Three Stars of the Night: Blazers’ Batum with rare 5×5 night

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Kobe had the kind of big stat line we take for granted (but that the Lakers need right now). Jose Calderon had the second triple-double of his career. But Nicolas Batum’s balanced stat line wins the night.

Honorable mention to J.J. Hickson (24 points), Nick Young (30 in a losing effort, a lot in garbage time), Greivis Vasquez (23 points, 11 assists and 8 rebounds), and James Harden (28 points).

Third Star: Kobe Bryant (34 points, 6 assists, four rebounds)

Kobe Bryant won the Lakers a game in Philly Sunday not because he scored 34 points, but because he scored 34 points on just 21 shots. It’s the trend this season — efficient Kobe. He shot 43 percent last season, it’s up to 48.2 percent this season. Why? He is getting 1.5 more shots at the rim per game while taking 3.3 fewer shots from 16 feet out to the arc (needless to say, you shoot a higher percentage at the rim than a long two). Also, he’s shooting 39.8 percent from three, which is well up from 30.3 last season. Sunday once again he looked strong running the pick and roll, making smart decisions when to attack and when to pass out of it.

Second Star: Jose Calderon (17 points, 14 assists, 10 rebounds)

The Rockets continue to ask a lot more of Jose Calderon while Kyle Lowry is out… and if he happens to play well and boost his trade value while he’s at it, all the better. And Calderon certainly boosted that value on Sunday. He was 6-of-12 shooting but he was doing a little bit of everything, doing a good job hitting bigs who were flashing to the post and attacking (as opposed to a Raptor big man hanging at the three point line waiting for the ball… not to mention the name of someone who is injured). Just a good all around game from Calderon.

First Star: Nicolas Batum (11 points, 10 assists, 5 rebounds, 5 steals, 5 blocks)

The 5×5 isn’t just an oversized special order at In ‘N Out Burger, it’s also a heck of an NBA stat line — the last time a guy had a 5×5 game before Batum on Sunday was 2006. The last time a guy had 10 assists, 5 steals and 5 blocks in a game was Jamaal Tinsley way back in 2001. Batum had not played well of late but broke out of it here showing the kind of all-around skills that led the Blazers to pay him $46 million over four years. It’s the kind of balance and play at both ends the Blazers need to pair in the perimeter with Damian Lillard.

Chris Paul posts emotional tribute to Kobe Bryant

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Chris Paul and Kobe Bryant were tight.

The shocking death of Kobe Bryant — along with his daughter Gianna and seven others in a helicopter crash — hit CP3 hard and the point guard missed his first game of the year Monday, sitting out as he tried to come to grips with it all. Kobe and Paul won Gold Medals together, their kids were friends, and they competed fiercely against each other on the court. 

Tuesday night, Paul posted this personal tribute to Kobe.

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I don't know if I'll ever be able to fully process it. My parents have always said everything happens for a reason and its in God’s plan. But this one is different. Broken fingers, torn Achilles, it didn’t matter. You overcame it all!! You were DIFFERENT! Sometimes we competed so hard against each other that you could never tell how I was always watching YOU!! I needed to see how much better I needed to get and how much harder I needed to work! The love you had for the game was nowhere near the love you had for YOUR girls!! All 5 of them!! And Gigi, who we had already prearranged her marriage with lil Chris, is as beautiful and feisty as she could ever be!!! As I’ve watched you in retirement, as happy as you’ve ever been, I’ve sat back and prayed and hoped that my baby girl will look at me the way Gigi looks at you!!! I Love You and will miss you with all my heart my brother!!! All my love to Vanessa and all the families during this time 🙏🏾 #Mamba4Life #Mambacita

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Like Paul, a lot of us are struggling to process it all.

Watch Jerry West’s emotional memories of trading for/his relationship with Kobe Bryant

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Jerry West has never understood why people thought he was brilliant for recognizing the talent of a 17-year-old Kobe Bryant coming out of high school. To him it was obvious.

If it had been obvious (and if that era had not frowned on the development that came with drafting high school players), Kobe wouldn’t have been a Laker, and NBA history might be very different.

For West, Kobe was not just another player, he was like a son. West talked about it on the well done TNT special commemorating Kobe Tuesday night.

What those neatly packaged TNT clip does not show is just how difficult and emotional it was for West to talk about Kobe.

West has had a life of incredible highs, but also more lows and pain than many — abused by his father and battling depression his entire life — and this is another emotional tax on the NBA legend.

Joel Embiid returns to Philadelphia rotation after nine-game absence

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When you saw the image of Joel Embiid‘s dislocated ring finger facing a direction no finger should face, you knew he was going to miss some time (even though he had it taped up and returned to that game). Embiid had surgery to repair a torn radial collateral ligament on the ring finger of his left hand. Ultimately he missed nine games while he recovered.

Tuesday night against the Warriors, Embiid will be back.

He will have a soft wrap on his left hand that has been cleared by the league.

Philadelphia went 6-3 while Embiid was out.

Ben Simmons stepped up — in his last five games (before Tuesday) he averaged 24 points a game on 70.6 percent shooting, plus 10 rebounds and 8.6 assists a game. Without Embiid in the paint or taking up touches, Simmons took over the offense and looked much more comfortable in his role.

However, the Sixers’ offensive rating in those nine Embiid-less games was 104.9, 29th in the NBA (even in the last five it was 103.2, still 29th in the league). Simmons may have been playing better but the offense was not.

When Simmons and Embiid share the court this season, their offensive rating is 106.7 — not great, but better than without Embiid playing.

Victor Oladipo returns to Pacers Wednesday, likely off bench with minutes limit

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Indiana has gone 30-17 this season and sits as the five seed in the Eastern Conference — and Wednesday they get their best player back.

Victor Oladipo — the former Most Improved Player and All-NBA team member who has been out for most of a year with a right quad tendon rupture — practiced with the Pacers on Tuesday and, as expected, will make his return to the court Wednesday night against the Bulls.

Coach Nate McMillan would not say how he planned to use Oladipo but, considering the minutes limit, off the bench seems the most likely move. McMillan said the team would revisit the minutes and role after the All-Star break.

While Milwaukee has separated itself atop the East, the next five teams — Miami, Boston, Toronto, Philadelphia, and Indiana — are all within 2.5 games of each other and could end up in any order. If Oladipo can return close to the All-NBA form he was in prior to his injury, the Pacers become a big threat to break out of that group. If nothing else, they become a much tougher out in the postseason.