NBA Playoffs: Russell Westbrook must find his groove. Fast.

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Memphis has become something of a mythological team.

Beating them suddenly sounds like a task of Herculean proportions, where one must battle a seven-headed hydra and Zach Randolph. Nobody — not even the legendary Tim Duncan — could slay the beast.

But the Oklahoma City Thunder are supposed to have the tools. They are supposed to be the better team. And two things are going to have happen if they are going to even this series — and they had better even this series, because if they head to Memphis down 2-0 they might as well try to slay a hydra.

One is Kendrick Perkins simply must play better. He was brought in to be the defensive enforcer but he let Randolph get the position he wanted and the result was baskets no matter what he did. As Randolph likes to get the ball 15-to-18 feet from the basket denying him position and the ball is hard, but he must be pushed out and his preferred angles cut off. Both Perkins and Serge Ibaka need not let the Grizzlies bigs get comfortable. Send late doubles from guards looking for steals. Make Randolph and Gasol pass. Make the Memphis perimeter players take on more of the offense.

Randolph is not going to be stopped totally — he’s always been able to score, from his days in Portland on. What is different in Memphis is he is disciplined. He’s not just taking bad shot after bad shot now. Maybe the Thunder can lure him into some bad ones, but for the most part they need to make someone else bat them.

The other key for the Thunder is Russell Westbrook must be better. The Grizzlies were the best team in the NBA at forcing turnovers this season, but Westbrook had seven. And hit just 9-of-23 shots. He had patches like that during the season but often they were masked by wins against lesser opponents. He must be more efficient, he must be smarter with the ball. He is not Derrick Rose — he has help, he has Kevin Durant. Look to take what the defense gives you, do not force what you want.

What does Memphis need to do? Keep doing what they are doing. They have been smart about going to their strengths and exploiting it this season. Find what works and keep doing it. Defend hard. Just keep doing all that.

Look for Oklahoma City to try and establish themselves as the more physical team. Maybe that will throw the Grizzlies off their game. Because the Thunder need to find something fast.

LeBron James and Kobe Bryant had grown closer in last couple months

Kobe Bryant and LeBron James
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For years, the LeBron James-Kobe Bryant relationship had been defined by not meeting in the NBA Finals.

One played in the 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016 Finals. But the other fell short each year. It was just incredible missed timing between LeBron’s Cavaliers then Heat and LeBron’s Lakers for a whole decade.

LeBron and Kobe played together on Team USA, and they admired each other. But they didn’t share the deepest bond. LeBron had his close friends – Dwyane Wade, Carmelo Anthony and Chris Paul. Bryant was more of a loner.

When LeBron signed with the Lakers in 2018, that offered more opportunity for him and Bryant to connect. But that was amidst an iciness from some Lakers fans who’d grown accustomed to denigrating LeBron in support of Kobe (a sentiment Bryant tried to thwart). When the Lakers disappointed last season, Bryant also didn’t rush to associate himself with that team.

LeBron’s and Bryant’s relationship had changed by the time Bryant and his daughter Gianna died Sunday.

Ramona Shelburne of ESPN:

LeBron James as absolutely devastated by this on Sunday. I’m told he didn’t sleep at all on Sunday. He was just in a really bad place all day Monday. Just what I think the hardest part for LeBron is that he and Kobe had started to develop the relationship that both of them had always wanted to have. They started to get much closer this year. Even last year, when LeBron came here, Kobe reached out to welcome him to the franchise. But he didn’t come to any games. There wasn’t much back and forth between them. And the back and forth actually started this year, when Kobe came to the game with Gianna. She actually wanted to see Trae Young. So, they came to the game. And LeBron came over, embraced Kobe, and that’s actually what started the dialogue between both of them. It’s been described to me as the relationship that they always wanted to have.

LeBron’s heartache was evident when he left the Lakers’ team flight Sunday:

LeBron also expressed his sadness on Instagram:

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I’m Not Ready but here I go. Man I sitting here trying to write something for this post but every time I try I begin crying again just thinking about you, niece Gigi and the friendship/bond/brotherhood we had! I literally just heard your voice Sunday morning before I left Philly to head back to LA. Didn’t think for one bit in a million years that would be the last conversation we’d have. WTF!! I’m heartbroken and devastated my brother!! 😢😢😢😢💔. Man I love you big bro. My heart goes to Vanessa and the kids. I promise you I’ll continue your legacy man! You mean so much to us all here especially #LakerNation💜💛 and it’s my responsibility to put this shit on my back and keep it going!! Please give me the strength from the heavens above and watch over me! I got US here! There’s so much more I want to say but just can’t right now because I can’t get through it! Until we meet again my brother!! #Mamba4Life❤️🙏🏾 #Gigi4Life❤️🙏🏾

A post shared by LeBron James (@kingjames) on

The Lakers, whose game was postponed, gathered yesterday.

