Kobe MVP mission was entertaining, just like All-Star Game should be

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It was obvious Kobe Bryant was going hard after the MVP three minutes into the game.

That’s when, with the score tied just 6-6, Kobe got the ball in the right corner, drove baseline on Derrick Rose, the help defense was late and he went up-and-under for the kind of reverse jam he probably hasn’t done in a game in years. Many years.

“You could tell he started out from the start, he wanted to get the MVP,” Amar’e Stoudemire said of Kobe. “He was not passing the ball at all.”

Kobe looked energized — he had five dunks in the game and good luck remembering the last time he did that — and admitted later he wanted to put on a show for the hometown fans. He finished with 37 and flirted with the record for most All-Star Game points (44 by Wilt Chamberlain).

Elsewhere LeBron James had a triple double (29 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists — the only other guy to do that in the All-Star Game was Michael Jordan). Amar’e Stoudemire was flying in and throwing it down to the tune of 29 points. Everybody was looking to lob to Blake Griffin.  Kevin Durant dropped 34 including the dagger three late (on an actual Kobe pass in the clutch, so you knew it was an exhibition).

The West won the 2011 All-Star Game 148-143, but nobody will remember the score. They will remember Kobe got his fourth All-Star MVP award (tied for most ever). They’ll remember his dunks. They’ll remember LeBron’s all-around game and Stoudemire’s dunks. They’ll remember Rihanna and Kanye at halftime. They’ll remember it was close at the end.

They’ll remember it was fun.

Which is exactly what it should be — an entertaining exhibition with some fond memories for later.

That drives some people crazy. They want it to feel like a regular season game — you know, with defense. Maybe some set plays in the half court rather than transition and isolation. A little teamwork. Some off the ball movement. They want to change the All-Star Game to make it mean something.

Why?

There are plenty of games that matter. There are plenty of meals, we need a little dessert. There should be a time and a place for the best athletes go just have fun and show their skills off. There’s a time to let them pretend they are on the playground and show off a little.

Some have suggested the NBA do what baseball does — have the conference that wins the All-Star Game get to be home team for the Finals.

“And just discount the 82 regular season games an just base it all on one game?” Kobe asked about that idea. “No, I think it’s fine the way it is. You can’t take it over the top with seriousness and all that.”

Same thing with the idea the NHL went with this season — name a couple captains and let them pick their team from the guys lined up on the wall. While that certainly is playground I’m not sure that works as well in basketball (especially when you think of the influence that agents and shoe companies and the like would try to exert over the process).

Don’t mess with what works. The game got a little competitive in the fourth quarter, and that added to the fun. The game was not clean, but energetic through the end. Well, Kobe wasn’t energetic at the end —  “Those dunks took my legs from me” — but Durant was knocking down threes and they were able to get enough stops on LeBron and Stoudemire for the West to win.

Is the NBA All-Star Game some cotton candy in the middle of the season? Yes. So what? Sometimes cotton candy is pretty damn tasty.

Watch Paul George drain game-winning floater in 2OT, lift Thunder past Jazz

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Paul George floated in a basket with less than a second remaining in double-overtime, capping a 45-point night with the winning shot in the Oklahoma City Thunder’s 148-147 victory over the Utah Jazz on Friday.

George dribbled out the final seconds before splitting the Joe Ingles, Ricky Rubio double team then hitting a rainbow floater over Rudy Gobert 0.8 seconds left that gave the Thunder the win.

Kyle Korver got off a desperate 3 for Utah, but it went long as the buzzer sounded.

Russell Westbrook added 43 points, 15 rebounds and eight assists, helping Oklahoma City overcome 38 points from Donovan Mitchell. Westbrook fouled out with 1:09 left in the first overtime, ending his NBA streak of 11 consecutive games with a triple-double.

The game went to overtime after the Thunder’s Jerami Grant completed a tying three-point play, then blocked Mitchells shot at the other end. Grant had 18 points.

In the first overtime, Abdel Nader hit a 3-pointer to give the Thunder a 139-137 lead in the final minute after Westbrook and Terrance Ferguson had fouled out. Utah’s Rudy Gobert tipped in the tying basket with 33.7 seconds left, and George and Mitchell eached missed jumpers in the closing seconds.

Gobert hit two free throws with 1:10 left in the second overtime for a 147-146 lead, but Utah went cold from there. Mitchell’s driving shot off the glass missed the rim, and Joe Ingles missed on a long 3-point try as the shot clock expired with 13.2 seconds left.

Steven Adams played a game-high 47 minutes for Oklahoma City, returning from a pre-All-Star break ankle injury to score 16 points and grab 10 rebounds to go along with five steals.

Derek Favors hit his first 10 shots, finishing with 24 points and 11 rebounds for Utah. Gobert had 26 points and 16 rebounds for the Jazz.

The teams were physical throughout. Westbrook got a flagrant foul for crashing into Gobert while defending a layup, and there was a fracas late in the first half after Jae Crowder fouled the Thunder’s Dennis Schroder.

 

Jeremy Lin says “at times it kind of sucks” being only Asian-American in NBA

Associated Press
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When Jeremy Lin landed in Toronto — after being bought out and waived by the Hawks, clearing the way for him to sign with the Raptors for the playoff push — the number of cameras and reporters in the Raptors locker room instantly ballooned. Lin remains one of the most popular players worldwide in the NBA, he’s a social media phenom, and there are cameras there to track his every move and send it around the world, particularly back to Asia.

Lin isn’t in the NBA because he’s famous and sells tickets — he’s a quality guard who can help a team, there’s a reason the contending Raptors picked him up — but he inhabits the role of both player and groundbreaker.

Lin talked about that (and Asians in popular culture) with Cary Chow of the Undefeated in an interesting Q&A at The Undefeated, where he said being the only Asian-American in the NBA is not easy.

At times it kind of sucks. At other times it’s amazing. Amazing because you get to challenge everyone’s viewpoints and perspectives. I’m rooting for so many more Asians to come in. Last year, when I was with Brooklyn and we had Ding [Yanyuhang] on the summer league team, I was like, ‘Dude, please make the team. We’d have so much fun together during the season.’

On the feeling that he has to represent an entire race.

Yeah. At first it was something I ran from and really struggled with. Now I embrace it way more and am more equipped to handle it. I’m not perfect, but I kind of know who I want to be at this point in my career, so I keep trucking along and doing things the right way and stay above all the distractions.

Lin has handled his fame deftly over the years. He has challenges and opportunities not open to other players, and that’s the balancing act. It takes someone smart, but also grounded and balanced to pull it all off. The Raptors got all that, along with the extra cameras around the team.

Mostly, though, the Raptors got a player who is going to help them make a deep playoff run.

 

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

Associated Press
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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.