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.

Watch Embiid score 47, lift 76ers past Jokic, Nuggets 126-119

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid won the battle of MVP candidates with 47 points and 18 rebounds as the Philadelphia 76ers extended their winning streak to seven games with a 126-119 win over Nikola Jokic and the Denver Nuggets on Saturday.

Jokic and Embiid have finished first and second in voting for the NBA’s Most Valuable Player award over the last two seasons. Both are among the top candidates for MVP as this season hits the halfway mark, although Embiid was not named among the All-Star starters from the Eastern Conference.

“I’m used to it and it’s not the first time,” Embiid said. “I think it’s more of a motivation to go out there and try to win the whole thing. That’s the only way that I’ll get that respect.”

Jokic gave Embiid a nod for his play.

“He’s really talented,” Jokic told the Denver Post of Embiid. “Really shifty.”

James Harden had 17 points and 13 assists, and Tobias Harris scored all 14 of his points in the second half after being shut down by Denver’s defense in the first half.

“We were able to figure some things out and get some stops,” Harris said. “Guys stepping up and making shots was huge for us to cut the deficit in the fourth quarter to try and make something happen.”

Jokic had 24 points, eight rebounds and nine assists for Denver, which has lost three of its last four games. Jamal Murray chipped in 22 points and Michael Porter added 20.

“We turned it over and they just turned up the pressure on us,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “They got to the basket way too easy with their attack mentality. And we just got way too careless with the basketball.”

Embiid has scored 40 or more points nine times this season and 35 times in his career. In addition to the All-Star snub, Embiid was also given a $25,000 fine by the NBA on Friday for an on-court demonstration after-basket celebration during Wednesday night’s win over Brooklyn.

“Let’s keep offending Joel by fining him and not putting him among the All-Star starters,” Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said sarcastically.

The Nuggets began the day with the second-best team field goal percentage at 50.7% and tops in 3-point percentage at 39.5%. In the first half, they overwhelmed Philadelphia’s perimeter defense, shooting 65.9% (29 for 44) from the floor and 10 of 17 (58.8%) from beyond the 3-point line. The hot shooting helped the Nuggets to a 73-58 lead at halftime.

Embiid started to take over toward the end of the third quarter, putting together a 16-point quarter on 5-of-6 shooting that keyed a 14-0 run that allowed the Sixers to close within 99-98 early in the fourth.

In the final quarter, Philadelphia wore down a Nuggets team playing the final game of a three-game, week-long trip. P.J. Tucker– who had switched defenively to Jokic and slowed him down in the second half- followed a Harden missed 3-pointer with a tip-in with over a minute left to stretch the lead to five. Embiid then hit a 3-pointer to restore an eight-point lead.

“I’ve always like to think I am a closer and I am,” Embiid said. “Taking the last shot or taking a last second shot with the clock ticking is fun for me. I love getting into those types of possession where you have to make the plays. That’s where you find out who is who and who is made up for those kinds of moments.”

Report: Myles Turner agrees to two-year, $60 million extension with Pacers

Indiana Pacers v Milwaukee Bucks
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Take Myles Turner off the trade market.

After months of negotiations, the Pacers and Turner have agreed to a contract extension, reports Adrian Wojnarowski of ESPN.

This has since been confirmed by other sources.

Turner — back playing his natural center spot this season with Domantas Sabonis in Sacramento — is having the best season of his career, averaging 17.5 points, 7.9 rebounds and 2.4 blocks a game. He has been one of the keys to a surprisingly good Pacers team this season.

That $60 million contract extension number can be a little misleading. Turner was already making $18 million this season, but because the Pacers are $24.4 million under the salary cap, they can do a re-negotiation and extension with the big man, giving him a $17.1 million bump right now (to a total of $35.1 million for this season) and extend off of that for two years, the first at $20.2 million and the second at $19.9 million, according to Shams Charania.

There had been a lot of trade interest in Turner, going back to last summer, most prominently with the Los Angeles Lakers in a swap that would have sent Buddy Hield and Turner to the West Coast for Russell Westbrook and two first-round picks. That draft pick compensation kept the deal from getting done (the Pacers wanted two unprotected first-rounders).

