Kobe Bryant exits NBA stage in most Kobe way possible, drops 60 points in finale

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LOS ANGELES — One last time, the chant reached a thunderous volume inside Staples Center as 18,997 fans embraced and exhorted their basketball idol in his final game:

“Ko-be Ko-be Ko-be.”

The fans — some of whom paid exorbitant amounts to be inside Staples Center — wanted one more Kobe Bryant memory.

They got it.

Boy, did they get it.

Kobe Bean Bryant walked away from the NBA in about the most Kobe way possible — he scored 60 points, he shot the ball fearlessly (contested or not, just like always) and hit the dagger shots (a three to give the Lakers a lead with 59 seconds left), leading the Lakers to a win over Utah.

“The thing that had me cracking up all night long was the fact I go through 20 years of everybody screaming to pass the ball, then on the last night they’re like ‘don’t pass it,'” Kobe said with a laugh, addressing the crowd after the game.

It was a night about passion in Los Angeles. It was where Kobe’s passion for and dedication to the game was celebrated. And it was a night that Lakers’ fans’ passion for Kobe was abundantly evident — from the volume inside Staples Center, the signs and the people in tears, to the thousands outside the building on the street who just wanted to be in the area on this night.

“I can’t believe this happened, this is crazy to me,” Kobe said of his final evening in a Lakers’ uniform. “There’s no way I could possibly imagine this happening. I’m just deeply honored by the fans, to be able to put on that kind of show for them, for them, because of all the support they have given me, because of how we grew up together, fans who have been coming here since Day 1. So to give them this type of show in the last one means everything.”

Those fans wanted to celebrate one of the greatest Lakers of all time and one of the greatest players of all time — five titles, third all-time on the NBA scoring list, an MVP and two Finals MVP, 18 All-Star Games, and the list goes on and on. It was the night where a guy who had spent a 19-year career fostering a reputation as a villain was celebrated as a hero. Kobe said for all of his career, at least up until this season when the smiles came out, he embraced that hatred from opposing fans (and a few in L.A.).

“(The hatred) was extremely necessary, because that is what I fed off of,” Bryant said. “At that time, to be embraced, that would have been like kryptonite for me. The darkness, those dark emotions, that’s what I used to drive me.”

This night, he rode the wave of love to one of his highest scoring games ever. Who cares if it took 50 shots, this wasn’t about efficiency, it was about the spectacle and the story. People wanted to see vintage Kobe — the pull-ups, the jumpers over a double-team that would get a normal player benched. This was a 37-year-old man who by the end of the game was completely gassed, but was still taking over an NBA game.

His final game was Kobe’s sixth 60-point game of his career, but it didn’t feel like it would be anything like that early. Kobe seemed off, and the game itself was just a sloppy mess.

The fans were desperate to cheer anything Kobe, groaning with every miss when he started 0-of-5 from the floor, his jumper hitting the front rim. But defense sparked offense — he stripped Gordon Hayward, which was followed by a bucket on the other end — and the building erupted. After that Kobe knocked down a jumper. Then drew an and-1 driving the lane.

That’s when the “Ko-be, Ko-be” chants started.

Soon after came a couple of threes and it sounded like an NBA Finals game in Staples.

The fans only wanted one thing — and Kobe was more than willing to oblige. Especially as his teammates kept feeding him the rock and setting screens to get him space.

“We switched a lot of things, and he got some good looks, he got some tough looks,” Utah’s Gordon Hayward said. “I think for the most part we played pretty decent defense on him. He didn’t get too many easy buckets, but that’s Kobe.”

“I’ve never seen it, never witnessed it, never been a part of something like that…” Lakers coach Byron Scott said. “That man gave everything he had for 20 years, and he did it again tonight.”

In doing so, Kobe created a new part of his legend.

Which is all the fans had wanted to see one last time.

Report: 76ers happy with GM Elton Brand, who’s drawing Knicks interest

76ers owner Josh Harris and general manager Elton Brand
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The Knicks are reportedly interested in hiring 76ers general manager Elton Brand.

In New York, Brand would work under new Knicks president Leon Rose. Brand holds the top position in Philadelphia’s front office. So, Brand would likely go to New York only if fired by the 76ers.

Paul Hudrick of NBC Sports Philadelphia:

A team source on Wednesday confirmed Brand is under contract beyond this season and said the organization is very happy with his work since being named GM in 2018. The source cited Brand’s leadership and strong working relationships with players, agents, and executives around the league.

The 76ers are so pleased with Brand… someone said so without under the cloak of anonymity. If he wants to back Brand, 76ers owner Josh Harris can do so publicly. Otherwise, this is so weak.

Teams generally express support toward employees while the employees are still working for the team – whether or not the employees actually hold approval. A key way to tell whether the support is genuine? Check the source. Harris doesn’t want to look like a hypocrite. If he endorses Brand now then fires him soon, Harris would look silly. With this sourcing, nobody would get egg on his or her face if Brand gets ousted, because we don’t know the source.

I bet Brand does have good relationships with everyone. He has long connected well with others.

