Byron Scott: Lakers and Clippers both ‘desperate’ entering Christmas matchup

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Kobe Bryant is about to mark another memory off on his long list of goodbyes as he suits up for his Christmas swan song.

Saying hello to the Los Angeles Lakers for the first time this season should be enough to put the scuffling Clippers in the holiday spirit.

A suddenly resurgent Bryant will play for the 16th and final time on Christmas Day as the Clippers look to snap out of a funk with an eighth straight victory over their Staples Center co-tenants.

For an 11-game stretch from Nov. 22-Dec. 11 that included the announcement that this season would be his last, it looked as if Bryant and the Lakers (5-24) would have been better off had that retirement taken place immediately. He shot 29.4 percent and averaged 15.5 points as Los Angeles went 1-10.

He’s shown a few signs of his old self over the last five, averaging 23.8 points and shooting 46.2 percent while the Lakers have won twice. But within that recent stretch, including a game Bryant sat out to rest, has been the same old reality check: four losses by a combined 124 points.

“Listen, you have to be realistic about what we’re facing and where we are right now as a team and as an organization,” Bryant said after Wednesday’s 120-85 loss to Oklahoma City. “I mean, you can train a cat to bark all you want, but the damn cat’s not going to bark. So there’s no sense in yelling at it.”

Now Bryant turns his attention to one final Christmas showcase, a stage that typically hasn’t gone well for him. He’s averaged 27.4 points in his 14 starts on Dec. 25, but the Lakers are 5-9. Bryant also played five minutes off the bench on Christmas as a rookie in 1996.

“I feel really honored, having played several games on Christmas and being in so many households at a very special time,” Bryant said. “It’s been a wonderful experience, and I’m looking forward to playing this last one.”

He hasn’t been healthy for the past two, missing losses to Chicago and Miami. The most recent he played was a more vintage 34-point effort in a 2012 win over New York.

The Clippers (16-13) have played on Christmas for the past four years, winning three times. Two of those victories came against Golden State, including a 100-86 final last season that wound up being a season-low point total for the NBA champions.

Playing up to the level of their competition is something the Clippers have yet to do this season. They enter this one having lost three straight to Western Conference contenders, the latest Monday’s 100-99 heartbreaker against Oklahoma City.

The Clippers either led or were tied for almost all of a 42-minute stretch before Russell Westbrook‘s go-ahead 3 with 48 seconds left.

“The great teams are able to bring it every night, no matter who they are playing against,” Chris Paul said. “That’s why the Spurs, Warriors, those types of teams have the records they do. We have had different lineups every night and different guys in and out, but that is part of fielding a great team.”

Josh Smith was benched against the Thunder while Austin Rivers (ankle) and Paul Pierce didn’t play. On the Lakers’ side, Julius Randle was set to see a foot specialist after missing Wednesday’s loss with an ankle injury, but he’s probable.

This rivalry hasn’t been much of one for a while. The Clippers have won seven straight in the series by an average of 24.6 as Blake Griffin has put up 26.7 points per game and shot 61.3 percent.

“You talk about two teams that are desperate right now, for different reasons,” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “Their expectations are to try to win a championship this year. I’m pretty sure they’re not going to be very happy (Friday).

“They would love nothing more than to beat us by 40.”

Watch Celtics shooters look sharp in easy preseason win over Hornets

Charlotte Hornets v Boston Celtics
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It’s just one meanless preseason game, but for a franchise that could use some good news the Boston Celtics will take it.

The Celtics’ shooting looked in mid-season form in their preseason opener against the Hornets on Sunday — 57.1% overall and 22-of-47 from 3 (46.8%). Boston just couldn’t seem to miss, especially early.

Jayson Tatum had 16 points in 22 minutes, while Jaylen Brown was the leading scorer with 24 points in 24 minutes.

The one unexpected bright spot was a strong game from Mfiondu Kabengele, who is currently on a two-way contract with the team. He ended up with 10 points on 4-of-4 shooting and showed some hustle.

Kelly Oubre led the Hornets with 17 points, while LaMelo Ball had 14 points, seven rebounds and four dimes.

It’s just one preseason game, don’t read much of anything into it. But the Celtics will take the good news where they can find it.

T.J. Warren still out for Nets; team to reassess status in November

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The Brooklyn Nets bet that the T.J. Warren from the bubble in Orlando — the one who averaged 26.6 points and 6.3 rebounds a game for the Pacers — would re-emerge and give them a quality forward they could mix into a deep rotation.

Instead, so far it has looked more like the Warren who has played just four games since the bubble due to stress fractures in his foot.

Warren is improving and the Nets are bringing him along slowly, keeping him off the court until November at least, reports Brian Lewis of the New York Post.

Small forward T.J. Warren, who has missed nearly two full seasons following multiple foot surgeries, is “doing some shooting” and “a little bit more movement the last two weeks than he was prior,” Nash said. He added that Warren will be reassessed in about a month.

