It’s the question Lakers fans are asking Thursday — can Kobe Bryant sustain this?
He scored 48 against the Suns Tuesday and 40 against the Jazz and long-time nemesis Raja Bell on Wednesday. Kobe now leads the NBA averaging 30.3 points per game. He is using nearly 40 percent of the Lakers possessions when he is on the floor and is maintaining shooting percentages right at what he has done the past few years. What torn ligament in his wrist? His legs have a bounce and quickness we have not seen in years.
If you doubt Kobe can maintain this pace you do so at your own risk. He can. He’s driven by the motivation for an MVP or to prove the hoard of critics out there. And when Kobe is motivated like this he can accomplish just about anything on a basketball court. Look at what Kobe said after Wednesday’s game, via Kevin Ding of the Orange County Register.
“I scored back-to-back 40’s with a (bleeped)-up wrist,” Bryant said, his eyes still gleaming at the just-completed achievement. “What does it matter if it’s still (bleeped)-up in the playoffs?”
Kobe also says his wrist is healing, getting stronger. Sustainability is not the question Lakers fans should be asking. Rather…
Can the Lakers win long term with Kobe scoring like this?
The Lakers were struggling adapting to new coach Mike Brown’s ways and Kobe did what Kobe does — he took on more of the burden himself. He’s scoring at a rate we haven’t seen in five years, back when he had to cover for Smush Parker and Kwame Brown.
But now he has arguably the most skilled front line in the NBA to help carry that burden with Pau Gasol and Andrew Bynum.
Come the playoffs, teams that rely on one guy to score 40 a game don’t usually last long. They don’t win titles. Teams that get scoring from several sources — exploiting the best mismatch — do win. The Lakers can be that team. Right now they are not, and that’s fine against Phoenix and Utah in January. But if Bynum and Gasol are reduced to spectators for too long they will disengage.
If the Lakers are playing the same ball they are right now come March and April, that should worry Lakers fans. Because no doubt Kobe can sustain this pace that long if he wants to.
Markelle Fultz is back with the 76ers.
Not in uniform for games, but he is back from Los Angeles and in Philadelphia working out with the team to recover from thoracic outlet syndrome, according to multiple reports. Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN broke the story, then Noah Levick of NBC Sports Philadelphia confirmed it.
Fultz was in the arena for the Sixers game Saturday against the Thunder on national television (though not suited up to play).
There is no timetable for Fultz’s return, although his agent has said he expects Fultz to be back on the court this season. Whether that would be with the Sixers is another question, teams have called about the availability of the No. 1 pick from the 2017 NBA Draft, but the offers have been so lowball that none of them have been seriously considered by Philadelphia.
After consulting with a number of specialists just a few weeks into the season (and just after the Jimmy Butler trade), the 20-year-old Fultz was diagnosed with thoracic outlet syndrome, a pinching of the nerve through the collarbone area. Since December he has been in Los Angeles is doing physical therapy to relieve the issue.
Fultz has returned to Philadelphia and is continuing that therapy.
To bring in some front line depth in the form of Kenneth Faried Monday, the Houston Rockets first have to clear a roster spot.
That led to a lot of speculation it could be Carmelo Anthony who is let go, he remains on the roster but not with the team, in a kind of limbo while the Rockets and ‘Melo’s agent look for a landing spot. (He reportedly has several options and will choose one before the trade deadline, but if he really liked any of those options he would have already taken them rather than waiting for a better offer.)
The Rockets are “aggressively” trying to trade Anthony and find him a new home before Monday, Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN reported. However, James Nunnally is the most likely guy out, he was just signed to a 10-day contract.
If the Rockets haven’t waived ‘Melo yet, they’re not going to do it now.
Houston GM Daryl Morey is also working the phone lines to find wing depth to add to the Rockets’ roster. While James Harden‘s historic streak has carried the Rockets back into the playoff picture in the West, this is not the same Houston team that was a threat to the Warriors a season ago. Morey’s off-season gambles — including Anthony — have not panned out, and he is now trying to correct them.
This is bad.
The New Orleans Pelicans are 21-25 and four games back of the eight seed in the West having lost 3-of-4 on the current road trip. When Anthony Davis is not on the court, the Pelicans get outscored by 4.2 points per 100 possessions.
Davis is not going to be on the court for a week or two due to a sprained finger, the team announced Saturday morning.
Looking ahead at the schedule, Davis is likely to miss between three and seven games.
Davis has played at an MVP level this season, averaging 29.3 points per game on 50.8 percent shooting, plus grabs 13.3 rebounds and dishes out 4.4 assists a night. And that’s just on offense, defensively he is one of the best rim protecting bigs in the league, averaging 2.6 blocks per game. Davis leads the NBA in win shares (8.3) and PER at 30.9. He has been an absolute beast all season long.
Yet he hasn’t been able to lead the Pelicans to a winning record because of the roster around him (and injuries that have sapped what little depth New Orleans had to begin with).
Because of that, the intensely competitive Davis — who has talked about legacy mattering more to him than money — is expected to turn down a $239 million contract extension from the Pelicans next summer. At that point New Orleans will have to consider trading him and 29 teams will be lined up to talk deal (the Celtics and Lakers are expected to be at the front of that line).
This summer, Robert Pera maintained ownership of the Memphis Grizzlies and with that meant the status quo remained — the Grizzlies were going to try to ride the duo of Marc Gasol and Mike Conley to the playoffs. There would be no rebuild.
After falling to the Celtics Friday night, Memphis is 19-26, has lost 10-of-11, and are 14th in the Western Conference. Around the league, there is a buzz that Memphis may have to look at trading Gasol, who has a player option this summer and could become a free agent.
With that slide as a backdrop, Gasol and Conley met with Pera recently, reports Shams Charania of The Athletic.
Conley and Gasol, who has a player option for next season worth $25.5 million, sat down with Pera in Memphis this week to discuss the direction of the franchise, league sources said. Pera often meets with key team personnel when he visits Memphis over the course of a season.
Does that mean changes are coming? That’s not what Conley told the Memphis Commercial Appeal.
“That’s all there was to it,” Conley said after the Grizzlies’ loss in Boston on Friday night. “There was nothing special that came out of it that’s going to change the world or anything.
“We got to talk to him.”
Pera has resisted any kind of rebuild — and in a smaller market, with a community that has embraced the “grit ‘n grind” mantra, there are economic reasons that has been the smart move. While other teams are circling, so far there is no word out of Memphis that there are trades for stars to be had (Chandler Parsons on the other hand…).
Every GM will say of moving players “better too early than too late.” In Memphis, the franchise may have missed that window.