Bill Oram of The Athletic:

When James redirected his focus to what lies ahead for the grieving franchise, James said he could handle the burden of playing through grief in pursuit of the Lakers’ 17th championship.

“God gave me wide shoulders for a reason,” James said, according to multiple people who were present.

LeBron had just passed Bryant for third on the all-time scoring list. They spoke after that achievement.

Shams Charania of The Athletic:

Bryant’s final tweet has become sadly poetic:

NBA Power Rankings: From Paris to Milwaukee Giannis Antetokounmpo keeps on winning

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Kobe Bryant’s untimely death has cast a pall over the NBA, a dark cloud blocking the light for both players and fans. But the league grinds on, and so do our NBA power rankings, which now have Kobe’s Lakers back up to No. 2.

 
Bucks small icon 1. Bucks (41-6, Last Week No. 1). Giannis Antetokounmpo was one of the many elite players in the league who credit Kobe Bryant for helping him reach that level: “I grew up with Kobe. Kobe influenced my life. Looking up to him, one of the reasons I started playing basketball. One of the reasons that I am here today.”Milwaukee picked up a win last week the NBA’s first-ever game in Paris.

 
Lakers small icon 2. Lakers (36-10, LW No. 3). Postponing the Tuesday night game against the Clippers was the right move by the league. It’s not just the Lakers’ players who are grieving, Kobe was a 20-year Laker employee who had deep ties outside the locker room with people in game operations, the marketing team, season ticket sales, and so much more. The organization is grieving, and will undoubtedly have a tremendous tribute for Kobe on Friday night against Portland. It’s a crazy coincidence that Kobe died just a day after LeBron James passed him on the all-time scoring list.

 
Jazz small icon 3. Jazz (32-14, LW 2). Utah should have two players in the All-Star Game next month, Rudy Gobert and Donovan Mitchell. There seems to be momentum behind the Gobert candidacy, talking to people around the league (although the coaches make that vote). Mitchell, while deserving, is battling for a spot on the reserves with other guards who also can make good cases (Devin Booker, Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook, etc.), and the coaches have some tough choices. Utah slips one spot this week because of the loss to a very shorthanded Rockets team.

 
Clippers small icon 4. Clippers (33-14, LW 4). Against Miami over the weekend, Doc Rivers rolled out his 21st different starting lineup of the season — the most in the NBA. Last season the Clippers had 14 starting lineups total, but roster changes and injuries have made this season exceptional. It speaks to why there has yet to be real cohesion with this Clippers roster, and also why — while they are actively looking at the trade market — they are in no way panicking. This team, as is, remains a serious title contender.

 
Raptors small icon 5. Raptors (33-14, LW 8). Pascal Siakam was voted in an All-Star starter and he earned it. Not just with his 23.8 points and 7.7 rebounds a game, but also with the fact the Raptors outscore opponents by 8.6 per 100 possessions when he is on the court (and look like maybe the second best team in the East). The Raptors are winners of eight in a row (and rolling into a soft part of the schedule, so expect that number to climb).

 
Celtics small icon 6. Celtics (31-15, LW 6). Statistically, Boston is playing some of its best basketball of the season, having won 4-of-5 (with victories over the Lakers and Heat in there). That has come with Jayson Tatum missing three of those games (groin injury, but he seems close to a return) and players such as Kemba Walker, Gordon Hayward, and Marcus Smart picking up the offensive slack. The Celtics can get healthy against a bit of a soft spot in the schedule, just one of their next five games is against teams over .500.

 
Heat small icon 7. Heat (32-15, LW 7). We mentioned it in this space a week ago but will do so again: Bam Adebayo deserves to be named an NBA All-Star. The East coaches unquestionably will vote in Jimmy Butler as a reserve (I thought he should have started) but Adebayo is in a tight mix with Tatum, Khris Middleton, Domantas Sabonis and others, and someone is going to get left out. Miami needs to force every game to overtime, they are 8-0 in the extra frame this season (some of that is luck, some of that is how hard they play).

