Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Kobe Bryant makes it official, shows why it’s time

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It’s time. If you’ve watched Kobe play at all the past couple years, you could see it was time. But it took a while for Kobe to realize that. His announcement that he would step down after the season became the story of the night in the NBA Sunday. By far.

1) Kobe Bryant makes it official, he is going to walk away from the game after this season. Kobe Bryant’s body has been telling him for a while it was time to hang it up, but Kobe is as fierce and stubborn a competitor as the league has ever seen and he wasn’t going to listen. The man who willed himself to be one of the game’s greats was going to will away 37 years, 55,000 NBA minutes, and the effects of a torn Achilles and blown out knee.

Except he couldn’t. And now he has come to accept it is time to retire at the end of the season, as you could see from his postgame comments on Sunday night.

“I’ve known for a while. I’ve always said if anything changes, I’ll change my mind. The problem for me, you can’t make a decision like this based on outside circumstances. It has to be an internal decision. Finally, I just had to accept it, I don’t want to go through this anymore. And I’m okay with that….

“I honestly feel really good about it. I really do. I’m at peace with it… I’ve worked so hard and I continue to work really hard even though I played like s—, I’ve worked really, really hard not to play like crap and I do everything I possibly can. And I feel good about that.”

Laker GM Mitch Kupchak was honest about the Laker organization needing to rebuild and that being tough on Bryant.

“Well, we didn’t make it any easier on him with the team we have on the court — and that’s not to say that they’re not a talented group of players, but they’re certainly young and unaccomplished. And at an advanced age, I think we witnessed it’s difficult to play this game, and I think he’s struggled at a tempo and a pace that I think younger players (prefer).”

2) Then Sunday night Kobe shot 4-of-20 and showed why it was time for him to step down. His game against the Pacers Sunday summed up where Kobe is right now with his game. He was struggling from the field against a good Pacers’ defense, shooting 2-of-15, yet Byron Scott kept him out there, so Kobe kept gunning.

Then suddenly for a flash it was vintage Kobe — he hit two late three-pointers that made it a game and brought the Lakers within two points of the Pacers late.

Then vintage suddenly looked old. With the chance to tie the game and Staples Center on its feet willing the storybook ending, Kobe popped out off a down screen, caught the inbounded ball, curled around the top of the arc and…. air balled it. Pacers win. Kobe finished the night with 13 points on 4-of-20 shooting, bringing him to shooting 30.5 percent for the season.

3) Meanwhile, Paul George remains a beast, showed it against Lakers. The Pacers’ star was nothing short of brilliant wearing the Hickory High throwback uniform against the Lakers. He was pressuring on defense and had a couple steals (and disrupted more plays), plus poured in 39 points on 21 shots.

4) The Sixers lost, falling to 0-18, setting up a “showdown” with the Lakers on Tuesday. This has happened a few times lately: The Philadelphia 76ers hustle, scrap, play hard and are in a game, only to get crushed late in the game because when the other team cranks up the defensive pressure and gets serious the Sixers are overmatched. It happened again Sunday, the Sixers led by three going into the fourth quarter against the Grizzlies, but Memphis won the fourth 28-17 and the game 92-84.

That drops the Sixers to 0-18 on the season, tying the NBA record for the worst start ever. It also sets up a showdown on Tuesday night — the Lakers come to town. A “showdown” game. These are the two worst teams in the NBA, and the Lakers don’t have the talent (or comfort with their style of play) to crank it up and just out-talent the Sixers late, so this could be a real game — and a real shot for Philly.

5) Stan Van Gundy called out Andre Drummond’s effort after Nets beat Pistons. Andre Drummond put up another big line — 20 points and 18 rebounds — but after a loss to the lowly Nets, Pistons’ coach Stan Van Gundy was not impressed:

“I didn’t think he brought much energy to the Milwaukee game, and I didn’t think he brought much energy tonight. Why that is, I don’t know. But we need a lot more from him than we got tonight.”

I get the idea of calling out your star in the media to both motivate him and light a fire under the rest of the team. It’s a solid tactic. But I’ll add in some ways it seemed a more mature performance from Drummond. A couple of seasons ago, when he got frustrated as he did early in this one, he would have hung his head and mentally checked out of the game, he fought through it to put up numbers Sunday. That’s a start.

Bulls’ Lonzo Ball “nowhere near playing,” could miss entire season

New Orleans Pelicans v Chicago Bulls
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“I’m trying to stay positive, keep my hopes up. I would love to play. I would never count that out.”

Lonzo Ball tried to put an optimistic face on his recovery from a second knee surgery, but he was realistic and put no timetable on a return.

Bulls coach Billy Donovan was more realistic, speaking Saturday before the Bulls took on the Magic. Via Julia Poe of the Chicago Tribune.

“He’s made some progress, but I’d be the first one to tell you he’s nowhere near playing,” Donovan said. “He’s just not. Because he’s not running on a consistent basis. When he can get to that place where he can do that consistently and be able to come back the next day and do it again, do it again and do it again — I think you’ll feel a little bit more optimistic.”

