Grizzlies continue impressive start with road win over Thunder

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The Memphis Grizzlies look like a team ready to compete in the postseason. The Thunder look like a team still searching for answers.

The result of the meeting between these two teams reflected that on Wednesday, as Memphis had little trouble in cruising to a convincing 107-97 win in Oklahoma City.

When we last saw the Grizzlies, they were blowing out the defending champion Heat by 18 points. In OKC, the result against the team Miami beat in the Finals last June was essentially the same, after Memphis spotted the home team a 10-point first quarter lead.

It all began to go wrong for the Thunder in the second quarter, once the bench unit couldn’t seem to manufacture any offense, and couldn’t even begin to stop the Grizzlies defensively. Memphis, which has won six straight since an opening-game loss, outscored OKC 36-15 in the period, led by 11 from Quincy Pondexter behind 3-of-3 shooting from three-point distance.

Kevin Martin played all 12 minutes of the second, and managed just two points. Eric Maynor and Hasheem Thabeet were essentially zeroes on both ends of the court in the few minutes they were out there, and Russell Westbrook had a rough first half from the field, hitting on just one of his eight shots, though he did manage eight assists.

Watching Memphis play you get a very Spurs-like vibe at this point in the young season, in that the execution and ball movement — as well as the rotations defensively — seem to be well ahead of the curve of where most teams are at this early stage.

On the Thunder side, it might seem like lazy analysis to say that they are searching to fill the huge void left by the James Harden trade, but it’s absolutely the truth. Scott Brooks has long been criticized for his lack of creativity in designing offensive sets for this Thunder squad, and now more than ever that weakness is becoming more and more glaring with each passing game.

There is no ball movement and no motion from players away from the ball on the majority of OKC’s possessions; the ball handler is lucky if he gets a screen from a big, and then is forced to execute a pick and roll or drive and kick to someone else. Harden is an exceptional playmaker who can score if he chooses, and his ability to do that, especially playing alongside Kevin Durant and Westbrook with the team’s crunch time lineup, is sorely missed.

Durant finished with 34 points, but he had to play 44 minutes to get there. It was his first 30-point effort on the season. He was nearly matched by Rudy Gay’s 28, and Memphis got more-than-solid performances from Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.

Randolph and Kendrick Perkins were both ejected with 2:05 to play for what seemed like just words, but the game had already been decided.

Memphis was the sharper and more active team on this night, and it really wasn’t that close. The Grizzlies have the talent to compete with anyone all season long, and have shown it without a doubt in their last two games.

Meanwhile, OKC will need to improve dramatically on both ends of the floor to be considered one of the Western Conference elites once again, but the good news is that they have 73 more regular season games to get themselves straightened out.

Report: Multiple NBA players giving up No. 8 and No. 24 to honor Kobe Bryant

Kobe Bryant, Spencer Dinwiddie and Kyrie Irving
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Kobe Bryant’s outsized career warranted outsized recognition, and the Lakers found a perfectly fitting honor. They retired both his No. 8 and No. 24 in 2017.

Now, people are searching for the appropriate way to commemorate the unprecedented basketball giant who died so young. Many tributes – including teams opening games with 24-second then 8-second violations – have focused on his numbers. Hawks guard Trae Young wore No. 8. Any 8, 24 or 81 appearing in a box score have become a topic of discussion.

Now, Spencer Dinwiddie – who was particularly proud of Bryant telling him last month he’s playing like an All-Star – is the face of another movement to memorialize Bryant.

Shams Charania:

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

Beyond Dinwiddie, players who wear No. 8:

Players who wear No. 24:

Anyone who wants to honor Bryant giving up No. 8 or No. 24 should. Who’s anyone to tell them that’s the wrong way to grieve and pay tribute?

But other players will want to wear No. 8 or No. 24 to honor Bryant. That’s just as respectful. I hope they aren’t peer-pressured out of doing so.

Some players who want to wear No. 8 or No. 24 in memory of Bryant might even be among those giving up the number now.

In 2009, LeBron James – who was wearing No. 23 with the Cavaliers – said the NBA should retire No. 23 for Michael Jordan. He pledged to kickstart the movement the next season by changing his own number. He signed with the Heat – who already retired No. 23 for Jordan despite him never playing for them – and wore No. 6.

LeBron returned to Cleveland in 2010. His number during his second Cavs stint? No. 23. His number with the Lakers now? No. 23.

People change their minds on these things – especially when the cloudiness of grief subsides. Individual players should choose their number as they see fit.

So, I hope this doesn’t turn into a formal league-wide retirement of Bryant’s numbers. It seems more fitting – outside the most extreme cases, like Jackie Robinson in baseball – for that to remain a team honor.

Bryant is headed to the Hall of Fame. That’s the way to ratify his legacy through all of basketball.

