In LeBron’s final duel with Kobe, Cavs top Lakers 120-108

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LOS ANGELES (AP) LeBron James savored every bump from Kobe Bryant in the low post. He relished every down-court sprint, every big shot – and even the fake that left him sailing helplessly through the air while Kobe pivoted around him for a layup.

The farewell duel between two of the greatest players in NBA history was quality entertainment, even for the two men involved.

“I wish I could play against him every single night,” James said. “Just that competitive juice, that feeling of just going against one of the greatest, you can never take that for granted.”

James scored 24 points while sharing a court with Bryant for the final time, leading the Cleveland Cavaliers to a 120-108 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday night.

Bryant, who will retire after the season, had 26 points on 11-of-16 shooting. He ignored his constantly sore right shoulder to make sure he didn’t miss his 22nd meeting with James on an NBA court, albeit never in the playoffs.

“It was just fun,” Bryant said. “I enjoy the physicality of it. Playing against him is fun because of his size. It’s always fun to bump with him and to have that physicality, backing him down and driving and bumping. That’s fun.”

After a pregame chat and hug with the crowd on its collective feet just to watch pregame warmups, Bryant and James both had vintage individual moments in the final edition of this friendly rivalry.

Bryant got a raucous standing ovation in the first quarter after that graceful post move, faking James out of his shoes and stepping around him.

“It was everything for a competitor like myself,” James said. “I know he was not taking this game off for sure, and I definitely wasn’t taking it off. It was great to be out there.”

Kyrie Irving scored 26 points and Channing Frye had 21 for the Cavaliers, who have won on the first two stops of their four-game West Coast road trip. Irving needled Bryant after a short free throw, and Kobe responded by guarding the youngster.

“It’s just great to have that mentorship out on the floor, but our relationship goes (further) off the court than it does on the floor,” said Irving, who recalled challenging Bryant to a 1-on-1 game at U.S. national team camp. “But to play against him one last time here in the Staples, it means a lot. I’ll remember it for the rest of my life.”

Bryant and James have been parallel superstars for the past 13 seasons. The U.S. national team teammates are the No. 3 and No. 13 scorers in NBA history, with 30 combined All-Star selections and seven championship rings.

The superstars are clearly friends, but their lack of a playoff showdown means they never developed enough history to suit Bryant. Either Bryant or James has played in the past nine NBA Finals, but never at the same time.

“It’s not a rivalry, but I wouldn’t say it’s because we like each other too much,” Bryant said. “I don’t like anybody that much.”

Bryant hit back-to-back jumpers in the second quarter while James threw down a pair of thunderous dunks. Bryant scored seven quick points in the third quarter, but the Cavaliers stretched their lead with James leading the way.

James and Bryant returned to the game midway through the fourth quarter with Cleveland well in front. Bryant hit a 3-pointer with 3:17 to play to trim Cleveland’s lead to 12 points, but went to the bench moments later with fans chanting his name.

Suns, Crowder agree he will sit out training camp while they seek a trade

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Jae Crowder wants out of Phoenix and the Suns have been looking for a trade to accommodate that.

It hasn’t come together, so the Suns and Crowder agreed he should sit out training camp while they find one (this team does not need another distraction in camp).

We knew this was coming because Crowder himself announced it a couple of days ago. While he deleted the Tweet, nothing ever completely disappears online.

Two quick thoughts on this news.

First, it means Cameron Johnson will start at the four, something that was likely anyway as the Suns look to add shooting to help space the floor.

Second, this news does not help the Suns’ leverage in getting a trade. It’s understandable that Crowder didn’t want to be in camp and that the Suns didn’t want the distraction, but now everyone knows the pressure on the Suns to get a deal done and they will lowball their offer.

There are a few potential landing spots out there. Crowder hinted online he would welcome a return to Miami, and the Heat need help at the four after P.J. Tucker left for Philly. The Heat would base a trade around Duncan Robinson, but to make the salaries match the Suns would have to throw in another player — Dario Saric, Landry Shamet, Cameron Payne, Torey Craig or after Jan. 15  — and that seems unlikely.

Atlanta, Dallas, Chicago, Boston (but it’s tough to make the salaries match up), and even a team like Minnesota could work. The challenge is the Suns are a win-now team and will want a player who can help them this season and all those teams are in the same space. Right now there may not be an offer available. As camps open and teams start to understand what they do and don’t have, a deal could come together.