Could Ball be out for the entire season? Donovan again, via K.C. Johnson of NBC Sports Chicago:

“My guess would be – there’s not been a specifically set date – my guess would be I think we get through the All-Star Break, I think there would probably be everybody sitting down to talk about length and time of the season, how realistic is it for him to get back, if he could get back what would the minutes look like, is it not worth having him back just because it’s too much?’’ Donovan said. “I think everything, at least in my conversations with medical about him, have always been geared towards helping him get back to playing. Certainly once you get out of the All-Star Break, with the amount of time that’s left, basically you’re at the end of February. You have all of March and not even two weeks in April, so you start to get to that point where I think there will be some conversations of, ‘OK, if he’s still not close to playing, what’s the plan moving forward?’”

Ball has undergone multiple knee surgeries. The first was in January 2022 and the expectation at the time was he would return for the playoffs, but his knee didn’t respond well during rehab. That led to a second knee surgery, and recovery from that is going slowly as well. It leaves the Bulls in a tough spot, they miss his defense and his being a floor general on offense as they have struggled to a 23-26 record this season that sees them sitting as the No. 11 seed in the East.

Pelicans Trey Murphy III reportedly invited to participate in Dunk Contest

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We knew three participants invited to the All-Star Saturday night Dunk Contest: G-League fan favorite Mac McClung, the Portland Trail Blazers Shaedon Sharpe and the Houston Rockets’ KJ Martin.

The fourth slot in that event will go to the Pelicans’ Trey Murphy, reports Andrew Lopez of ESPN.

No doubt Murphy can throw it down with the best of them.

The Dunk Contest will headline All-Star Saturday night, Feb. 18, from the Vivint Arena (soon to be the Delta Center again). The event will be broadcast on TNT.

The Dunk Contest is the Saturday night headline event, but it has fallen flat in recent years. Adding a G-League dunker and young, bouncy athletes such as Murphy, Martin and Sharpe could make this one entertaining. However, what fans really want to see — what made the Dunk Contest must-watch back in the day when Jordan, Kobe, and Vince Carter were doing it — is the stars. There will be no Ja Morant, no Zion Williamson, and no Anthony Edwards in this contest.

LeBron James NBA all-time scoring record tracker

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Kareem Abdul-Jabbar has held the NBA all-time scoring record at 38,387 points since he retired in 1989. It is one of the most iconic records in sports and one thought by many that would never be broken, but LeBron James is on the verge of breaking that scoring record and doing it at age 38. How many more points does LeBron need to take over the scoring record? When is it projected to happen? Let’s break down the latest numbers (this will be updated after every Lakers game until the record is set).

How many points does LeBron James need to set the scoring record?
117

Abdul-Jabbar career points: 38,387
LeBron career points: 38,271

Lakers’ upcoming schedule:

Jan. 30 at Nets
Jan. 31 at Knicks
Feb. 2 at Pacers
Feb. 4 at Pelicans
Feb. 7 vs. Thunder
Feb. 9 vs. Bucks

When is LeBron projected to set the all-time scoring record:

LeBron is averaging 30.2 points per game this season, at that pace he would set the record on Feb. 7 at home against the Oklahoma City Thunder (if he does sit out Monday against the Nets, as the team announced).

Since he turned 38 (on Dec. 30), LeBron has averaged 35.2 points per game, which would see the mark broken at home against the Thunder.

News and notes on LeBron’s quest for the record:

• The Lakers have officially listed LeBron (and Anthony Davis) as out for the game Monday night in Brooklyn. That is the first game of a back-to-back for the Lakers, and they have rested LeBron in half of those for most of the season. This will push back the date he breaks the record, making it likely it happens at Crypto.com Arena.

• LeBron scored 41 points — and felt he should have had a couple more — in the Lakers’ overtime loss to the Celtics Saturday on national television.

• Sixers Doc Rivers on what impresses him in LeBron’s run to this record: “LeBron has done it so differently to me [thank Kareem]. Because LeBron is not a natural scorer. LeBron is a playmaker. He got criticized early in his career for making the right decisions. And the fact that he’s now about to break the scoring record, it really points out his greatness.”

• LeBron scored 20 points in the Lakers’ win over the Spurs, a game in which Anthony Davis returned from injury and Rui Hachimura made his debut as a Laker after being traded from the Wizards.

• What has Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said about LeBron passing his record? There has been a bit of frostiness between the two men, but Abdul-Jabbar was gracious in comments to Marc Stein back in 2021 about the possibility of his record falling: “I’m excited to see it happen. I don’t see records as personal accomplishments, but more as human achievements. If one person can do something that’s never been done, that means we all have a shot at doing it. It’s a source of hope and inspiration. Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile back in 1954. Since then, not only have 1,400 runners beaten that time, but the new record is 17 seconds less. We all win when a record is broken and if LeBron breaks mine, I will be right there to cheer him on.”

Watch Harden run onto court from bench mid-play to defend

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It takes a second to notice, but the 76ers had just four players on the court trying to defend the Nuggets on a late third-quarter possession.

But when James Harden — sitting on the bench — notices it, he stands up and runs into play, drawing a technical.

The technical foul was for having four men on the court, not on Harden specifically.

While that may have been a rare instance of Harden rushing to play defense, the 76ers as a team cranked up their defense in the second half against the Nuggets and went on to get the home win behind 47 points from Joel Embiid.