectually. But what makes Kobe fascinating is he is like the lead character in a classic Greek tragedy — his greatest strength is his greatest weakness. The will and drive that made him the best player of a generation is the same thing that makes it nearly impossible for him to take his foot off the gas now.

Lakers trainer Gary Vitti said he would like Kobe to sit out through the All-Star Game. Phil Jackson knows better than to tell Kobe what to do, so he is playing the “whatever Kobe wants to do, he can do” card.

Bryant said he wants to play Wednesday in Utah, but that is a game-time decision. Same with the All-Star Game. “I’m not clairvoyant” was his response when asked if he would play.

The Lakers are not better without Kobe, but the last two games (wins over Portland and San Antonio) show they can survive just fine for a little bit. Kobe knows if he can go, but his teammates will be fine if he takes a short break, so he can be ready for the final push of the season and into the playoffs.

Bryant knows all this, intellectually. But will the drive that made him push his body to be one of the all time greats allow him to give his body the rest it needs as he ages? We will have to stay tuned to see how that play ends.

James Harden, Rockets again leave Jazz in the dust

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After turning the ball over late in the fourth quarter, James Harden meandered near halfcourt as the Jazz pushed for a fastbreak layup. But that put him in perfect position to receive a long inbound pass after Utah scored. Harden caught the ball and whipped it ahead Kenneth Faried, who dunked to give Harden a triple-double-clinching assist.

You’ll have to forgive Harden for not hustling back on defense. He did most of his heavy lifting far earlier.

By late in the first quarter, Harden created 28 points (17 scored, 11 assisted) to the Jazz’s 13 total points. The Rockets never looked back.

Houston crushed Utah 118-98 in Game 2 Wednesday to take a 2-0 series lead. It seems the Jazz – who lost Game 1 by 32 points and a 4-1 second-round series in this matchup last year – have no answer for the Rockets, particularly Harden.

Harden finished with 32 points, 13 rebounds and 10 assists. He was a game-high +24.

Here are the best-of-seven series with the most-lopsided first two games. The 2-0-leading teams that won the series are in red. The 2-0-leading teams that lost the series are in blue. This Houston-Utah series is in silver. This Bucks-Pistons series is in cream.

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Teams that outscored their opponents by at least 50 in the first two games have never lost a best-of-season series. The Rockets, +52, might have built an insurmountable advantage.

Especially the way the Jazz guard Harden. They’re trying to overplay him but wind up just giving him lanes into the paint. The talented guard is picking them apart.

Until Utah solves that, secondary matchups won’t matter. Houston is content winning through its superstar.

Bucks wallop Pistons. Again.

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The Pistons fought harder. Luke Kennard moved into the starting lineup and provided a spark. Detroit defended more actively.

But the result was largely the same: A Bucks blowout.

Milwaukee routed Detroit 120-99 in Game 2 Wednesday. Following a 35-point Game 1 victory, the Bucks have outscored the Pistons by 56 points in the series. Every team to outscore its opponent by at least 50 in the first two games of a best-of-seven series has won it.

Here are the best-of-seven series with the most-lopsided first two games. The 2-0-leading teams that won the series are in green. The 2-0-leading teams that lost the series are in red. This Milwaukee-Detroit series is in cream.

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The Pistons can’t stop Giannis Antetokounmpo (26 points, 12 rebounds and four assists). With Kennard (Detroit-high 19 points) starting for defensive specialist Bruce Brown, the Pistons also couldn’t contain Eric Bledsoe (27 points). Khris Middleton (24 points) provided his usual steady production.

Meanwhile, without Blake Griffin, Detroit lacks a difference-making star. Andre Drummond (18 points and 16 rebounds) had nice individual moments but was -32 (another terrible plus-minus for him).

The Pistons are just overwhelmed by the superior Bucks, and it’s hard to see that changing.

Kyrie Irving torches Pacers for 37 points in Celtics win

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In what had been a tight game, the Pacers built a four-point lead over the Celtics with four minutes left in the third quarter. From there:

Irving scored 37 points and dished seven assists, leading Boston to a 99-91 Game 2 win Wednesday. The Celtics now lead the first-round series 2-0. Teams that have won the first two games of a best-of-seven series at home have won the series 93% of the time.

The Pacers just can’t muster enough offense – not against this sound Boston defense. Indiana went nearly nine scoreless minutes in the fourth quarter. Even after ending that drought, the Pacers’ final five possessions: miss, miss, miss, turnover, turnover.

This is why the Celtics got Irving. His ability to create shots sets them apart in these slogging playoff games.

Jayson Tatum added 26 points. But Al Horford struggled while playing through illness. Marcus Morris shot 0-for-8. Jaylen Brown didn’t really get going.

This wasn’t the prettiest game for Boston, but because of Irving, it was a win.

LeBron James named one of TIME’s 100 most-influential people

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LeBron James couldn’t even influence the Lakers into the playoffs.

But as a businessman and philanthropist, his reach is only growing.

LeBron remains the NBA’s biggest star. He’s still an elite player (when healthy), and his name resonates with casual fans and even non-fans. Add his off-court interests – more accessible to him in Los Angeles – and his importance can’t be denied.

That’s why LeBron made TIME’s 2019 list of 100 most-influential

Warren Buffett wrote about LeBron:

I’ve been impressed with his leadership skills, his sharp mind and his ability to stay grounded. People in LeBron’s position get tugged in different directions and have a lot of chances to make bad decisions. He’s kept his head, and that’s not easy.

There is so much on LeBron’s plate – production, acting, his school, even basketball. His ability to handle it all is incredible.

Having such varied interests might not lend itself to LeBron dominating on the court. But it makes him even more deserving of this list.