Kobe doesn’t need to say it anymore, it’s obvious Howard needs to play with urgency

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When Kobe Bryant said Dwight Howard needed to suck it up and play through pain, this was not what he had mind.

Kobe wanted a sense of urgency, he wanted leadership, he wanted a guy who would shows some fight to help push the Lakers toward the playoffs. He wanted passion.

Thursday night Howard showed none of that. He looked slowed by injuries and he looked rusty. Howard was unimpressive against an undersized Celtics front line the Lakers needed him to dominate — 9 points (4-of-8 shooting) 1-of-6 from the free throw line, 9 rebounds, 1 assist, 4 turnovers, and he fouled out in the fourth quarter. Howard also is supposed to be anchoring the Lakers defense, but his rotations were slow, and he was terrible helping on screens and pick-and-rolls.

It wasn’t Howard’s fault the Lakers were blown out of the Boston Garden 116-95, that was a total team (lack of) effort. But if you are one of the team’s leaders you need to bring energy to try to turn the momentum in games like this. Howard was part of the scenery.

Mike D’Antoni was asked after the game if Howard needs to play better for the Lakers to have a shot at making the playoffs (answer via a tweet from Kevin Ding).

“He has to. We don’t have a whole lot of other solutions.”

That is where the Lakers are at — their season rests on Howard’s sore shoulders and aching back. Pau Gasol is out six to eight weeks (at least), holding down the paint falls to Howard now. It’s going to take more than a protective sleeve to get him right. He’s clearly still slowed by the injury, but he also isn’t showing a lot of fight.

Howard wanted out of Orlando because he wanted to be in a bigger market where he was the focus of an elite franchise. Be careful what you wish for. This is what it takes to lead an elite franchise.

Kobe tried to push Howard into that leadership role with his comments to Jackie MacMullan of ESPNBoston.com on Wednesday. But after Thursday night Kobe was backing off that — because he could. The need for urgency was obvious because Boston played with it. Kobe didn’t need to say it again, he didn’t need to say anything.

Kobe went the “things were blown out of proportion” line of defense, here is his quote via Dave McMenamin of ESPNLosAngeles.com.

“I think the statements from yesterday were just really overblown, to be honest with you. I didn’t say anything that was offensive or try to take a run at him. It’s pretty shocking in terms of how everybody reacted to it. I wasn’t trying to do anything. It’s pretty simple. If he’s healthy, he’ll play. If he’s not, he won’t. I didn’t say anything that was groundbreaking. Do we need urgency? Yeah, we need urgency but if he’s hurt and it’s going to get worse, he can’t play. It was a pretty interesting day to see how everybody kind of jumped on those statements….

“If I had a message in mind, I’d make it pretty black and white. I don’t need to be surreptitious about it.”

I don’t know about you, but “We don’t have time for (Howard’s shoulder) to heal … We need some urgency” didn’t seem very surreptitious to me.

But Kobe doesn’t have to say anything anymore. It’s obvious.

It’s about Dwight Howard for the Lakers now. We’ll see if he responds differently in Charlotte on Friday. And in Miami on Sunday. Lose those two and the Lakers are back to six games below .500 and…

Well, we don’t need to say that, either, it’s obvious, too.

Jeremy Lin says “at times it kind of sucks” being only Asian-American in NBA

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When Jeremy Lin landed in Toronto — after being bought out and waived by the Hawks, clearing the way for him to sign with the Raptors for the playoff push — the number of cameras and reporters in the Raptors locker room instantly ballooned. Lin remains one of the most popular players worldwide in the NBA, he’s a social media phenom, and there are cameras there to track his every move and send it around the world, particularly back to Asia.

Lin isn’t in the NBA because he’s famous and sells tickets — he’s a quality guard who can help a team, there’s a reason the contending Raptors picked him up — but he inhabits the role of both player and groundbreaker.

Lin talked about that (and Asians in popular culture) with Cary Chow of the Undefeated in an interesting Q&A at The Undefeated, where he said being the only Asian-American in the NBA is not easy.

At times it kind of sucks. At other times it’s amazing. Amazing because you get to challenge everyone’s viewpoints and perspectives. I’m rooting for so many more Asians to come in. Last year, when I was with Brooklyn and we had Ding [Yanyuhang] on the summer league team, I was like, ‘Dude, please make the team. We’d have so much fun together during the season.’

