Kobe Bryant is NBA’s leading scorer and D’Antoni could keep him there

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Kobe Bryant had a pretty standard night for himself Friday against the Suns compared to his past couple seasons — 31 points on a not terribly efficient 10-of-24 shooting but getting to the line a lot (10-of-11 from the stripe).

With that night, Kobe has averaged 26.9 points per game and moved past James Harden into the NBA’s per game scoring lead. The two big guns — LeBron James (24.8) and Kevin Durant (24.5) and hanging back there and could move up the list.

Before the season we all assumed Durant would win the scoring title again because… well, he is the best pure scorer walking the face of the earth right now and his team needs him to produce. LeBron would put up points but he’s as likely to kick it to Norris Cole with the game on the line as shoot. (As ESPN noted, did you see LeBron do exactly that against the Nuggets on national television and nobody even questioned his manhood? Rings change things.)

But Kobe wasn’t seen as a threat — he was too old plus he has Steve Nash, Pau Gasol and Dwight Howard around him to soak up shot attempts and buckets. Plus you knew Metta World Peace needed his touches whether he should get them or not.

Mike D’Antoni may have changed that.

He said at his introductory press conference he expects the Lakers to score 110 to 115 points a night — a lofty goal that most don’t think the Lakers at their age can achieve. They are probably right. But they are going to score more per game.

If the Lakers are pushing the tempo, scoring more points and playing more just on basketball instincts not micromanaged plays, Kobe could be the guy to beat in the scoring race.

Especially if he continues to be efficient — he is shooting 53.1 percent on the season (up from 43 percent last season), and 41 percent from three (30 percent last season). He was getting his shots closer to the basket — 19.3 percent of his shots this season have come on post ups and he’s shooting 43.9 percent on those and getting the and-1 on 10 percent, according to Synergy Sports — taking fewer contested long twos or threes, and the result of the good looks was more efficient scoring.

While the numbers he put up against the Suns wouldn’t have had you blink last season, this season they stand out as different from the rest.

It should be noted Kobe is going to spend more time as the pick-and-roll ball handler and he has shot 46 percent doing that this season and 37 percent from three in that role. Watching him for a couple games, he is comfortable in that role.

If Kobe continues to be efficient, if the Lakers put up a lot of points, Kobe could well lead the league in scoring at the age of 35. With D’Antoni at the helm it is possible. Kobe will downplay it — he’ll say he doesn’t care, it’s only about the rings, and he’ll mean it — but this could happen.

Three Things to Know: Wizards can win after all, rally from 24 down to beat Clippers

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Each night in the NBA there is a lot of action, a lot to unpack. Which is why every weekday morning during the NBA season we bring you three things you need to know out of the night before, to keep you up on all the big happenings around the NBA.

1) Wizards can win after all, rally from 24 down to beat Clippers. Washington has been an embarrassment. Wizards fans are wearing bags over their heads while the rest of the league is trying to work out Bradley Beal trade scenarios (which probably don’t play out until July). This is a Washington team that spent shootaround trying to play down a practice last week where the players all yelled at one another and John Wall dropped an F-bomb on the coach.

One of the “signature” things about these Wizards is they roll over — get on a run, get up on them and Washington’s body language changes, the players hang their heads and just quit. They don’t fight for each other.

Not Tuesday night against one of the hottest teams in the NBA.

Down 24 points at one point and 19 at the half to the Los Angeles Clippers, the Wizards rallied back to win 125-118.

Wall had 30 points and 8 assists, Beal 27 points and 7 dimes.

“That’s how we need to play,” Beal told NBC Sports Washington. “Not going to say everything is fixed because we were still down [24 points], still have a lot of work to do. Got a lot of to change and get better. Our effort was there in the second half. That’s the type of intensity we have to have for the full 48.”

Let’s not pretend that one half of basketball fixed the Wizards, but there are things to build on. Tomas Satoransky continued a run of good play with 13 points, seven rebounds and three assists (Brooks need to trust him more). The good Jeff Green showed up with 10 points in the fourth quarter and 20 for the game (not sure the Wizards can build on that, he’s never been consistent). Coach Scott Brooks started Thomas Bryant at center (Dwight Howard is out injured) and he had some solid moments, like a block of Marcin Gortat followed by a bucket at the other end.

We could get into how this was a back-to-back and the third game in four nights for the Clippers, so their legs just got tired late, but why spoil the fun. For one night, the Wizards looked like a team that had potential. We’ll let them enjoy that, then get back to figuring out how New Orleans can trade for Otto Porter.

2) Danny Green drains game winner for Raptors over Magic. Danny Green fouled out at the end of Toronto’s loss to Boston (on a pretty tricky-tac call) and his presence was missed. With the game on t he line the Raptors missed his floor spacing on offense and his willing defense.

Tuesday night Green showed how much they need him to close games with the game winner against an Orlando squad that had knocked off the Sixers and the Lakers recently.

Wesley Iwundu was brought in to cover Green, but they rubbed him off two picks and Aaron Gordon was a little late with the switch, giving Green enough room to get the shot off. Kawhi Leonard had 18 on the night, plus he knows things.

