The Extra Pass: Kobe’s thoughts on Carmelo Anthony to L.A. speculation, plus Sunday’s recaps

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by Brett Pollakoff

NEW YORK — When Carmelo Anthony scored a jaw-dropping 62 points in a win over the Bobcats on Friday, he didn’t just set a Knicks franchise record.

He took something that belonged to Kobe Bryant.

The Madison Square Garden arena record, since the building opened its fourth incarnation in 1968, was set by Bryant when he scored 61 points against the Knicks in a sizzling performance back on Feb. 2 of 2009.

Bryant seemed supportive of Anthony’s accomplishment when speaking with the media before Sunday’s game between his Lakers and Carmelo’s Knicks, and tried to explain to us common folk exactly what it feels like to be in that type of zone.

“The pace of the game, everything just slows down for you,” Bryant said. “When I’ve had those games, it’s just such a serene feeling. It just feels like everything else around you doesn’t matter. It’s not important. The most important thing is what’s going on at that moment in time, so it’s just a level of focus that’s astronomical.”

Anthony is one of the game’s elite scorers as far as Bryant is concerned, and someone he’d undoubtedly like to play alongside in Los Angeles while finishing out the final years of his Hall of Fame career. The conjecture surrounding Anthony’s future in New York intensifies with the team mired in so much more losing than was expected, but then again, performances like the one we saw a couple of days ago just wouldn’t feel as special if they happened anywhere else.

While Anthony can opt out of the final year of his contract this summer to become an unrestricted free agent, the smart money remains on him staying in New York, for a variety of continually-discussed reasons. Bryant wouldn’t speculate on Anthony’s future, of course, but could understand if Carmelo chose to play on the West Coast for at least one fairly important reason.

“Everyone wants to play in L.A.,” Bryant said. “I mean, New York’s a beautiful place, don’t get me wrong. But it’s colder than sh– out here.”

All jokes aside, Bryant can understand why Anthony may consider his options when he gets his turn at free agency. Being labeled solely as a scorer can be frustrating, especially when there’s not a lot of winning to accompany those on-court accomplishments.

“It’s tough for players, because a lot of times you’re really subject to the culture around you, in terms of the players and the talent that’s around you,” Bryant said. “You’ve seen it with players from the past, whether it’s Dominique Wilkins or Bernard King. It can contribute to a lot of frustration.

“That’s one of the reasons why I was so frustrated with this organization back in 2006 and 2007, because I didn’t want to be known as a scorer,” Bryant continued. “I wanted to make sure I had a team around me that could contend for a championship. This is a team sport. A lot of times you have to work with what you have around you, and you have to be lucky in the sense of having an organization that can put a great team around you to be successful.”

Is it possible to shake that label?

“I’ve won five championships and there are some of you that still say that,” Bryant said. “So you’ve just got to take it and toll with it. The important thing is winning a championship. That’s the only way to shake it. That’s the only way [Michael Jordan] shook it. That’s the only way any top scorer will be able to shake it.”

If Anthony does choose to leave New York, it’ll be a bit of an embarrassment, at least initially. He very publicly, remember, forced his way out of Denver specifically to play in the nation’s largest market as the leading star of the Knicks franchise. Anthony will be forced to deal with a whole host of commentary pointing out that “he couldn’t win in New York” if in fact he goes, but Bryant doesn’t seem to think that should factor at all into Anthony’s decision.

“I mean, that’s a familiar story with LeBron James, and he seemed to turn out OK,” Bryant said.

Bigger picture, Kobe understands as well as anyone what it’s like to want to win more than anything, but not have the talent around you that’s necessary to get that accomplished.

“From a psychological perspective, as a player, you don’t want to get too frustrated about things that you can’t control,” he said. “So you have to find that balance. At the same time, it’s important for the organization to understand the level of competitiveness that you have — that you won’t tolerate having a team that’s not in contention for an NBA championship, which is what I did.

“It rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but sometimes you’ve got to kick down a few doors and piss some people off, and trust that it’ll pay off in the long run. If you’re willing to do that, more times than not, you’ll be OK.”