 
Sixers small icon 8. 76ers (31-17, LW 9). Joel Embiid is back from his hand surgery, and Philly needed him. Yes, the Sixers went 6-3 without him and Ben Simmons stepped up, he averaged 24 points a game on better than 70 percent shooting in his last 5 without Embiid. However, in those nine Embiid-less games the 76ers offensive rating was just 104.9, 29th in the NBA in that stretch. Even in the last five it was 103.2, still 29th in the league. Embiid is critical to making the offense elite.

 
Nuggets small icon 9. Nuggets (32-15, LW 5). That Denver is keeping its head above water — 6-4 in their last 10 — despite the rash of injuries is impressive. They got Gary Harris back this week, but it has been an impressive run by Nikola Jokic and some good nights from Michael Porter Jr. that has kept Denver as a team that would have home court in the first round through all of this. Big tests this week against Utah and Milwaukee.

 
Pacers small icon 10. Pacers (30-17, LW 11). Victor Oladipo makes his return to the court this Wednesday after missing nearly a year with a right quad tendon rupture, and this could be a huge boost to the Pacers. Eventually. He’s going to come off the bench and have a minutes limit at first. Nate McMillan needs to blend Oladipo’s All-NBA skills (if he can get back to that level) with the scoring and passing of Malcolm Brogdon, plus the secondary playmaking that Domantas Sabonis has provided. It will take some time but the Pacers could be taking a big step forward in the coming weeks.

 
Rockets small icon 11. Rockets (29-17, LW 12). James Harden has missed two games, and likely will miss at least one more, due to a bruised thigh. That forced rest may be a good thing, Harden has struggled in games running up to the injury and looked worn down — in his last five games he’s averaging 23 points a game (13.1 below his season average), shooting 33.3 percent overall and 13.6 percent from three. While Russell Westbrook’s numbers went up, Houston needs Harden’s scoring, the team is 3-5 in its last 8.

 
Mavericks small icon 12. Mavericks (29-18, LW 10). Dallas has gone 2-2 since center Dwight Powell went down with a torn Achilles, and while the offense has been off a little without him it’s the defensive end that has been the bigger issue (surprisingly). Smart trade by Dallas to get Willie Cauley-Stein, who can provide some depth and athleticism behind Maxi Kleber at the five. Clearly, Dallas is still adjusting to its new reality.

 
Thunder small icon 13. Thunder (28-20, LW 13). The most underrated, fun lineup in the NBA is OKC’s three-guard grouping of Dennis Schroder, Chris Paul and Shai Gilgeous-Alexander — they are +29.3 points per 100 possessions when they share the floor. Chris Paul missed his first game of the season mourning his good friend Kobe. CP3 deserves to be an All-Star this year and expect the coaches to give the veteran the nod over some young (but also deserving) players around the league.

 
Grizzlies small icon 14. Grizzlies (23-24, LW 14). 2020 has been good to Memphis so far, they are 10-3 since the calendar flipped to the new year and the key to that has been transition buckets. In January 18.2% of the Grizzlies offense has come in transition (up from 16.6% before that) and, more importantly, in January they are getting 1.36 points per possession when they run (up from 1.22 earlier in the season). Ja Morant has become and open court beast. Memphis now has a 2.5 game cushion for the eighth seed in the West, but they need to be ready for a run by one of the teams behind them.

 
Spurs small icon 15. Spurs (20-26, LW 16). Before a stinker of a game against the Bulls, Derrick White had been playing some of the best basketball of his career — five straight games scoring in double figures, including dropping 25 on the Suns. With LaMarcus Aldridge spending more time at the arc spacing the floor, White had more room to drive and make plays (the same reason DeMar DeRozan saw a scoring spike. The Spurs have lost three close games in a row and next Monday head out on the Rodeo Road trip that has them outside of Texas for eight straight games.

 
Blazers small icon 16. Trail Blazers (20-27, LW 17). Damian Lillard is on a tear, scoring at least 47 points in three straight games and at least 34 in his last five games. He is trying to will this team back into the playoff chase (they are 3 games behind Memphis) but they will need more than his magic against the coming stretch of games: Rockets, Lakers, Jazz, Nuggets, Spurs, Jazz (again).