On the feeling that he has to represent an entire race.

Yeah. At first it was something I ran from and really struggled with. Now I embrace it way more and am more equipped to handle it. I’m not perfect, but I kind of know who I want to be at this point in my career, so I keep trucking along and doing things the right way and stay above all the distractions.

Lin has handled his fame deftly over the years. He has challenges and opportunities not open to other players, and that’s the balancing act. It takes someone smart, but also grounded and balanced to pull it all off. The Raptors got all that, along with the extra cameras around the team.

Mostly, though, the Raptors got a player who is going to help them make a deep playoff run.

 

Rudy Gobert re-energized ahead of Jazz at Thunder

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ASSOCIATED PRESS — Rudy Gobert didn’t hide his disappointment at not making the NBA All-Star Game for the first time despite averaging 15.2 points and 12.9 rebounds while leading the league in field-goal percentage.

But coming off the 10-day break, the Utah Jazz center says he’s re-energized heading into Friday’s game against the Oklahoma City Thunder.

“Just recharge, completely — mentally, physically,” Gobert said. “For me, I was able to get a little bit of sun and feel a lot better when I get back.

“The next two months, I feel like, will be a lot better.”

The Jazz, who have won 13 of their last 16 games, come out of the break sixth in the Western Conference but with one of the NBA’s easiest schedules down the stretch.

Utah plays just eight of its final 25 games against teams that are above .500.

One of those, though, is Friday night’s game in Oklahoma City, which sits third in the West after winning 11 of 13 before the break.

The Thunder, on the other hand, have one of the league’s most challenging schedules moving forward. Oklahoma City plays 17 of its remaining 25 games against teams above .500 including each of the first five out of the break.

The Thunder have won the first two meetings between the teams, including a 122-113 win on Dec. 10 in Oklahoma City.

An Oklahoma City win would clinch the season series for the Thunder after Utah eliminated Oklahoma City in the first round of the playoffs last season.

The Thunder’s Russell Westbrook has a streak of 10 consecutive triple-doubles. During that stretch, he’s averaged 21.9 points, 13.3 rebounds and 13.5 assists.

Utah is hopeful backup point guard Dante Exum, who has missed the last 17 games with a left ankle sprain, will be able to return against the Thunder.

“I think when he’s playing well, he can have a big impact for us and having him back soon is going to help us a lot,” Gobert said.

The Thunder could have forward Markieff Morris available for the first time. Morris signed with Oklahoma City over the All-Star break after being waived by New Orleans following his trade from Washington on Feb. 7.

Morris was averaging 11.5 points and 5.1 rebounds for the Wizards this season before suffering a neck injury in late December that has kept him out since. Morris was cleared to play two weeks ago.

“We got a big piece in Markieff that we’re excited for, and we’re going to be ready for the second half after this break,” Oklahoma City’s Paul George said.

Thunder coach Billy Donovan said, “We’ll see,” when asked Thursday if Morris would play against the Jazz.

The Thunder also figure to have both starting forward Jerami Grant and backup point guard Dennis Schroder back after each missed the last two games before the break, Grant with an ankle injury and Schroder after the birth of his child.

Friday’s game is the start of a back-to-back for both teams, with the Jazz hosting Dallas on Saturday and Oklahoma City hosting Sacramento.

 

Raptors fans welcome DeMar DeRozan back with loud, standing ovation

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DeMar DeRozan was the greatest Raptor ever. He was an All-Star, he presided over the best seasons in franchise history, and he’s the one guy who re-signed and stood up for a city that has an inferiority complex around its basketball team.

Toronto fans understood the trade that brought Kawhi Leonard to the team — it’s an upgrade on the court — but their love for DeRozan is real.

They showed that on Friday night when DeRozan returned to Toronto for the first time as a member of the Spurs — he got a raucous ovation upon his introduction.

Early in the game he gave them a taste of what he did for them for years, getting the and-1 bucket on the drive.

Marcus Smart hits halfcourt shot at practice, celebrates with a back flip

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The celebration is more impressive than the shot.

After a tough loss to Milwaukee on Thursday, the Celtics traveled to Chicago to take on the Bulls on Saturday. Friday they had a practice in the Northwestern University facility.

It’s there Marcus Smart drains a halfcourt shot. Impressive. But not nearly as impressive as the backflip celebration.

I did not know Smart had that in him.