I know, it didn’t feel like a Sunday for a lot of you because you have Monday off for Martin Luther King Jr. Day — which has a full slate of NBA games itself. But the NBA kept rolling along Sunday, here is what you should know from that slate of games.
1) Kobe Bryant passes Jerry West to be second on Lakers’ assist list. At this point, it’s just a season of milestones for Kobe and the Lakers. Some good, some bad (like the team being on pace for its worst finish ever). One of the good ones came up Sunday night in what was otherwise another forgettable Laker loss (this time to the Rockets) — Kobe passed the logo Jerry West to move into second place in assists in Lakers’ franchise history (6,244 to 6,238). Bryant has long been proud of his passing and thought it an underrated part of his game. It was — when he was dishing. Bryant could be a gifted passer, when willing (he often seemed in scoring mode or facilitating mode, but those were not always blended in the same stretch). However, teammates had to earn his trust to get those dimes. Otherwise, Kobe would just shoot. He had enough trust over the years to rack up a lot of assists.
2) Will Barton making plays in Denver. When you talk about guys up for the Most Improved Player this season, the list starts with Portland’s C.J. McCollum, but Denver’s Will Barton has to make the list. Denver upset the Pacers Sunday night in a what apparently was a tribute to the Doug Moe era Nuggets, 129-126. Barton had 21 points and was making plays — like a 360 layup.
Or just beating the shot clock.
3) Thunder keep rolling along. On the season, the Oklahoma City Thunder have a net differential of +9.2 (points per 100 possessions over opponents), and in their last 10 games that is +9.5. They are clearly one of the Top 5 teams in the NBA (however you wish to rank them) and that train just kept on rolling on Sunday with a 99-74 win against a quality Miami team. The real hero of the game for OKC was Serge Ibaka, who completely outplayed Chris Bosh, scored 19 points, and created matchup nightmares for the Heat when the Thunder went small. However, as always, the Thunder’s success starts with Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Durant had 24 points and 10 boards, while Westbrook had a triple-double with 13 points, 10 rebounds, and 15 assists. When the Thunder’s big three are clicking, they can beat anyone.
4) Spurs win 11th in a row, knocking off Mavericks with relative ease. When the Spurs offense is clicking as it has recently — like it did against Dallas on Sunday — there’s no stopping the Spurs. After the past couple seasons of them being a Tony Parker-led motion offense, we tend to think of San Antonio as a system team. And they are to a degree. But with the emergence of Kawhi Leonard and others, they have athleticism, too. Plus now with LaMarcus Aldridge they have a guy they can just throw the ball to half-a-dozen times a game, isolate him, say “go to work” and he’ll get them a bucket. They can beat you a variety of ways and the Mavericks Sunday had answers for none of them, which is why San Antonio won 112-83.
Plus we had Boban Marjanovic not only throwing it down on Jeremy Evans, but then staring him down.
5) James Harden gets 31 against the Lakers. While we mentioned at the top of this list Kobe reaching another milestone, the game itself was not as interesting. Los Angeles put up 57 first-half points and still trailed by three because they couldn’t get a stop and the Rockets’ offense was knocking down everything. Then behind a 10-point quarter from James Harden, the Rockets pulled away and went on to an easy win. Harden finished with 31 points on the night and he didn’t even play the fourth quarter.