Three Stars of the Night: Kobe Bryant makes history

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There were plenty of stellar performances on a night that featured an 11-game slate.

Kyle Lowry continues to toil in obscurity in Toronto, putting up 34 points and grabbing 11 rebounds in a loss to the equally horrendous Kings.

DeMarcus Cousins had no problem getting his confidence back in the same game with a 25-point, 13-rebound performance of his own.

Ty Lawson scored 32 points on 12-of-16 shooting in Denver’s loss to the Hawks, while also dishing out seven assists and grabbing five steals.

But those are simply honorable mentions before presenting our true Three Stars of the Night.

Third Star: Al Jefferson — 31 points on 13-of-20 shooting, 15 rebounds, in 35 minutes

The points and rebounds are impressive, but even more so in a low-possession contest like the one Utah was able to win by a final of 87-81. Jefferson was dominant all night long, and was unfortunately forced to leave with back spasms with about a minute and a half to play in the game. But not before ensuring his team would leave with the victory.

Second Star: J.R. Smith — Game-winning three at the buzzer to beat the Bobcats

Smith didn’t have that amazing of an evening, finishing 6-of-16 from the field, and a dismal 1-of-9 from three-point distance. But that one was a monster, and as cold-blooded a shot that we’ve seen this season. Smith lined up his man in isolation, dribbled left, stepped back for the fadeaway jumper that was perfectly defended, yet calmly swished it through the net nonetheless.

Smith is a shooter above all else, so the 0-for-8 three-point shooting on the night to that point had zero effect on his confidence for the game’s final shot. Shoot ’til you’re hot, shoot ’til you’re cold, my man.

First Star: Kobe Bryant — 29 points on 10-of-17 shooting, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 steals, 30,000 point milestone achieved

Bryant did a little bit of everything to help his up-and-down Lakers get a much-needed road win over the dreadful Hornets. But considering the talent disparity between the two teams and the final 103-87 result, the performance wasn’t all that amazing.

While Bryant was more efficient and effective than normal, he earns the top spot tonight based on his becoming just the fifth player in NBA history to score more than 30,000 career points.

Watch LeBron James get blocked at the rim by Jarrett Allen

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LeBron James is seemingly and ageless wonder. The Los Angeles Lakers forward is still one of the most athletic players to ever grace an NBA court, and despite his obvious physical decline, that’s not to say he’s a slouch out there. He’s not exactly late-career Boris Diaw just yet.

But LeBron is now 34 years old, and as such there are other players on the floor with him at any given time that have a bit more bounce than The King. James found that out the hard way on Tuesday night as the Lakers took on the Brooklyn Nets in New York.

During a play early in the first quarter, James drove to the basket only to be rejected by Brooklyn’s Jarrett Allen at the rim.

The result was striking.

Via Twitter:

Good for Allen. It’s one thing to say you have played against the best player of all time, but it’s another thing altogether to swat him on a play that creates a turnover.

Atlanta’s Kent Bazemore fined $10,000 for bouncing ball into stands

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It wasn’t intentional.

With 9:09 remaining in what would be a Nets win over the Hawks in Brooklyn, D'Angelo Russell and Eric Davis completed a 2-on-1 fast break that Kent Bazemore could not stop. The Hawks called timeout, Bazemore had the ball in his hands and, in frustration, tried to throw a hard bounce pass off the stanchion and back to himself.

Except Bazemore missed and the ball went flying into the stands.

Tuesday the League announced Bazemore was fined $10,000 for “throwing the ball into the spectator stands.”

It’s understandable why the NBA does not want players launching the ball into where fans are sitting, so they fine players when it happens. And, thanks to precedent, those fine are whether the move was intentional or not. So, Bazemore takes a hit.

Bucks, 76ers, other teams practicing with “4 point line” to improve spacing instincts

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Space is the name of the game in the modern NBA.

Milwaukee is thriving in part because of the addition of three-point bomber Brook Lopez (still weird to type that) and a coach in Mike Budenholzer who encourages his players to shoot from deep, opening up the floor for Giannis Antetokounmpo to drive the lane.