Crowder will be home waiting for that to happen, not with the Suns team.

Giannis Antetokounmpo says Stephen Curry is the best player in the world

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Giannis Antetokounmpo is at the top of pretty much every “best player in the world” list right now.

Except his own.

For Antetokounmpo, the best player in the world is the one that leads his team to the title, so today, it is Stephen Curry (hat tip to Lance Allen of NBC Milwaukee).

It’s easy to see where Antetokounmpo is coming from, but basketball is a team game. The best player may not be on the best team, despite his skill set, and that team may not win. Curry was spectacular in leading the Warriors to their fourth banner since he arrived, he’s near the top of the best in the world list, but it’s not all about winning.

The takeaway from what Antetokounmpo said is how much he wants to win — he wants a second ring.

The Bucks enter the season as one of the favorites to win that ring, but it’s going to take a lot of things going right for that to happen.

Including Antetokounmpo showing he is the best player in the world.

 

Is Matisse Thybulle ready for a big step forward with 76ers?

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Matisse Thybulle brings a valuable NBA skill to the table — he is an elite perimeter defender. Two-time All-Defensive Team in three years in the league.

But when the 76ers got up against Miami in the playoffs, Thybulle’s role shrank dramatically. While Doc Rivers needed his defense, Thybulle’s lack of an offensive game became a problem — the Heat largely ignored him and helped off him, allowing Miami to muck up the Philly offense (he was limited in the Toronto series because he was not vaccinated and could not play in road games). The 76ers tried to solve that problem this offseason by bringing in DeAnthony Melton, Danuel House and P.J. Tucker — solid role-playing defenders who can contribute on offense, too.

Thybulle wants to be part of the solution, too, and told Keith Pompey of the Philadelphia Inquirer he spent the summer focused on his offensive game.

“I’m really proud of what I did,” Thybulle said of his offseason. “I’ve worked harder than I’ve worked. And I had a meeting with [Sixers coach Doc Rivers] early this week and was telling him I feel more bought in than I’ve been before.”

No doubt Thybulle put in the work, we will find out soon if it paid off — and if that will get Thybulle paid.

Thybulle is entering a contract year — the 76ers can extend him up until Oct. 18, after which he would become a restricted free agent next summer. Thybulle said his goal is to remain in Philadelphia (and he’d like an extension).

“At this point, I would always want to stay in Philly,” he said. “And if it’s up to me, that’s always going to be my choice.

“But considering that I’ve realized the reality of how far out of my control it is, if I do get traded or something does end up happening, I can look at myself in the mirror at the end of the day.”

With a win-now Sixers team, Daryl Morey may be in a wait-and-see place with Thybulle, letting the market set his price next offseason. If he signs now, it will likely be on a team-friendly deal (but maybe one that still works for the 25-year-old).

If Thybulle gets on the court this season and shows an improved offensive game, one where he can make teams pay for helping off him, his price goes up and there may be multiple teams bidding for his services next summer. And Doc Rivers would be happy in the short term.

It’s up to Thybulle to prove it now.

 

Markelle Fultz will miss start of training camp, at least, with broken toe

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The basketball gods continue to turn their backs on Markelle Fultz.

A torn ACL had limited him to 26 games over the past two seasons, but he was healthy and ramping up to a larger role this season with a young and interesting Magic team. Then came the news he fractured his left big toe during a training session. As a result, he will be out for at least the start of training camp, the team announced. From the official announcement:

“He has been placed in a walking boot and his return to play will depend on how he responds to rehabilitation and treatment. Fultz suffered the injury during a preseason workout prior to returning to Orlando and imaging confirmed the fracture.

He will not need surgery, according to the team.

Fultz was set to split point guard duties with Cole Anthony, this injury means RJ Hampton could see more run at the point for now. Fultz should be able to return either during the end of the preseason or early in the season.

Fultz was the No.1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft but never found his footing with the 76ers (in part due to injury). However, since getting out of that spotlight and allowed to develop in Orlando he’s been a solid rotation point guard when healthy. Last season in 18 games he averaged 10.8 points and 5.5 assists a game, and while he’s still not an efficient shooter he can run a team.

How Anthony and, eventually, Fultz will work off the ball as rookie Paolo Banchero gets the opportunity to create more offense will be just one of the interesting things to watch with this Magic team this year. We’ll have to wait a little while to see Fultz.