Bryant’s blueprint seems to be the most likely course of action for Anthony at this stage of things, and one that he wouldn’t mind seeing his friend follow when his decision in free agency needs to be made.

As for Bryant’s praise of his friend’s 62-point performance that shattered his own Madison Square Garden record, well — let’s just say he was a little less convincing.

“No, I mean it’s great,” Bryant said. “If I was a competitor, I would say that Melo has more opportunities to set a Garden record than I did. But I’m not a competitor, so I won’t say that.”

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Heat 113, Spurs 101: Miami’s been coasting for a couple weeks now, but the Spurs coming to town for Finals rematch snapped them out of it — Chris Bosh had 24 and the Heat looked like contenders again. The Spurs looked shorthanded and not quite the same as last season. We broke it all down in more detail here.

Knicks 110, Lakers 103: Carmelo Anthony was shooting well again but Sunday he got a little help against a weak Lakers’ team that got some good performances (Jodie Meeks for one) but in the end it was a pull-up jumper and a nifty layup by Anthony that helped give the Knicks the win. You can read more about it here.

Pelicans 100, Magic 92: With Nikola Vucevic out Orlando has nobody who can begin to match up with Anthony Davis and he made them pay — 22 points, a career-high 19 rebounds, and seven blocked shots. The Pelicans took control of this game late in the first quarter and it was going to be a runaway but thanks to Arron Afflalo’s 25 and some feisty Magic play it was a game again the fourth quarter. Then Tyreke Evans went of for 13 in the fourth quarter to help keep the Magic at bay.

Suns 99, Cavaliers 90: Cleveland owned the first half of this game — Kyrie Irving was dishing assists, Jarrett Jack came in off the bench and had 8 points, Luol Deng had 10 in the second quarter and it was 61-43 at the half. Cleveland was in control. Then in the third quarter Channing Frye drained a couple threes and suddenly Phoenix was on a 20-4 run and it was a ballgame. Markieff Morris had 10 of his 27 in the fourth quarter (he had 15 assists as well) and the Suns pulled away for a win that is a punch to the gut of the Cavs.

Nets 85, Celtics 79: The Celtics fans were incredibly classy and they got to see some vintage Kevin Garnett — the steal then drive and dunk to seal the game. Mostly though Nets fans should be thanking their bench — that was the group (led by Deron Williams) that made the second quarter run that put Brooklyn on top, then it was Andrei Kirilenko and D-Will who helped close out the game. Along with KG.

Mavericks 116, Pistons 106: This game was fairly close for three quarters, but the Pistons just play terribly in the fourth quarter — Dallas opened the fourth on a 10-0 run and they never looked back. Brandon Jennings put up 26 for Detroit but got torched on the other end by Jose Calderon who shot 7-of-8 against him. Dirk Nowitzki had 28 for Dallas because he is very good at basketball.

Warriors 103, Trail Blazers 88: Portland, with the best offense in the NBA, shot just 33.7 percent in this one. Borderline MVP candidate LaMarcus Aldridge shot 2-of-14 when guarded by David Lee. It wasn’t Portland’s night. For a game that should have been a shootout neither team was knocking it down but the Warriors found their groove behind Stephen Curry, who had 38 points on 23 shots and the Warriors pulled away in the third to get the win. A win they can chalk up to their defense (although Portland missed shots they normally make).

Nuggets 125, Kings 117: Credit the Kings for putting up a good fight in a game where they were without Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins, but in the fourth quarter Denver was just too much. Wilson Chandler had 7 of his 20 in the fourth quarter while Ty Lawson led Denver with 27.

Knicks’ Obi Toppin out at least 2-3 weeks with knee fracture

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Obi Toppin is a fan favorite and Knicks faithful were hoping to see more of him as the season progresses.

However, they are not going to see any of him for at least the next 2-3 weeks due to a fractured knee, the team announced.

Toppin suffered the injury in New York’s win Wednesday over Atlanta, the same game that saw Dejounte Murray sprain his ankle leading him to be out for a few weeks.

