Kobe plays with injured ankle, finishes scoreless as Lakers beat Pacers

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Kobe Bryant surprised many by appearing in the Lakers starting lineup in Indiana on Friday, but the ankle injury he suffered on Wednesday in Atlanta proved to be too limiting for him to do any damage against the Pacers.

Bryant played the entire first quarter, but went 0-4 from the field and asked out of the game after playing its first 12 minutes. He did not return and finished scoreless for the first time since 2004, but the Lakers got scoring from five others who finished in double figures as they beat the Pacers 99-93.

Dwight Howard led L.A. in scoring with 20 points, to go along with 12 rebounds, four assists, and four blocked shots. But the real offensive heroes in this one were Steve Blake, Antawn Jamison, and Metta World Peace, all of whom scored more than expected, and did so while shooting a high percentage.

The Lakers won this one on the strength of their three-point shooting, which has always been a big part of the team’s offense throughout the season, at least in terms of attempts. L.A. ranks third in the league in that category, but is just a middle of the pack squad in terms of the percentage of those shots it gets to go down.

Against the Pacers, the Lakers used dribble penetration from Steve Nash to set up shooters on the perimeter, or post-ups from Howard to do the same as the defense attempted to double.

Given the numbers, Indiana’s defensive plan wasn’t a bad one; the Lakers simply made a higher percentage of long range shots on this night than they have consistently all season. Jamison and Blake combined to shoot 9-14 from beyond the arc, World Peace made two of four, and the Lakers as a team knocked down 13 of 26 from three-point distance.

On the Pacers side, both David West and Roy Hibbert were brutal, combining to go just 7-25 from the field, while finishing with just eight and seven points, respectively. Paul George struggled to score consistently as well, and a huge 31-9 run by the Lakers that lasted from about two and a half minutes to go in the first until there were under three minutes remaining in the half put the Pacers in a tough spot the rest of the way.

It was clear watching Bryant play that the ankle was simply too limiting for him to be able to contribute. None of his four shot attempts were close, and his movement on the perimeter was extremely limited, to the point where he was hurting his team more than he was helping it.

Credit Bryant for mustering the will to play at all with an injury that severe, and credit him even more for knowing after 12 minutes that he was completely ineffective, to the point where he decided to take himself out.

This was a good opportunity for the Lakers to beat a quality team on the road, but on paper, they were supposed to beat the Hawks and they were supposed to lose to the Pacers. Ultimately, the two games ended with L.A. getting the one win that was expected, but the bounce-back effort on a night where Bryant literally provided nothing offensively was impressive nonetheless.

Adam Silver backs Knicks center Enes Kanter’s decision to skip London trip

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LONDON (AP) — NBA Commissioner Adam Silver says the safety and security of players will always be paramount for the league after New York Knicks center Enes Kanter did not travel to London for his team’s game against the Washington Wizards.

Kanter said he feared he could be attacked or killed over his opposition to Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan if he were to travel to London. Istanbul-based newspaper Daily Sabah reported that an arrest warrant was issued for Kanter by Turkish prosecutors on Wednesday.

Silver, speaking ahead of Thursday’s game, says “it was never a suggestion from the league that (Kanter) was not welcome on this trip.”

“There are significant issues that he is dealing with, and I recognize that for the NBA, by virtue of the fact that we’re a global business, we have to pay a lot of attention to those issues as well,” Silver says.

Kanter, who has frequently criticized Erdogan, had his Turkish passport revoked in 2017.

Wizards beat Knicks with game-winning goaltending call in London Game

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The good people of England could use a break from the dumpster fire that is Brexit, so the NBA came to town to entertain with their very best… their biggest stars… the teams that were willing to go, the Knicks and the Wizards.

But the Londoners got to see one unusual ending.

The Knicks were up 100-99 thanks to a Noah Vonleh hook shot, but the Wizards had three seconds to try to get off a game winner. Scott Brooks designed an interesting play, with Bradley Beal starting in the backcourt and sprinting into the frontcourt, and when the defense moved to him as the likely shooter he passed to Thomas Bryant rolling down the lane, he put up the finger roll and…

That was a goaltend by Allonzo Trier to my eyes — the ball is just starting its downward trajectory, and it may have been over the cylinder (in an NBA arena there would have been an above-basket camera with a better angle on if it was over the rim, but that did not seem to be available in London).

The Wizards — who owner Ted Leonsis said will never tank, so forget about them trading away assets at the deadline — have won 3-of-4 and are 6-4 since John Wall was sidelined with his foot injury, with a +3 net rating in those games. Washington is now just two games out of the playoffs in the East and GM Ernie Grunfeld does not believe in tanking, so expect them to make a push.

Which is why wins like this matter.

PBT Extra: DeMarcus Cousins’ return will be big boost for Warriors. Maybe.

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The Golden State Warriors — the two-time defending NBA champs, the team on top of the Western Conference with the best offense in the NBA — are about to get a whole lot better.

Maybe.

Nobody really knows.

What we know is DeMarcus Cousins is scheduled to make his return to the court on Friday night against the Clippers in Los Angeles. Cousins missed the end of last season and all of this season recovering from a ruptured Achilles.

I get into all of it in this PBT Extra.

As NBC’s Tom Haberstroh pointed out, the history of big men bouncing back from this injury does not bode well for Cousins. On the other side, Cousins was so skilled, if the Warriors can get 75 percent of the old Cousins it will be an upgrade over Kevon Looney and give Golden State a guy who can exploit mismatches.

On paper, the Warriors should get better with Cousins in the lineup. But nobody really knows.

Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich says he doesn’t know whether he’ll retire after season

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Spurs president-coach Gregg Popovich said in 2015 he made a commitment to newly signed LaMarcus Aldridge, presumably to coach through the five-year contract he signed in 2014.

That contract will expire after this season.

Then what?

Popovich, via Marc Stein of The New York Times:

“I don’t know the answer,” Popovich said when asked about his plans for next season in an interview Wednesday

Maybe Popovich is legitimately undecided about his future. Maybe he has a firm plan and was just being dismissive because he didn’t want to discuss it publicly. There’s obviously a massive difference between the two, but it’s difficult to parse from only his quote.

Popovich will coach Team USA in the 2019 FIBA World Cup and 2020 Olympics. That responsibility means a lot to the Air Force veteran. Some have even speculated he’ll retire from the NBA after this season to prepare for his USA Basketball duties.

In the meantime, Popovich remains one of the NBA’s top coaches. He has helped San Antonio turn around its season, building a strong offense around mid-range shooters DeMar DeRozan and Aldridge and getting everyone on enough of the same page defensively to be reasonable on that end. The Spurs aren’t a great team, but they’re good in ways that have Popovich’s fingerprints all over them.

Popovich could continue to succeed in the NBA for the foreseeable future. The question is – with Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili gone and Popovich nearing age 70 – how much longer he wants to do it.