Pelicans small icon 17. Pelicans (19-29, LW 20). It’s just four games, but Zion Williamson is averaging 18 points in 63.3% shooting plus 8.3 rebounds a game, and the Pelicans are 14.7 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court (with most of the improvement coming on the defensive end). It’s small sample size theater, but it’s also very impressive. Even with him the Pelicans are 2-2 in those four games and if they are going to make a playoff run they need to start racking up wins.

 
Suns small icon 18. Suns (20-27, LW 19). Phoenix has not had an All-Star since Steve Nash, Devin Booker has put up the kind of numbers that have him in the mix — 27.1 points and 6.4 rebounds a game — but he’s still on the bubble. Lillard is a lock to be a West guard reserve, but after that Booker is battling Westbrook, CP3, Donovan Mitchell and others for the final guard slots in the West. He’s deserving, but some deserving players will get snubbed this year.

 
Bulls small icon 19. Bulls (19-30, LW 21). Lauri Markkanen, already not having the breakout season many in Chicago hoped to see, will now miss 4-to-6 weeks with stress reaction of his right pelvis. Chicago can offer Markkanen an extension to his rookie contract after this season, but this injury and all the others will make them hesitant. Chicago may come in with a lower number and Markkanen may choose to bet on himself and see if a good season can boost his value in the market.

 
Magic small icon 20. Magic (21-27, LW 15). No team in the NBA seems to have a divide on how they play against teams under or over .500 like Orlando. The Magic are 4-21 against teams over .500 but 17-6 against the ones under that mark. Orlando has lost four in a row and has Miami up next, then they head on the road for three games.

 
Nets small icon 21. Nets (19-26, LW 20). It’s one thing to lose five in a row against the toughest stretch of your schedule all season, but it’s something else to need overtime to beat the Pistons, then to lose to the Knicks. The Nets are now 1-1 in a run of seven straight against struggling, below .550 teams — a chance for them to lock down a playoff spot. Brooklyn continues to hang on to the eighth seed in the East, but mostly because the teams chasing them (Chicago, Detroit, Charlotte) are worse, not because Kyrie Irving has the Nets playing well.

 
Kings small icon 22. Kings (17-29, LW 23). The Kings continue to look for Dewayne Dedmon trades and he likely gets moved before the deadline (he has been fined for publicly requesting a trade), but will he be the only King traded? There has been a lot of Bogdan Bogdanovic chatter around the league, but the price to land him will be steep. The Kings have to seriously consider it, however. With Sacramento 5.5 games out of the playoffs (and a lot of teams to jump to get in), becoming sellers at the deadline makes sense.

Pistons small icon 23. Pistons (17-31, LW 22). Losers of three in a row, now 3.5 games out of the playoffs, and with Blake Griffin done for the season, the question becomes how serious of sellers will the Pistons be at the trade deadline. While there was a lot of buzz early about Andre Drummond trades (a sign the Pistons may not want to pay what the market will this summer when the big man is a free agent), the real push from contenders is for the resurgent Derrick Rose. The question is, can any of them put together a trade that actually interests and helps Detroit?

 
Wizards small icon 24. Wizards (15-31, LW 25). Rookie Rui Hachimura, who has missed 21 games with a strained groin has gone through full practices with the Wizards and is close to a return (but not Wednesday in Miami). Another note on the rookie, he is not giving up his No. 8 jersey in honor or Kobe Bryant, and with good reason:

 
Hawks small icon 25. Hawks (12-36, LW 27). Trae Young is an All-Star starter (the first Hawk voted to start since Dikembe Mutombo in 1998), but it was his backup Brandon Goodwin — along with John Collins — helped spark the comeback of the year for Atlanta, from 19 down to beat the Clippers. Atlanta went 2-2 in their last four, and Young’s skill as a pick-and-roll ball handler continues to improve.

 
Hornets small icon 26. Hornets (16-31, LW 30). Apparently the few days of croissants and crepes of France did Charlotte some good. The Hornets returned from the NBA’s first ever game in Paris (where they lost to the Bucks) and proceeded to snap their eight game losing streak with a win over the Knicks. Malik Monk dropped 31 points on the Bucks in Paris and now James Borego is hoping he can do more of that stateside.

