LOS ANGELES — Tonight’s Five Takeaways comes live from Staples Center, where the Thunder got in a tune up for their Christmas Day showdown with the Bulls. There were a lot better games — and things got interesting on the Phoenix bench — but you’d be hard-pressed to find two players who had more fun Wednesday than Kobe and Durant. Here’s what you need to know from a Wednesday around the Association.
1) Kobe Bryant and Kevin Durant put on a show. For a half. At one point in the second quarter, Kevin Durant crossed Kobe Bryant up badly. After that, he took two long strides through the lane and hit a leaning layup. Then as they ran back down the court, the two shared a laugh about it.
Earlier in the game, when Durant blocked a Kobe shot, Bryant said he told KD, “You long son-of-a-•••••.”
“Competition is a beautiful thing,” Bryant said with a smile on his face after a game where Kobe and Durant dueled in the first half and put on a show for the Lakers fans at Staples Center desperate for just a few minutes of vintage Kobe. They got it. Kobe got Durant a few times over the course of a night, and Durant returned the favor a few more times. The two stars were matched up against each other for most of the night and you could tell both savored it.
“It was fun, I take on those challenges,” Durant said after the game. “Me and him are great friends, but he’s the same way I am between those lines — you’re going to go at each other. No matter what. We can laugh and joke throughout the game, and talk to each other, but when the whistle sounds we’re gonna go at each other…
“He got it going a little in the second quarter, but I think for the most part I made him shoot tough shots all night, and he was able to hit some.”
It only lasted for most of a half. Starting at the 4:05 mark in the second quarter OKC went on a 40-4 run — that blew the game open by the early stages of the third quarter. Most of the second half was garbage time. Kobe and Durant sat out the fourth. In the understatement of the year, the Lakers are not on the Thunder’s level right now.
This is what we can reasonably hope for from Kobe and the Lakers this season — glimpses of his vintage self, fun duels, stretches of games (or a series of games) where he can take us back to a time gone by and let us savor the memories. It’s not going to last, not at 37 and with this team around him, but the halves like Wednesday are a lot of fun for everyone.
2) Suns’ Markeiff Morris throws a towel at coach Jeff Hornacek, who throws it back then benched Morris. The Suns are 6-14 in their last 20 games, and things seem to be devolving. On Wednesday night coach Hornacek benched Morris, unhappy with his play (he was -13 on the night), and Morris responded by throwing his towel at his coach and barking at him. Hornacek answered by throwing the towel back and using some choice words of his own. Needless to say, Morris was done for the night and likely will be suspended by the team for a while. The Suns have been looking to move Morris, but this isn’t going to help his cause. Meanwhile, Hornacek’s seat seems to be getting warmer by the day. And the Suns are a mess.
3) Dirk Nowitzki passes Shaq, moves into sixth on the All-Time NBA scoring list. It seems appropriate. Shaquille O’Neal is decidedly from the old-school, back-to-the-basket world of big men. Dirk Nowitzki revolutionized what we expect out of a big — he’s a seven-footer with three-point range, and an impossible-to-block signature fade away. Dirk was a stretch four before anyone knew what a stretch four was, and he’s the best shooting big man the game has ever seen. Wednesday night he moved past Shaq and is now sixth all-time on the NBA scoring list.
4) LeBron James does in Knicks with a dunk. Shorthanded New York was feisty — without Carmelo Anthony the Knicks had an 82-80 lead on the Cavaliers. But then LeBron happened. With the game tied 82-82 he hit a layup off a Knicks turnover, next trip down hit a couple of free throws, then stuck the dagger in the Knicks with a dunk that had the Cavaliers up 88-82. From there Cleveland hung on for a 91-84 win.
5) Dallas hangs on to beat Brooklyn because… too much J.J. Barea? Yup. Barea has not been good this season, shooting 38.6 percent with a PER of 11.9, he has taken a step back. He is overdribbling and stalling out the Maverick offense. But not Wednesday night. Barea was decisive and had his jumper working — he hit 13-of-20 overall, 5-of-7 from three — on his way to 32 points. The Mavericks needed all of them — including the three in overtime — to get past a stubborn Nets team.
The Mavericks thought they were going to get this win in regulation, but then Thaddeus Young happened. First with the shot.
Then with the block of none other than Barea.
Dallas won in OT 119-118.