3) C.J. McCollum drops 31, Damian Lillard has 29 points and 8 assists in Madison Square Garden and Blazers stay on top of West. Nearly 20 games into the season, nobody expected Portland to be the team leading the Western Conference. No doubt Portland would be good, but in a deep West with Golden State and Houston, the Trail Blazers were expected to be in the middle of a crowded pack fighting for a playoff spot, not the team on top of the mountain. (How did they get there? Check out our podcast from a couple of weeks ago with Dane Delgado of NBC Sports Portland.)

Yet here we are. The Trail Blazers went into Madison Square Garden and put on a show for the suffering Knicks fans. Damian Lillard had 29 points, 8 assists, and showed Knicks fans what an elite point guard looks like.

Meanwhile, C.J. McCollum was just getting buckets.

Kevin Durant says he and Draymond Green have agreed to move on after spat

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Will Kevin Durant leave the Golden State Warriors in free agency this coming summer?

It’s entirely possible, and the big argument between Durant and fellow Warriors teammate Draymond Green last week led many to speculate that it might have an impact on the former’s pending free agency.

Both Green and Durant are back on the same floor for Golden State, and in a recent interview with Yahoo Sports Durant said that the row won’t have any effect on him choosing to stay or leave the Warriors.

Speaking with Yahoo’s Chris Haynes, Durant said that he understood Green’s personality and that he had decided not to let the dust-up affect him moving forward, presumably toward their ultimate goal of another championship.

Via Yahoo:

“I never really felt like it was a problem, because I know Dray and he says some crazy [expletive] out his mouth all the time,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “But on top of that, it was just that there was so much coming with it from the outside, and so much stuff that we have to answer now.”

“I was upset, but I know that I can’t hold on to something like this,” Durant told Yahoo Sports. “I know that I’ve got to make a choice with myself, like how long are you going to be upset about this to the point where you’re going to let it affect what you do on the floor or how you approach the game? Once it gets there now, I got to make a grown-man decision and tell myself, ‘Look, man, no matter what, you still got to come to work every single day. It’s going to work out. It’s going to figure itself out.’ And I think everyone’s been handling it the best way they could and we’re just trying to move forward with it.”

All of Durant’s quotes are worth reading for more context on the biggest free agency of 2019. There’s a lot to unpack there, and if you have paid attention too much of what Durant has said in the past, it’s hard to put any weight on any comments given to Haynes in this instance.

Durant isn’t the most forthcoming person, and his angling when it comes to his career seems both clumsy and transparent at times. Durant could be seen mouthing what appeared to be an indication that he was going to leave the Warriors while on the floor against the Los Angeles Clippers, and we won’t get any direct comment on that anytime soon.

Durant did what he needed to do. He made public comments about how he is going to move forward from here on out so the Warriors can continue their run of dominance through the NBA. But short of signing a new contract (or both players holding a joint press conference where it’s clear from their faces that things are A-OK) everyone is going to assume there’s tension building under the surface with Golden State all season long.

Wizards fans are now wearing bags over their heads (PHOTO)

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The Washington Wizards are bad, and Tuesday night’s win over the Los Angeles Clippers won’t make up for that. John Wall‘s 30-point night won’t make up for that. Any kind of staid quotes from the coaches or players won’t make up for that.

The story is that this team just plain doesn’t like each other, and it’s hard to see how that will change enough to keep this core together. The Wizards front office is already taking calls for potential trades, and teams like the Charlotte Hornets are inquiring about stars like Bradley Beal.

Of course, fans in D.C. are not taking the news of the team’s pending separation lightly. As folks started to pour into the Capital One Arena on Tuesday, at least one fan showed up with the universal symbol of a vote of no confidence.

Via Twitter:

Washington beat Los Angeles, 125-118, but that won’t make up for the general malaise surrounding the franchise.

Given how long the Jimmy Butler Saga continued with the Minnesota Timberwolves, I don’t have any confidence in NBA teams to get trades done in a timely fashion anymore. But the tipping point seems to have been reached in our nation’s capital, and the Wizards will probably shake things up soon.

Watch Toronto’s Danny Green hit game-winning shot over Magic (VIDEO)

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The Orlando Magic gave the Toronto Raptors a bit of a scare on Tuesday night. After a close game and a late lead by the best team in the East, it was the Magic who appeared ready to snd things to overtime.

As things came to a head at the end of the fourth quarter, both teams found themselves gunning for the win as time wound down. The Raptors were up by two points when they missed a 3-point attempt by Kyle Lowry with 12 seconds to go.

The Magic grabbed the rebound and quickly called timeout. That allowed Orlando to reset themselves, resulting in an Evan Fournier bucket with just 2.3 seconds to go and the teams tied, 91-91.

Enter Danny Green.

Via Twitter:

Green hit the clutch shot with less than a full second to go, and the Magic were unable to score on a long-distance heave.

Late shot by Green helped the Raptors win, 93-91. Toronto moved to 14-4 on the year as they sit solidly in first place. Orlando is currently sitting in seventh place in the Eastern Conference.