The Nets can afford to be patient. They have plenty of other questions to answer as a team before worrying about what Warren can or cannot contribute. But in the dream scenario where everything comes together for the Nets this season, Warren gets healthy and becomes a valuable contributor off the bench giving the Nets more versatility, scoring, and shooting along the front line.

For now, the Nets and Warren wait.

NBA returning to Seattle for exhibition game; when will it be more?

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SEATTLE — An NBA preseason game may not seem like a benchmark moment, even in a basketball-hungry city like Seattle, but Jamal Crawford believes there’s value even in an exhibition.

“It reignites a whole new generation of kids who need to see this,” said Crawford, a Seattle native who has been a basketball ambassador for the city through a 20-year NBA career and now with a pro-am that brings in NBA players every summer. “They need to be able to dream and know that it’s real.”

The NBA is making its latest brief return to the Emerald City. The Los Angeles Clippers will play the Portland Trail Blazers there on Monday night, the first time two NBA teams will meet in Seattle since 2018, when the Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings played a preseason game. That was the last sporting event inside KeyArena before it was gutted and rebuilt into the gleaming Climate Pledge Arena.

There was a warm-up act of sorts Friday when the Clippers played Israeli team Maccabi Ra’anana in an exhibition, one where the most of the Clippers’ big names – Kawhi Leonard, Paul George, John Wall and Reggie Jackson – weren’t participating.

A sell-out crowd turned out for that Warriors-Kings game four years ago, the first one in Seattle since the beloved SuperSonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008 after 41 years in the Pacific Northwest. Another big crowd is expected Monday.

“The Sonics haven’t been a team since I’ve been in the NBA. So just to go play in Seattle is cool,” Blazers star Damian Lillard said. “We played in Vancouver a few years back. I think like two or three years ago, we had a preseason game at the (Memorial) Coliseum. So every time we get to do something like that, I always enjoy it because I wondered what was it like when it was a real thing, when the games were played in these different arenas. So I am excited to play in Seattle.”

Someday, possibly soon, the expectations are that Seattle will reclaim its place as an NBA town.

“It’s always been a great city to me,” Clippers coach Tyronn Lue said Friday. “It’s unfortunate that they lost their team and the team went to OKC. This city definitely deserves a team.”

Speculation is nonstop about when the NBA will choose to expand. Thanks to the resolution of its arena situation, Seattle seems likely to be at the forefront of those expansion talks, with Las Vegas likely right behind it.

But NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has been noncommittal about a possible expansion timeline, and it seems likely those talks won’t pick up steam until the league deals with the new collective bargaining agreement and television deals that are on the horizon.

The community’s commitment has never been in question. The appetite of Seattle fans hasn’t waned in the years since the Sonics left and as the region became a hotbed for NBA talent, whether it was Crawford continuing to carry the banner for the city, to Zach LaVine of Renton, Washington, to this year’s No. 1 overall pick Paolo Banchero, another Seattle native.

As if any reinforcement was needed, the summer provided a perfect example as fans camped overnight outside Crawford’s summer league venue for the chance to get inside and watch LeBron James make his first basketball visit to the city in more than a decade.

“Anyone that knows Seattle knows what a great basketball city we are,” Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell said this summer when the preseason game was announced.

The idea for having the Blazers and Clippers meet in Seattle was the result of a brainstorm between Lue and Blazers coach Chauncey Billups. The two close friends wanted their teams to meet in the preseason and Lue noted the owners for both teams are Seattle based: Steve Ballmer of the Clippers and Jody Allen for the Blazers.

“I haven’t been back since I played there in 2008, I think it was. So just to be able to go back there and you know, Mr. Ballmer and kind of see his offices and how he lives, and (Chauncey) to get a chance to see his owner, and then to be with my best friend, I thought it would be a great common ground,” Lue said.

Steven Adams inks two-year, $25.2 million extension with Grizzlies

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Steven Adams signed a two-year, $25.2 million contract extension with Memphis, which will keep him tied to the team through the 2024-25 season. ESPN’s Adrian Wojanrowski broke the news on Saturday.

Adams has been crucial to the Grizzlies’ recent success. He’s coming off his first season with the team, where he averaged career-highs in rebounds (10.0) and assists (3.4). He also helped them lock up the No. 2 spot in the Western Conference and make it to the Conference Semifinals, where they lost to the eventual-champion Warriors 4-2. Despite the improved numbers, a lot of his value is from intangibles that don’t show up in the box score.

Adams spent the first seven years of his career with the Thunder before being traded to New Orleans in the four-team deal that sent Jrue Holiday to Milwaukee. Adams was moved again to Memphis in a package for Jonas Valanciunas.

Adams has found a new home with a young Grizzlies team that is looking to win a championship. The team is built around Ja Morant, Jaren Jackson Jr. and Desmond Bane, but Jackson Jr. is expected to miss time after being diagnosed with a stress fracture in his left foot. Memphis will rely on Adams more than ever to begin the season.