NBA refutes viral Reddit post claiming conspiracy to pad Jaren Jackson Jr.’s stats

Memphis Grizzlies v Golden State Warriors
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Jaren Jackson Jr. has been a defensive monster since coming back from foot surgery, something obvious by the eye test but backed up by impressive stats: 3.1 blocks and a steal a game, opposing players are shooting 44% on shots he contests and when he is on the court the Grizzlies have. 106.8 defensive rating (which would be best in the league by more than three points). He is the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year right now.

That led to a conspiracy theory post on Reddit about how the Memphis scorekeeper is padding Jackson’s stats, calling his numbers fraudulent. The post went viral — we all love to think we’re in on something nobody else knows — and has gotten to the point some Las Vegas sportsbooks have taken down Defensive Player of the Year betting.

The conspiracy theory does not hold water. At all.

The NBA pushed back on that theory by reminding people that all NBA stats are audited in real-time by someone watching the video in Secaucus (rebound or blocked shots being changed during a game is not uncommon because of this).

“In order to ensure the integrity of our game statistics, auditors, independent of the statisticians on-site, review all plays and stats decisions in real-time during NBA games,” NBA spokesman Tim Frank told NBC Sports. “If changes are necessary, they are made at that time or following a postgame review. All of the plays questioned in the post on Memphis games were scored consistently within the rules set forth by the NBA statisticians manual.”

Reddit has now labeled the post “Misleading.”

Another Reddit user compiled videos of the alleged stat padding incidents called out in the post, but watching them proves the NBA’s point that these were correctly assigned. For example, Jackson gets credit for steals on tipped balls, which is how steals are calculated. The video showed that many fans don’t understand the rules and definitions of what constitutes a steal or a block.

On a more fundamental level than that, the NBA now has gambling and fantasy sports partners — if there was stat padding, those entities would be on it and the first to call out the league. The league’s statistics are big business — you can bet on the number of blocks or rebounds that Jackson or other players will get — and those gambling and fantasy entities also watch the games closely.

But we’ll be talking about this conspiracy theory again when NBA awards season pops up, because people want to believe, even in the face of evidence proving they are wrong. Not that we needed basketball to teach us that lesson.

 

Report: Nuggets might consider Bones Hyland trade for defensive help

Denver Nuggets v Milwaukee Bucks
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A year ago, it felt like the Nuggets had found their long-term backup point guard in rookie Bones Hyland, a guy who could be part of the rotation when Jamal Murray returned. Except, in his second season, Hyland hasn’t taken a step forward — although his play has been better and more aggressive in recent weeks — and free agent Bruce Brown has shown he can play some backup one (even if he is more of a combo guard).

That has the Nuggets considering trading Hyland if they can get defensive help, reports Jake Fischer at Yahoo Sports.

After his name was discussed in trade conversations around last June’s NBA Draft, Denver begun gauging the trade value of second-year guard Bones Hyland, sources said…. While Hyland has two years remaining on his rookie deal, in anticipation of Brown’s next payday [Note: He is expected to opt out and test the market], plus Hyland’s upcoming second contract, has the tax-conscious Nuggets considering their options in the backcourt. Occasional clashes between Hyland and head coach Michael Malone’s old-school mentality have also been a factor in Denver’s trade dialogue, sources said.

In exchange for Hyland, the Nuggets have expressed an interest in defensive-minded frontcourt players, sources said, and will search for a player plus a first-round pick.

Brown has played his way to a bigger contract than the $6.8 million player option he has for next season, but the Nuggets are already big spenders and not looking to go deep into the tax (Nikola Jokic’s extension kicks in next season at about $46.9 million a year to start, and both Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr. will make north of $33 million next season). It is possible the Nuggets let Brown walk and keep Hyland, still on his rookie contract and set to make $2.3 million next season, partly for financial reasons. Hyland is averaging 12.4 points per game and shooting 38.5% from 3, but he struggles defensively (which is where the clashes with Malone come in).

Denver has a chance to win the West this season and defense is what will decide if that happens — if the Nuggets can land another wing/forward defender, they may jump at it and worry about the backup one spot next summer. However, finding that player in a high-priced seller’s market may prove the biggest challenge — several teams are looking for that same kind of defensive help.