But his roster-building has fallen flat.

Inertia will probably keep him in his job. Philadelphia overachieving in the playoffs (whatever form they take) – certainly possible – would make that an easier call. It’s just difficult to build an affirmative case for Brand as a team’s lead executive.

Report: No chance of traditional NBA playoffs this season

NBA playoffs
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The NBA playoffs have a familiar format – four rounds, best-of-seven series, games in front of fans at home arenas.

But the coronavirus, which has forced the NBA into an indefinite stoppage and disrupted life around the world, makes that untenable. Don’t expect the league to wait until that’s workable, either.

Chris Mannix of Sports Illustrated:

At this point, several team and league officials told SI.com, any chance of a traditional postseason is out.

A shortened playoffs in Las Vegas is gaining momentum. It’d allow the NBA, hemorrhaging money, to draw revenue sooner. A reduced postseason would also minimize disruption to future seasons.

But even that comes with major complications, especially containing coronavirus from undermining the entire operation. It could be a long time until its safe to hold games, even in a centralized location without fans.

It could be so long… a traditional playoffs could be back on the table. Though I find that unlikely, I’m still not convince people have a proper understanding of how lengthy this hiatus could be.

Everyone wants to finish the season. The playoffs are the NBA’s most lucrative time, and it feels right to crown a champion.

So, it’s good the focus is on alternative formats. It’d be naïve to expect business as usual when the NBA resumes.

Who should be drafted No. 1? Podcast talking NBC Sports mock NBA Draft.

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Should Anthony Edwards be the No. 1 pick?

Or James Wiseman? How would Obi Toppin fit with the Warriors?

More importantly, how is anyone preparing for a draft when nobody knows when it will take place?

Rob Dauster of NBC Sports — who just completed his mock draft — joins me to discuss what they know and don’t know about the 2020 NBA Draft, starting with having no idea when it will take place. We discuss Obi Toppin, Lonzo Ball, sleepers to watch, and everything in between in a draft preview podcast.

As always, you can check out the podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google play, or check out the NBC Sports Podcast homepage and archive at Art19.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

Bucks hoping to complete title pursuit after coronavirus stoppage

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MILWAUKEE (AP) — The NBA-leading Milwaukee Bucks remain confident the coronavirus pandemic won’t put a permanent halt to the season and that they’ll get to resume chasing their first league title in nearly half a century.

The Bucks had a league-best 53-12 record when play was suspended three weeks ago. With Giannis Antetokounmpo having a potential second straight MVP season, the Bucks seemed poised to make a run at the title that has eluded this franchise since Kareem Abdul-Jabbar led them to an NBA championship in 1971.

Bucks general manager Jon Horst thinks they will get that opportunity.

“We believe that we’re going to play,” Horst said Wednesday in a conference call. “Everything that we’re doing every day in our communications, in our preparations, everything we talk about is being prepared to play at some point, finish out the season and have a resumption.”

That’s why Milwaukee coach Mike Budenholzer has spent part of this hiatus making sure the Bucks don’t lose their edge whenever they do get back on the floor.

He’s been studying the Orlando Magic and Brooklyn Nets — the Bucks’ two most likely first-round playoff foes — as well as other Eastern Conference teams Milwaukee could see later in the postseason. He’s tried to learn from his experiences as a San Antonio Spurs assistant coach during the NBA’s most recent work stoppages.

“One of my reference points with the coaching staff has been lockouts,” Budenholzer said. “Sometimes when you come out of a lockout, things have been kind of slow, you haven’t been able to maybe do your normal routines and preparation, and things happen really fast. Whether it’s three games in three nights, or playoff series are shorter or the time between the end of the regular season to the first playoff game, everything can be shorter or can happen quicker.”

His instructions to his players have focused on conditioning while understanding they might not have as much time to spend working on their basketball skills.

“I think that we feel that there are things they can continue to do as far as continuing to stay strong, continuing to maintain a conditioning level and really just put a lot of time and effort and energy into their bodies,” Budenholzer said.

After blowing a 2-0 lead to the eventual league champion Toronto Raptors in last season’s Eastern Conference finals, Milwaukee appeared to have all the elements in place to make a serious championship run this year before the pandemic struck.

The Bucks had just returned from a winless three-game trip west when the hiatus occurred, but that was the first time they had lost as many as two straight contests all season.

Despite their optimism and their confidence that league officials will do what’s best for the safety of everyone, the Bucks realize that play might not resume. However, Budenholzer said they aren’t thinking about what impact canceling the season might have.

“If for some reason this season is not played or there’s nothing to look forward to or to complete, I’ll process it then,” Budenholzer said. “I would add that I don’t think it’s being totally head-in-the-sand. I think hopefully watching news, listening to the commissioner, listening to whether it be Tony Fauci or Dr. (Deborah) Birx or whoever it is, it does feel like there is I think some realistic hope and belief that we will get through this.

“I know that there are some negatives, some less optimistic modeling, but literally all we think about is we are going to play and we want to be the best team when we do play so how do we prepare for that, how do we get better? It’s a great way to get through this.”