How Budenholzer reinforces that spacing — adding a four-point line on the practice floor and color-coding parts of the court — is part of a fascinating story by ESPN’s Malika Andrews on how coaches are “gamifying” practices to get through to players. The 76ers, Hawks, Nets, Bulls, and Bucks are the teams we know are using a four-point line in practice right now.

To explain how the Hawks’ 4-point line — which is painted onto the floor 5 feet beyond the regular 3-point line — helps his team, [Atlanta Hawks coach Paul] Pierce walks onto the court to physically demonstrate. The condensed version of Pierce’s 36-minute explanation, which is punctuated by wild gesticulation, is this: “Spacing changes the whole game.”

Atlanta targeted Young out of Oklahoma in the 2018 draft lottery, with hopes of building an offense around his long-range shooting and passing skills. Because Young is willing and able to shoot off the dribble from well beyond the 3-point arc, defenders are forced to step out to defend him almost as soon as he crosses half court. Although he already had that range before he joined the Hawks, Young acknowledges that not everybody has the natural instinct to pull up from that deep, so it helps to have a visual reminder…

Lloyd not only wants Young to shoot from the 4-point line but to make plays from there, too. Expanding the floor outward, in turn, creates space in the paint for big men such as second-year breakout John Collins. If a guard like Young can initiate a play from behind the 4-point line, defenses are forced to cover more ground and, eventually, make difficult choices and compromises.

While Young is struggling with those deep shots this season — 24.1 percent from three — the principle is still valid, and just his and the Hawks’ willingness to shoot from there has stretched defenses (they just don’t have the talent and experience yet to exploit those defenses properly). It’s what Stephen Curry brings naturally to the Warriors (that team has the talent and experience yet to exploit defenses).

It’s not just the four-point line. In Philadelphia, the corner-three spot on the court is a different color, a reminder to players they want to be and shoot from there. In Milwaukee, there are five taped-off boxes on the court, each about the size a person takes up standing there, a reminder of where Budenholzer wants players to be in a five-out offense.

For young players raised on computer learning and video games, the color coding — what Brett Brown called “gamification” of the court — works as reminders. Ones that, ideally, carry over into games themselves.

Don’t forget, Boston reportedly “hawking” Anthony Davis, too

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If Anthony Davis hits the trade market — and that’s still an “if” because the Pelicans are pushing to win now, they are active on the trade market, and they will put a $235 million guaranteed contract in front of him next July, $40 million more than anyone else can offer — there’s been a lot of talk about how the Lakers are poised to pounce.

But don’t sleep on Boston — GM Danny Ainge has eyed Davis for a while and the Celtics have a lot of assets to throw in a deal. Something Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN said on the Woj&Lowe NBA trade season broadcast special recently.

“Boston has been hawking Anthony Davis for years. They always hoped that it would be—whether it’s the end of this season or the beginning of next before the trade deadline—that they would gather up all those assets, all those picks Danny Ainge has, young players, and they’d be the team to be able to get Anthony Davis.

“But now you have L.A., and if they get shut out in free agency, they’re going to have to take all their young players to try to use them to get Anthony Davis.”

If Davis becomes available, the Celtics and Lakers will be at the front of a very long line.

Boston would throw their best assets in a trade for Davis — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and draft picks — that may be more interesting to New Orleans than Brandon Ingram and Kyle Kuzma. (Boston could have four first-round picks in next June’s draft, but trading them is complicated because the draft is weeks before July 1 when the Pelicans make their offer to Davis, it’s possible to delay signing the rookies to keep them tradable but that’s not the norm; also if the Clippers miss the playoffs this year then Boston has their 2020 pick lottery protected).

Also, know that other teams are going to jump in with offers, the way Oklahoma City did with Paul George and Toronto did with Kawhi Leonard. New Orleans is obligated to get the best trade for New Orleans, not to send Davis somewhere he wants to go. If another team comes in with an over-the-top offer the Pelicans may jump at it.

Right now, NBA GMs are just watching what is happening with Davis like hawks. Or, maybe more accurately, vultures.