 
Knicks small icon 27. Knicks (13-35, LW 26). From friend of this site Tommy Beer: Since Mitchell Robinson’s 11-of-11 shooting night and 22 points on Jan. 1 (in a win over Portland), he hasn’t attempted more than 7 shots in a game, and is averaging just 4.3 shots a night. If the Knicks are grooming Robinson to be part of the future then RJ Barrett and the other ball handlers need to get him more touches.

 
Cavaliers small icon 28. Cavaliers (13-35, LW 28). Strangely, this ranking almost feels like it’s too high. It’s not just that Cleveland has lost 8-of-9, it’s who they lost to in that stretch — the Bulls (twice), Wizards, and Knicks. While the offense is bottom 10 in the league during this nine-game stretch, the real problem has been a 29th ranked defense with a 118 net rating in those games. Ouch.

 
29. Timberwolves (15-32, LW 24). Karl-Anthony Towns continues to put up numbers that could make him an All-Star, he’s been back from injury for seven games now, and in his last five is averaging 31.6 points per game on 53.3 percent shooting, plus grabbing 8.4 rebounds a game. It’s not enough, the Timberwolves have lost 10 straight. A lot of trade buzz around this team, particularly contenders with interest in Robert Covington.

 
Warriors small icon 30. Warriors (10-38 LW 29). Here’s all you need to know about the Warriors’ roster depth right now: Earlier this month the Warriors waived Marquese Chriss because they wanted to convert Damion Lee’s two-way contract to a regular one, but they needed the roster spot. Then, when they traded Willie Cauley-Stein to Dallas, opening up a roster spot again, the Warriors re-signed Chriss — and almost instantly Chriss was starting at center again.

Report: NBA not changing logo to Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant
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Kobe Bryant’s death is unique tragedy.

No NBA player anywhere near that great has ever died anywhere near that young. So, people are struggling to find the proper reaction. Every tribute seems too small, not grand enough to honor Bryant’s monumental legacy.

An idea gaining traction among fans: Change the NBA logo to Kobe Bryant.

Currently, Jerry West’s silhouette graces the logo. I know that. You know that. The logo’s designer, Alan Sigel, has explained that.

But the NBA doesn’t formally recognize – and, importantly, doesn’t pay – West to be that symbol.

Dan Wetzel of Yahoo Sports:

Sources familiar with the league’s thinking said there is no interest in having an individual player as its logo because there are so many who have been instrumental in the growth of the game and the NBA. Generic is better.

Again, follow the money. West, who has said he prefers no longer to be on the logo, hasn’t pressed for compensation. Keeping the current logo is safe financially.

But for any of us not earning an income from the NBA, who cares how much it costs the league to put the “right” person on the logo? That’s the NBA’s issue, not ours. We can base our logo preference on how it makes us feel.

That said, I don’t think putting Bryant on the logo is the appropriate response. At the very minimum, let the emotion of this moment subside before making decisions that could last decades. If putting Bryant on the logo is fitting, that’ll still be the case next year.

Jerry West: Kobe Bryant committed to Clippers until I told him he couldn’t play for Donald Sterling

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Jerry West recognized Kobe Bryant’s potential before anyone else did. In 1996, West – then Lakers general manager – traded for Bryant, whom the Hornets drafted No. 13 for Los Angeles.

By 2004, West had left to run the Grizzlies. Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal had won three championships together but were feuding. Bryant was a free agent and even said, “I could see myself playing for the Clippers.”

Of course, Bryant re-signed with the Lakers and spent the rest of his 20-year career with them.

But only after talking to West, with whom he shared a special relationship.

West on TNT:

I remember when he was going to leave the Lakers, and I’ve never really mentioned this to anyone. He was going to come and sign with the Clippers, who I’m now involved with as a consultant. And I told him, “Kobe, under no circumstances can you do this.” And he was mad at everyone at the Lakers, the owner, everyone else. I said, “Kobe you can’t go play with the Clippers. You can’t play for that owner. Period.” We had two conversations about. And he supposedly made a commitment to the Clippers. And after the last one, we talked the last time. But there’s so many things that we talked about as he was just seeking information. His parents were with him for a while. And, honestly, I felt like his father for two years. I don’t know if I can get over this. I really don’t.

Amid the Donald Sterling scandal, Bryant declared, “I couldn’t play for him.”