Toppin — the reigning All-Star Weekend Slam Dunk contest champion — is averaging 7.7 points in 25 games off the bench. With him out, coach Tom Thibodeau suggested he could lean more on RJ Barrett, asking him to play up at the four.

Report: Zach LaVine not available for trade from Bulls

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Front offices of potential contenders from Los Angeles to Philadelphia have their eyes on the Chicago Bulls — will the struggling Bulls pivot to chase Victor Wembanyama and the top of the lottery, making them sellers at the trade deadline? Teams have interest in Chicago’s three stars: Zach LaVine, DeMar DeRozan, and Nikola Vucevic.

Except just-extended LaVine isn’t currently available, ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski said Wednesday on his network’s pregame show discussing the Knicks.

“The Knicks will be watching Chicago. Is Zach LaVine a player who before the deadline possibly can become available? He certainly isn’t now.”

Chicago is not yet ready to pivot to tanking, so none of its stars are truly available. That said, the Bulls don’t look like a playoff team, they miss Lonzo Ball, and even if things do come together where do they stand in the East hierarchy? If the Bulls do become sellers, they aren’t going to tear this team down to the studs, it would likely be trading just one star. Possibly a second if the offer was strong enough.

LaVine — who signed a five-year, $215 million extension this past summer — is the least likely to be available, league sources have told NBC Sports. The expectation is that Vucevic would be the Bull first made available if the Bulls decide to start seriously listening to offers. And that remains an “if.”

That said, front offices around the league have their eyes trained on Chicago.

Dejounte Murray added to growing Hawks injury report, out 2-3 weeks with sprained ankle

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John Collins is out for at least another week with a sprained ankle. DeAndre Hunter has been out with a strained hip flexor.

Now you can add Dejounte Murray to the Hawks’ growing injury report, he is out at least 2-3 weeks with a sprained ankle, Shams Charania and Sam Amick of The Athletic report.

The injury happened on a closeout from RJ Barrett of the Knicks.

The Hawks have already had chemistry and fit issues this season, and missing key players for an extended period only exacerbates the problem. Atlanta looked flat getting their doors blown off by the Knicks Wednesday night, 113-89, a game that added to a string where they have lost 5-of-7. Now they will have to find a way to right the ship without their second-best playmaker.

There also is an update on the Hawks’ play-by-play announcer Bob Rathbun.

NBA, WNBA players react to news Brittney Griner coming home

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Brittney Griner is finally coming home.

The WNBA and USA Basketball star has spent 10 months in Russian prisons — including being convicted and sent to a Russian penal colony — for having vape canisters with small amounts of cannabis oil in her luggage as she went through Russian airport security back in February. She became a political pawn in the tensions between the United States and Russia, mostly surrounding Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine, and was freed via a prisoner swap announced Thursday.

The basketball world — WNBA players in particular — had worked to keep her name front and not let Griner be forgotten during this ordeal, pushing President Joe Biden and the government to reach a deal. With the news Griner was freed, NBA and WNBA players took to social media to react.

“Brittney has had to endure an unimaginable situation and we’re thrilled that she is on her way home to her family and friends,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said. “We thank the members of the NBA and WNBA community who never wavered in their efforts to raise awareness of Brittney’s unjust circumstances.”

“We are overwhelmed with relief and gratitude that our sister Brittney Griner is finally coming home,” the NBPA said in a statement. “Her strength and courage throughout this last year have been truly remarkable, as have the efforts of her wife Cherelle, our WNBPA sisters, Terri Jackson and the WNBPA staff, who have been relentless in their call to bring Brittney home. We know this homecoming would not have been possible without their unwavering support and continued work to keep BG always top of mind, and our players are honored to have contributed to those efforts. While this is a celebratory moment for our sisters and us, we must not forget the other political prisoners who remain in dire circumstances all over the world. These individuals must be remembered and fought for every single day as BG was so that they too can have this moment. Welcome home Brittney, we are so happy to have you back! #WeAreBG”