Five Takeaways from NBA Sunday: Kobe Bryant passes Jerry West in assists

Associated Press

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.

Paul George has to be helped off court after fourth quarter leg injury


Hopefully this is not serious, not something that changes the playoff picture in the West.

The Clippers’ Paul George went down with 4:38 left in the game Tuesday night after a collision with Lu Dort going for a rebound.

George had to be helped back to the locker room and struggled to put any weight on his leg.

After the game, Tyronn Lue said George was still being evaluated and had no update on his status. George was seen exiting the arena on the back of a cart with his right leg extended, according to the AP.

George had 18 points, seven rebounds and five assists before exiting the game. On the season he is playing at an All-NBA level averaging 23.9 points, 6.1 rebounds and 5.1 assists a game, and the Clippers are 6.8 points per 100 possessions better when he is on the court.

The Thunder went on to win 101-100 in a game filled with drama, including a technical foul for Kawhi Leonard, an ejection of Terrence Mann, Shai Gilgeous-Alexander scoring 31 points, and Lou Dort locking up Leonard in the final seconds.


Grizzlies Ja Morant: ‘My job now is… to be more responsible’


While his coach said he anticipates Ja Morant will return to the court Wednesday for the Grizzlies, Morant downplayed expectations and said things are “still in the air.”

Whether the official return is Wednesday or a few days later, Morant is back practicing with teammates and spoke to the media for the first time since his suspension. He once again was apologetic.

“I’m completely sorry for that,” Morant said, via the Associated Press. “So, you know, my job now is, like I said, to be more responsible, more smarter, and don’t cause any of that no more.”

Morant was suspended eight games by the NBA after flashing a gun in a club and broadcasting it on social media, something NBA Commissioner Adam Silver called “irresponsible” and “reckless.” Morant used that time to go into counseling at a facility in Florida but added he “never had an alcohol problem.”.

“I went there to counseling to learn how to manage stress,” Morant said. “Cope with stress in a positive way, instead of ways I’ve tried to deal with it before that caused me to make mistakes.”

Morant said that his treatment is an “ongoing process,” adding that he was getting off social media and letting his actions speak for him.

Morant and his associates had incidents before that caught the attention of people around the league — including a run-in with Indiana Pacers security — however, this incident in a Colorado club was the first one that hit him in the wallet. The suspension cost him $668,659 in game pay, plus one of his major sponsors — Powerade — pulled an ad campaign featuring him that would have run heavily during March Madness.

The biggest hit is Morant possibly missing out on an All-NBA guard spot. Morant could make $39 million more over the five-year extension that kicks in next season if he makes one of the three All-NBA teams. However, the guard spot is especially crowded with deserving players this season and this incident and the missed games do not help his cause.

Hart will be free agent this summer seeking new contract, ‘would love for it to be New York’


Josh Hart‘s play since coming to the Knicks has made him a lot of money.

Already a darling of many front offices, Hart has been a seamless fit in New York, averaging 11.1 points and seven rebounds off the bench for Tom Thibodeau, playing quality defense, and being the kind of plug-and-play wing every team can use. He’s quickly become a fan favorite in New York, but the Knicks will have to pay up to keep him. Hart has a player option for $12.9 million next season that he is widely expected to decline — there’s a lot more money and years available to him on the open market.

Hart told Marc Spears of ESPN’s Andscape he wants to find a home, and he hopes that it is in New York.

“I want bigger things for my wife and myself,” Hart said. “Just find a home somewhere where we are valued and really like living there. And I think that can be New York. I would love for it to be New York and hopefully the organization feels the same way. Coming up, this contract is hopefully my biggest one, one where I’m making sure my family’s fully taken care of. So, I’ve also got to take that into account, too.”

That is the polite way of saying, “I like it here but you’re not getting a discount.”

While Hart will have made a tidy $33 million in his career when this season ends, his next four-year contract will be worth more than double that amount — this is the deal that sets up generational wealth for Hart’s family. This is a business and he has to make the decision best for him, as much as he may love the Knicks.

Expect the Knicks to pay up, especially as long as Thibodeau is around. This is a deal that should come together.

But first, Hart and the Knicks are headed to the playoffs, and Madison Square Garden will be rocking. It’s going to be the kind of experience that makes a guy want to stay with a team.

Hall of Famer, Knicks legend Willis Reed dies at 80


Willis Reed, the legendary Knicks’ center whose dramatic entrance onto the Madison Square Garden floor minutes before Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals sparked the team to its first title, has died at the age of 80.

The National Basketball Retired Players Association announced Reed’s passing. While no cause of death was announced, it was known Reed had been in poor health for some time.

“Willis Reed was the ultimate team player and consummate leader,” NBA Commissioner Adam Silver said in a statement. “My earliest and fondest memories of NBA basketball are of watching Willis, who embodied the winning spirit that defined the New York Knicks’ championship teams in the early 1970s. He played the game with remarkable passion and determination, and his inspiring comeback in Game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals remains one of the most iconic moments in all of sports.

“As a league MVP, two-time NBA Finals MVP and member of the NBA’s 50th and 75th Anniversary Teams, Willis was a decorated player who took great pride in his consistency. Following his playing career, Willis mentored the next generation as a coach, team executive and proud HBCU alumnus. We send our deepest condolences to Willis’ wife, Gale, his family, and many friends and fans.”

Reed had an amazing career — highlighted by the two NBA titles and two NBA Finals MVP awards, plus being a seven-time All-Star — but he is best remembered for a legendary 1969-70 season. That year he became the first player to sweep the regular season, All-Star Game and NBA Finals MVP awards.

However, it was him walking out on the court for Game 7 of the Finals in 1970 — after he suffered a thigh injury in Game 5 and had to miss Game 6 of the series, and the Knicks had no answer for the Lakers’ Wilt Chamberlain without him — that became the moment of legend. Reed scored four early points that game, and while he was limited the rest of the way he sparked the team to its first title (Walt Frazier’s 36 points and 19 assists had something to do with the win, too).

Reed was born in 1942 in Hico, Louisiana, and stayed in the state through college, leading Grambling State to the 1961 NAIA title. Considered an undersized center at 6’9 “, teams quickly learned he played much bigger than that as he went on to win the 1965 Rookie of the Year award.

Reed averaged 18.7 points and 12.9 rebounds a season over the course of his career, and he had his No.19 retired by the Knicks. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1982.