Report: Allen Iverson had backpack containing $500K of jewelry stolen

Allen Iverson
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Allen Iverson, like the rest of us, has been dealing with the incredible shock of Kobe Bryant dying. Iverson released a statement that includes a story that truly captures both stars:

“Words cannot express how I’m feeling today. The only 2 words that ring in my head — devastated and heartbroken. I cannot seem to shake this feeling no matter what I’ve tried to do since hearing this yesterday.

“People will always remember how we competed against each other in the league, but it goes so much deeper than that for me. The story of us being drafted in arguably the deepest class of its kind ever in the NBA can be debated for many years to come. However, his generosity and respect for the game is something that I witnessed first-hand every time we stepped on the dance floor to compete.

“It’s one memory of him that I can’t stop thinking about. It was our rookie season and my first trip to LA for a game against the Lakers. He came to my hotel, picked me up and took me to a restaurant. When we returned before he left, he asked me, “What are you going to do tonight?” My reply was, “I’m going to the club, what are you going to do?” He said, “I’m going to the gym.” That is who he always was, a true student of the game of basketball and also the game of life. He prepared relentlessly. There is something we can all learn from the “Mamba” mentality and from the way my brother lived his life. He will always have my respect as a competitor, as a friend, as a brother.

“My thoughts and prayers are with his wife Vanessa, their children and the families of all of the victims of yesterday’s tragedy. As a father, I cannot wrap my head around how they must feel.

“We are not okay. But we will find the strength to pull through this together because that’s what Kobe would want us to do.”

Amid his grief, Iverson now has another issue to deal with.

NBC Sports Philadelphia:

Police are searching for a man accused of stealing a half-million dollars’ worth of jewelry from Philadelphia 76ers legend Allen Iverson.

Police said the unidentified man entered the Sofitel Hotel at 120 S. 17th Street Monday around 10:30 a.m. and snatched a backpack containing jewelry valued at approximately $500,000. NBC10 later confirmed with sources that the jewelry belonged to Iverson.

I can’t imagine many people in Philadelphia helping someone get away with stealing from Iverson.

Gordon Hayward: I didn’t step into lane to help Kobe Bryant score 60

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Kobe Bryant scored 60 points in his final NBA game – an incredible sendoff for a great career and, tragically, a moment with added significance considering its proximity to his death.

Bryant’s final point came on a free throw with 14.8 seconds remaining in the Lakers’ win over the Jazz in 2016. Before Bryant attempted his free throw, Utah forward Gordon Hayward stepped into the paint. A story swirled in the last day that Hayward deliberately committed the violation so Bryant, if necessary, would get an extra free throw to score 60.

Hayward – now with the Celtics – set the record straight:

Did the Jazz, who were already eliminated from the playoffs, play their absolute tightest defense on Bryant? No. Do players sometimes help opponents – especially a revered star like Bryant – reach milestones in otherwise-insignificant moments? Yes.

But unintentional lane violations happen somewhat frequently (and are often uncalled). There was just a big one last night. It’s not an area where players or referees stringently follow the rules.

It’s totally believable Hayward didn’t have some deeper meaning behind his step into the paint.

I’d take him at his word.

Report: No teams requested Sunday’s games be canceled after Kobe Bryant’s death

Kobe Bryant tribute at Spurs-Raptors
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Kobe Bryant’s death devastated the basketball world.

The NBA even postponed the Lakers-Clippers game originally scheduled for tonight. That led to the question: Why didn’t the league postpone games Sunday, the day Bryant died? Obviously there should be special consideration in Los Angeles, where Bryant spent his entire career. But nobody – from those involved to onlookers – had their hearts and heads in Sunday’s games.

Marc Stein of The New York Times:

I wonder how many teams thought to request a cancellation. I bet many awaited guidance from the league office.

Likewise, I wonder how many players felt they could step away. Kyrie Irvingwho was quite close with Bryant – missed the Nets’ game for personal reasons.

Eight teams hosted games Sunday:

  • Nuggets (vs. Rockets)
  • Spurs (vs. Raptors)
  • Hawks (vs. Wizards)
  • Grizzlies (vs. Suns)
  • Pelicans (vs. Celtics)
  • Knicks (vs. Nets)
  • Clippers (vs. Magic)
  • Trail Blazers (vs. Pacers)

Postponing games (finding makeup dates, extra travel) or canceling games (refunding tickets, unbalanced schedules) would have created different headaches down the road. Maybe it would’ve been better to deal with those issues than playing. But playing also gave teams an opportunity to honor Bryant, find distraction amid grief and start the process of moving forward.

I wouldn’t get too hung up in the debate of whether the NBA should have canceled games Sunday. Whether or not games were played, Bryant was gone. There was no good solution here.